For millions of years, we have trusted in remedies of the gods to cure what ails us, but during the Enlightenment they decided that enough was enough, and that it was time to cut open some cadavers to learn how the body really works. In the 18th century, these dissections were done in the anatomical amphitheatre of the Real Academia de Medicina, with doctors sitting in concentric tiers of seats and cramming around the operating table where they butchered fresh cadavers from the Hospital de la Santa Creu. For decades, army surgeons got their training here, and nowadays everything is still sordidly intact. It’s definitely worth a visit: the drain in the marble where they disposed of the guts will curdle your blood. But it’s not so creepy any more – it even serves as a venue for operas.
Carme, 47 (Raval)
Warehouses that have been made into lofts and chapels converted into bookshops no longer surprise us, but it was different in pre-Olympic Barcelona, when such reuse of spaces was considered a conceptual crime, that a group of pioneers, headed by Pierre Roca and Javier Mariscal appropriated an old brickyard in Poblenou and, with few renovations, they set up their studios. After years of controversies over ownership and conflicts with the City Council, there are now some 20 studios in the old Palo Alto factory, where architects, designers and artists work, among them photographer Jordi Bernardó and the aerospace design company Galactic Suite. The name comes from the height of the chimney, but it also represents a creative focus on the companies Google and Apple, Inc., based in Palo Alto, California, near San Francisco. Recently, there was even a performance there by Parking Shakespeare.
Pellaires, 30 (Diagonal Mar & the Poblenou seafront)
Automakers nowadays may be concerned about a decrease in car sales, but when Henry Ford was the Bill Gates of his time, it was considered a luxury to drive everywhere. This is precisely what you do in the Edificio David: it has a unique construction of ramps that allow you to park inside the office, and it even has ramps that go up to the attic, all hidden behind the façade of a classical building. This automotive utopia, an icon of the ‘gauche divine’, celebrates its 100th anniversary by building a new gym inside as well as new co-working spaces.
Aribau, 230-240 - Tuset, 19-21 (Sant Gervasi-Galvany)
The density of the Raval district, once known as the Barrio Chino, has always been a headache for community leaders, who see a cluster of problems in the area’s dark and narrow streets. So they planned to add some culture in the neighbourhood by improving the area from Plaça dels Àngels to the Rambla del Raval and the new Filmoteca. The Republican Generalitat wanted to sanitize the area around Plaça de Castilla and ordered the GATCPAC to create a tuberculosis clinic from a ruptured, L-shaped hospital building. It now includes an unusual garden and rooftop solarium, and houses a doctor’s office.
Torres i Amat, 8-14 (Raval)
During the 1937 International Exposition in Paris, the government of the Spanish Republic decided to use its space to denounce the atrocities of the war and gain support in the fight against fascism. Penniless but fueled by rage, Josep Lluís Sert designed a trench-like building, and great artists of the era were asked to fill it with their pieces of art: Picasso hung his ‘Guernica’ while the paint was still drying. In 1992, the City Council of Barcelona wanted to pay tribute to this fleeting rationalist trench by creating an exact replica at Vall d’Hebron next to the giant sculpture of matches designed by Claes Oldenburg. The building is now home to a library that contains some of the most important collections in regards to the world of war, exile, and fascism.
Avinguda Vidal i Barraquer, s/n (Vall d'Hebron)
In the 1950s, tired of the rationalist uniformity that had identical buildings erecting all over Barcelona, just like in New York and in Chandigarh, architects such as Josep Antoni Coderch took a step into the future by making peace with old traditions and incorporating new developments of local architecture. In Barceloneta, Coderch constructed a block of buildings that combined the daring (like unusual floor plans, and façades with pleating and no visible holes) without forgoing the neighbourhood’s look, such as the nautical blinds. Galicia-born actor and theatre director Pepe Rubianes relocated to Barcelona and lived in these social-revolutionary homes for many years.
Ps. Joan de Borbó, 43 (Barceloneta)
Creating a building that fits the chamfered street corners has always been one of the biggest headaches for architects working in Barcelona, not only because of the difficulty of overcoming the strange angles but also because the buildings end up with a lot of façade and very little access to the interior patio. In the 1960s, Núñez and Navarro found the architectural equivalent to the Coca-Cola formula that allowed buildings to spring up like weeds (causing damage to many modernist gems along the way). Before this, the architects of the GATCPAC used to come up with imaginative solutions to the traditional chamfer, like this L-shaped corner designed by Antoni Bonet, with two buildings supported by concrete pillars that form an empty ground floor to enjoy more outdoor space out front on the pavement.
Consell de Cent, 160-186 (Nova Esquerra de l'Eixample)
In an old cement-making factory in Sant Just Desvern, Ricardo Bofill made two big dreams come true: opening the Walden 7, the iconic and monumental vertical neighbourhood, and at the same time transforming the tanks from the factory into his own home studio, taking advantage of the existing modules by integrating them into the new designs; for example, his office is inside a cement silo. ‘People consider it the worst job in the world, but transforming the factory was a fun challenge.’ They cleaned the dust from the factory, planted all types of vegetation, and the result has a futuristic aspect about it, like the post-apocalyptic city from ‘Mad Max’, with Eames armchairs and designer furniture. With today’s building regulations, we would have never been able to see a marvel like this.
Avenida de la Industria, 14 (Sant Just Desvern)
Building a new development in Ciutat Vella is complicated thanks to the geographical labyrinth of the streets and the difficult space between neighbouring buildings. In the Raval, a solution was found by integrating a new residential block into the area with a simple design and a nice patio space that spruces up the corner and surroundings. ‘I wanted the building to take a step back and push its head forward,’ explains Josep Llinàs. He also has plenty of creative solutions for filling the dwellings with one of the neighbourhood’s most valuable goods: natural light. The ground floors housed the Espai Mallorca for many years, but now that cultural temple is a Chinese bazaar, a sign of the changing times.
Carme, 55 (Raval)
During the 1940s, under the parabolic cover of the Canódromo, hundreds of people would go to watch the races. Not only were there greyhounds racing, but the betting led to fights at the end of every other day. ‘It was a place of vices,’ recalls a neighbour. When the seconds-long adrenaline rush was over, the players would turn back to the apathy of the bar and crowd up to the ticket window to place another bet. It was closed in 2006, initially to make room for a contemporary arts centre, but after a much-talked-about controversy, it became yet another business centre.
Concepción Arenal, 165 (Navas)
They're not the city's most famous or showy buildings, and they haven't been christened by rock stars - they're simply examples of rethinking spaces, interesting adaptations and new uses for old factories. Recycling and conserving memorial architecture is becoming a worldwide trend, but for years there has been an aversion to improving local architecture. We take a look at the many classical buildings that often go unnoticed, highlight the big, public works of architecture that look to reinvent themselves, and discover the utopian projects designed by those who dreamed of the future. Ultimately, these are 10 buildings from the architectural history of Barcelona that didn't make it to the front of a postcard.