We started our last day in Barcelona by heading to Park Guell in the early morning. The story of Park Guell goes back to when Gaudi designed a winning plan for 60 townhouses, connected by naturalist viaducts, with a large central space for festivals occasions or as marketplace area. In 1914, after only two of the 60 planned houses were built, the project was shut down due to lack of public interest and funding. The city, recognizing the beauty and potential of such a large usable public space, finally decided to buy the land in the year of 1922 and transformed it into a public park. Gaudi’s vision of Park Guell is quite phenomenal, the park is located at the top of a steep hill, it took us several escalator rides to finally arrive to the entrance of the park. In the roadways, Gaudí employs curved stone columns, some are made from local brick to preserve the natural feeling of the landscape. Gaudí mixes his style with inspirations from the nature to come up with structures that rise from the ground like trees.
As we are what are called the “hungry tourists”, we headed next to Santa Catarina Market, Situated close to the Picasso Museum and built on the ruins of an old monastery, the old walls were preserved in a renovation process completed in the year of 2005. The market is covered now with brightly coloured wavy roof that are covered with colourful mosaics. The market structure of Santa Caterina consists of a set of irregular wooden vaults, the structure of the roof consists mainly of wooden arches joined by metal beams. It was extremely interesting to observe the combination of materials since this market is composed of preserved lateral walls, and built also with wood, glass, metal and ceramics.
Moving next, we headed to one of the infamous urban scale project in Barcelona, the Superblock: AKA clusters of nine city blocks where car traffic is restricted and public space is being expanded. In north american suburbs, the term “superblock” conjures up the excess of urban renewal and the breakdown of walkable streets grids. In Barcelona, the term “superblock” is being redefined and I was fascinated by its effectiveness and its magic by making streets hospitable and human again. As a believer of streets need to be defined as public spaces, as habitable places, points of gathering and space for games of all ages. The superblock is like a dream came true for me. The project itself surprisingly does not involve major physical changes, but rather promoting soft measures at low-cost and that are easily adaptable elsewhere. We stayed good two hours in the superblocks, we heard the pleasant sound of children laughing and playing. Octagonal spaces were created at every corner of a block and it is almost as large as a traditional square, where is truly a place for people to meet. Other soft measures were affordable as well: painted lines , pots, simple seatings, painted games for children on the street, we also saw a wooden playground for the small ones. Ultimately, the application of the Superblock significantly improves urban quality while reducing the environmental impacts of vehicles. It also increases the quality of life of local residents by changing the hierarchy of the streets, enhances meaningful social interactions and increases economic activity as a result as well. The Superblock simply sums up the essence of urban ecology.
Later in the afternoon, we headed to a park, not your conventional type of park but an elevated one. Jardins de la Rambla de Sants: Barcelona’s version of the High Line is popular with the locals, who are also wary of green gentrification. Previously site to urban boundaries has now becomes a popular gathering place, flowers to smell and somewhere safe to walk. Build on top of a support structure over active rail tracks, a new recreational spaces are being created. The 800m long promenade cuts down on urban noise and is providing the locals with views of the passing trains from ground level. The top level is also covered with variety of plant life, a truly elevated garden. We were extremely happy to see people of all ages rule this place, elders, children, dogs all occupy this lively space.
The series of urban observers – Portugal + Spain has finished its first chapter and we will continue to discover amazing urban projects with you in the near future.
Team H2O2 wishes to create different approaches to the world of urban planning and architecture, we value the importance of the “observation”. We were inspired by the idea of an “aimless flaneur” who understands and experience the world we share, how we live together in urban places and how we shape our urban spaces, to find out what works and what doesn’t in creating vibrant cities and enjoy the urban surprises. It takes more than just academics to create a great city.