THE NEW FACES OF CIUTAT VELLA
Ciutat Vella is at present undergoing
definitive change. The rehabilitation of the most degraded neighbourhood of Barcelona
began in the mid eighties. In fifteen years, an area affected by degradation, delinquency,
prostitution, drugs, poverty, and insalubrious and marginalized living conditions, has
given way, in large measure, to a new and palpable reality such as universities, young
people, centres of art, public investment, rehabilitation, fashionable apartments, and a
cultural mix. The old heart of Barcelona is now stepping closer to integration with the
rest of the city. "Barcelona. Metr˛polis MediterrÓnia", which already
dedicated the Central Issues 1 and 18 to Ciutat Vella, does not wish to let one of the
most crucial urban transformations in the past decades pass without comment. We have
dedicated the present number to a review of the work already done and the work remaining
to be done.
THE CIUTAT VELLA REGENERATION
by Joan Fuster i Sobrepere, historian and councillor for the district of ciutat
The political failure of the Reform of old Barcelona (1859-1979)
Barcelona became Ciutat Vella (Old City) in 1859, with the virtual
creation of Ildefons CerdÓs project for the New City. In this project, sanctioned
by law, what had until then been the city itself throughout more than 2,000 years of
history was automatically converted into the Old City, even though the future new town
existed only in the virtuality of the project. Thus, we can regard the date that
CerdÓs reform and extension project was passed, 7 June 1859, as the date of birth
of old Barcelona and its failed Reform as the historic centre of the city. CerdÓs
design for the reform of the Old City involved cutting through the old fabric with a
series of major thoroughfares that were none other than the continuation of others in the
New City. Although they were never built, these thoroughfares drafted by CerdÓ have
conditioned all the reform projects for Ciutat Vella that have been presented over the
intervening 140 years. From that moment on, Barcelona poured all its resources and energy
into the construction of the New City, at the cost of leaving the Old City to decay.
Despite the projects presented over the years, the Reform was never carried out, since at
no point in the second half of the 19th century did Barcelona City Council wield enough
political power to recuperate the Old City as the historic centre and showcase of the
city. The impossibility of getting the Reform under way was a direct consequence of the
pervasive political weakness of Barcelona throughout the 19th century and much of the
It was only with the political and economic scenario of the beginning
of the new century, which brought together the repatriation of overseas capital (through
Banco Hispano Colonial) and the electoral victory of Catalan regionalism and republicanism
as of the 1901 elections, that a start could be made on the Reform that had been planned
more than 40 years earlier.
From that moment on, the Reform of the Old City took on a different
complexion. The city needed to dignify its public space as a showcase, as it had done
before in the periods of municipalist fervour during the liberal revolution. Thus, the Old
City definitively consolidated its function as the historic centre of Barcelona, and a few
years later, as the urban reform pressed firmly forward in the central spaces of the Old
City, the idea of what was later to be called the Gothic Quarter began to take shape.
In this way, Barcelona selectively began to recuperate some areas of
its historic neighbourhoods as renovated spaces for the social and political
representation of the city and, by extension, of Catalonia as a whole. The city had very
seldom had the opportunity to create spaces for urban representation: in the 18th century,
with the "Capitals Generals" scheme, and into the 19th, during the rise in
municipalist feeling that attended the liberal revolution as of 1820, which was
responsible for, among other things, the demolition of the city walls, the extension of
the city, the sale of church lands, the laying down of new streets such as the axis formed
by Ferran, Jaume I and Princesa Streets, and the renovation of other important spaces such
as Sant Jaume Square, with the new facade of the City Hall facing the old Generalitat.
The Old City, or inherited city, formed a contrast with the New City,
or designed city, in that it stood for radically different values in the framework of
industrial society, which justified the kind of radical intervention that such reform
projects involve. The urban designers of last century and much of the present one were
convinced that the methods of rationalist town planning were to be brought to bear to
correct the insufficiencies of the Old City, the outcome of an age-old history of
According to this comparison, the New City was rational and
hierarchized, functional and specialized, fluid and accessible. In other words, it
contained all the characteristics that society demanded at that time: the designed city
was the result of the deliberate action of man, not that of time. In short, the design of
the New City made it possible to control the space to which the grand schemes of the
industrialist culture and rationalist thought of the 19th century aspired.
In logical contrast, the Old City was anarchic and chaotic, confused,
tortuous and insalubrious. Unlike in the New City, in the Old City time predominated over
space. At a time in the development of our society when the old parts of big cities were
regarded not as historic centres but as old neighbourhoods that focused all their
shortcomings because their morphologies failed to adapt rapidly to the industrialist
aspirations of contemporary society, old Barcelona and its reform (i.e., its adaptation to
the values of the New City) became one of the unfinished jobs of industrial Barcelona.
For industrial society, so keen on controlling its environment, the Old
City was therefore a dead weight that required a complete overhaul. Practically all the
urban reform projects presented in the wake of the passing of the CerdÓ Project share
this concern. One of these, until recently one of the least known, was the project for the
alignment and improvement of the Old City by the municipal architect Miguel Garriga i
Roca. It contained several ideas that today, in retrospect, have undergone a thorough
reassessment due to the type of scheme proposed. (...)
The Metropolitan General Plan of 1976 still sought the traditional
opening up of major thoroughfares in the historic centre of Barcelona, albeit with
variations in detail. The shadow of CerdÓ and Baixeres continued to be visible, even
though the cultural parameters of our society has changed radically in this period,
particularly in the last 30 years or so. (...)
Naturally, the urban regeneration of Ciutat Vella has not been dealt
with from the town planning viewpoint alone, which in isolation would have been
insufficient. The macrostatistics of the action taken since 1988, when the integral
regeneration process was given the definitive go-ahead, constitute a highly illustrative
indicator of this approach. In total, direct public investment in the district has
amounted to 118,648 million pesetas, of which 11% corresponds to spending on
infrastructures (12,709 M), 3% on parking (3,775 M), 23% on renewal of the public space
(27,196.5 M), 19% on public housing (22,681 M), 11% on neighbourhood facilities (13,088
M), 22% on city facilities (25,962.5 M) and 11% on universities (13,236 M). (...)
At the same time, the problem of the obsolescence of a large part of
the districts housing has been tackled through a specific programme of grants for
private owners. Almost 15,000 out of a total of 45,000 dwellings have benefited from
public subsidies granted through the Ciutat Vella Rehabilitation Office. This amounts to
more than 3,330 million pesetas in grants for private rehabilitation, on top of the more
than 14,000 M of private investment. The indicators of the recovery and economic promotion
of the district are fairly clear about the point of no return of the revitalization of
Ciutat Vella in recent years: for every public peseta spent by government bodies, at
present the private sector invests on average 1.6 pesetas. (...)
However, our society, postindustrial society, no longer aims first and
foremost to develop our environment, but to preserve it at the service of rational
sustained growth. The keyword in todays society is no longer development but
Furthermore, if industrial society needed to control its environment in
order to guarantee optimum growth, it was because it was concerned above all with space.
The city was read in a fundamentally spatial way.
And yet, if change and sustainability are the characteristics of the
city of the future, the values of the historic city can be regarded as future values to be
preserved and reassessed. Among the refound values that the Old City can offer the city as
a whole we can mention, for example, the proximity of the political community, the energy
savings made in view of the fact that no great distances have to be covered to meet
ones own needs, the elimination of private transport for getting around the city,
the promotion of cycling and walking, the richness that comes of social and historical
complexity and the complexity of uses. And in addition to all this, it is important to
bear in mind those elements that the historic centre provides to build a strong local
CIUTAT VELLA 1983-1998: A GIANT
by Joan Busquets, architect
The town planning projects and actions carried out in Ciutat Vella in
the past fifteen years have constituted a giant step towards the consolidation of its
future in the medium term.
(...) We could rightly say that, in the context of the sweeping
transformation of Barcelona through town planning programmes, the recent process in Ciutat
Vella is comparable in scale to the recovery of the citys sea front. They have been
very different processes, both in terms of the instruments used and of their management
approaches, not to mention the aspect of public image. The sea front is representative of
the new image of the Barcelona of the future, conceived as a European metropolis with
centrally-located services and leisure facilities, as well as a series of easily
accessible bathing beaches, all tinged with the glamour of the Olympic Games. On the other
hand, Ciutat Vella has undergone possibly a much profounder transformation, one that is
not so immediately evident but that could, in the medium term, have much more significant
The old walled city was already a priority, and without a critical
study of this area, the full grandeur of CerdÓs plan for Barcelona remains beyond
As we know, CerdÓ dedicated a great deal of effort to the study of
living conditions among the working class population of the old city. It is precisely the
conclusions that he drew so eloquently from this study that explain the radical nature of
his proposal for the Barcelona Plan, in which he attempted to provide solutions for the
problems of overcrowding and inadequate sanitation prevailing in Ciutat Vella in 1856.
Above all, we must bear in mind that it was the modern Barcelonas grand development
project, with the ambition of linking the Eixample to the renovation of the city. It was
the starting point for town planning projects that established the renovation of Ciutat
Vella as a means of solving the problems of unhealthy conditions and chaotic construction
in the area bounded by the walls. To accomplish this, CerdÓ proposed opening three
avenues through the built-up areas and using them as the focus for improvement of the
What we tend to forget is that in carrying out his Plan, he proposed
that the major costs of renovating Ciutat Vella be covered with a portion of the revenues
generated in the construction of the Eixample. This redistributive aspect of his project
disappeared in the vicissitudes of the Plans political approval, and the only
remnant were the large-scale clearances, which have survived for over one hundred years
and have on many occasions been seen as the only available means of carrying out the
This served to formalise a certain approach to actions in Ciutat Vella,
with two factors that are worth taking into account: 1) on the one hand, the concept of an
overall plan, with the need to consider the old and the new together, and with the old
city as one of the parts making up the whole; and 2) on the other hand, new means of
access, appropriate to new needs in the way of mobility, as the basis for transformation.
Other cities such as Paris carried out renewal projects based on the
opening of grand boulevards as directed by Baron Haussmann, but here the impetus and the
success of expansion into the Eixample thwarted, to a certain extent, the renovation. In
addition, the concept of reinvesting the profits in the old city centre backfired, when
the increasingly dense construction carried out in the Eixample was imitated in Ciutat
Vella in the upward growth of buildings, completing the final stage of internal crowding,
with dramatic results (1).
(...) We can say that the shock treatment has been applied in the
framework of a new approach to rehabilitation of sizeable city centres in Europe, which,
without being restricted to a rigid formula, has striven to overcome the concept of
isolated monuments and to establish active references in the recovery of old city centres.
We must bear in mind that peoples attitude towards the past has undergone
substantial changes. At the beginning of the 19th century, for example, ruin was
considered to be a fine art, an act of fate and a rich source of Romantic inspiration.
After the mid-19th century, ruin was seen as a sign of failure and was combated with huge,
systematic and ambitious efforts at restoration. At the beginning of the 20th century, the
revision of well-conserved ruins as a witness to the past coincided with an increasing
emphasis on the importance of the archaeology of historical sites. Lastly, recent decades
have seen an increase in efforts at restoration and rebuilding, with a desire to actively
recover old city centres.
Returning to Ciutat Vella, we might say that the rehabilitation planned
back in the 19th century has finally got onto the right track, following a contemporary
strategy, and that this process is now well under way. However, in this sort of lengthy
process, it is always recommendable to take stock along the way, in order to ensure that
the overall objectives are to be met.
(...) In this sense, we believe that Ciutat Vella can, in the medium
term, take on a new role as a symbolic and functional referent in our metropolitan system.
This will occur in the context of new perspectives, at a moment when cities would appear
to turning towards a more open type of relationship with their territory, one not
necessarily based on physical cohesion, as has been the case in traditional town-planning
models, but which allows for new ways of appreciating and enjoying old city centres. In
such a situation, systems for planning and heritage protection can be established on
foundations of shared coherence.
In any case, we can safely assume, on the basis of experience during
the past fifteen years, that Ciutat Vella has the potential for becoming a vital centre, a
reference for the Catalan metropolis with a reanimated heritage, which, as a whole, will
have made significant progress with regard to its own history.
1. We have only to look at the severe increase in density in the
Barceloneta district as a result of copying the heights of buildings in the Eixample, when
neither the streets nor the size of building plots were appropriate for development to
such heights in a minimally habitable neighbourhood.
CIUTAT VELLA. URBAN IDENTITIES AND
by Joan Subirats
professor of political and admninistrative science, universitat aut˛noma de barcelona
Welfare and the quality of life are becoming ever more closely linked
in everyday life, since social protection is required not only in an abstract sense.
Quality depends on these benefits being offered in a context of proximity, one that is
perceived as pertaining to the sphere of social relations. Some neighbourhoods in large
cities have successfully maintained sufficient social cohesion to strike a balance between
the benefits and drawbacks mentioned earlier in regard to cities. This sort of
neighbourhood is the privileged site of community structures or networks that imbue them
with a distinct character and give rise to original approaches to community life.
Barcelona is fortunate in that it has been capable of undergoing a profound transformation
in recent years without its different neighbourhoods completely losing their distinctive
Ciutat Vella is a name applied to the various different neighbourhoods
and communities existing within the citys old centre, where a characteristic way of
life has survived in spite of the demographic and developmental changes that have occurred
in recent years. We might say that there is a social and cultural environment in Ciutat
Vella that has made its various neighbourhoods into physically differentiated areas. Areas
where people lend things to each other, where they visit each other or gather on a regular
basis. Areas where they discuss neighbourhood problems and help each other out with small
favours. Areas where they work and socialise, where they attend religious services, shop,
or take their children to school. This is the citys most ethnically diverse district
and the one with the highest density of institutional buildings, both government and
cultural. The district with the narrowest streets and the most complete system of access
by private and public transport. An area full of specific communities: residential,
business, religious, ethnic, educational, age, musical and artistic.
This ensemble of distinctive characteristics, summarised only partially
and very briefly here, confers these neighbourhoods with a reality that is quite different
from that of the rest of the city. People often label Ciutat Vella as one of the
citys problems, referring to its heterogeneity and complex make-up. Instead, we
ought to see this ensemble of all types of neighbourhoods and communities as a precursor
of the city that can fortunately carry on adapting itself, as long as those who would
prefer a much more homogeneous and firmly entrenched reality do not win out.
Barcelonas problem is in fact its solution, if Ciutat Vella is capable of
maintaining and strengthening the internal links that make it habitable and supportive, if
representative institutions persist in facilitating the creation and consolidation of
bridges, connections and relations between these different communities, preventing their
isolation or manipulation.
Ciutat Vellas social assets are consistent. There is a sense of
belonging and loyalty among the people who live there, and we have seen examples of how
they have been able to use these social and cultural characteristics as leverage in
collective actions. Networks of relations and contacts with a great deal of spatial,
ethnic, religious and social power have been forged. What must be avoided is the risk that
the structural voids separating these communities could become barriers to collective
action, or that they might be occupied by entrepreneurs seeking to turn these potentially
divisive differences to their own benefit. The authorities should strive to ensure that
this productive effort at forming community networks, at building bridges, is made
collectively, with everyone involved taking joint responsibility for the areas and spheres
of coexistence. This means starting off with the recognition of citizens and their
potential as active agents in the community, with all of the corresponding promotion and
management of social networks, and with expanded areas for participation by citizens. It
also means understanding the role of government more as one of facilitator rather than one
of controller, better able to administer through influence than through regulations and
hierarchy, more adaptable and flexible than rigid and procedural. (...)
Life in society, life in one of todays large cities, has numerous
advantages. It offers a wide range of opportunities and a greater degree of well-being.
However, it also creates much insecurity and entails certain unpleasant aspects. It offers
greater technological capacity with a wider variety of leisure pastimes and possibilities
for training at home or at work. But these added alternatives or opportunities are often
presented in highly individualised and commercialised forms. Life has come to be dominated
by money and technology, often making relationships more anonymous, less personal.
Concierges, porters, night-watchmen, collectors, and small neighbourhood shops have
gradually disappeared, coinciding with the rise of shopping centres and the consumption of
types of products (frozen and other types of food) that do away with the servitude of
daily shopping, but also favour isolation and a lesser degree of contact with ones
neighbours. The automobile is king, generating higher levels of tension and anxiety. The
positive side of all of this is that it allows people to avoid the oppression of
dependence on daily routine. For all of the opportunities for creativity and freedom
offered by cities, they also tend to foster isolation, alienation and lack of solidarity.
Cities such as Barcelona and its neighbouring municipalities have
undergone dramatic changes over the past thirty years. While the initial period of
democratically elected town councils was marked by chaotic urban development and the lack
of even the most basic services, the 80s were dedicated to restoring a semblance of order
to these cities and the links between them, while the 90s have seen a substantial increase
in territorial mobility and a blurring of borders. Todays cities have more or less
exhausted the potential of the model for responding to social needs and demands that they
had been applying, and have been encountering certain difficulties in dealing with new
trends in social fragmentation (based on factors such as ethnic background, age, sex,
etc.) that seem to be leading to states of exclusion, with the loss of the personal
resources necessary for overcoming that exclusion and with the tendency of such states to
become chronic. Meanwhile, cities continue to create new cultural, commercial and leisure
incentives, making life in them ever more attractive. We are entering a phase of
redefinition of the type of city that we wish to live in and of the roles to be assumed by
that citys institutions, entities and other social agents in the resolution of
collective problems, as well as of the mechanisms for participating and taking decisions.
At the same time, a redefinition of the reference points for collective
identity is taking place. Traditional identities are losing their predominance, but are
being replaced by new identities, ones focusing less on traditional cultural ties and
having more to do with shared community experience. The political culture of welfare is
being transformed and acquiring new dimensions. Not only social protection is required,
but also a new system of social relationships that involves participation and promotes
cohesion in the most appropriate context. In this context, cities and local policies are
assuming specific prominence, a prominence that will continue to grow in future.
Cities maintain the human scale required to permit the sense of
belonging that is an essential factor in peoples lives and that, paradoxical as it
may seem, is increasing along with the progressive globalisation of the world. This
localism, seen as the strengthening of community ties, gives rise to a different
positioning of personal and collective identity in the pursuit of appropriate solutions
and the adaptation of those solutions to reality. (...)
In effect, many people have seen large cities as more anonymous places,
where they can easily pursue lifestyles or habits that might be considered deviant or
dangerous for the community in a small town. It has been said, therefore, that when the
sense of community and cohesion increases in any collective, behaviour considered deviant
is easier to identify, and greater social strength brings with it greater social control.
Diversity, then, is more easily accepted in societies in which there is a greater distance
between individuals, where indifference predominates. When involvement with others and
interest in the community increase, the capacity for coexistence, for accepting
differences, is lessened, and anonymity becomes almost impossible. (...)
IN THE CITY
by E. Miralles, architect
Its difficult to stand at the right distance to talk about the
And distance is bound to make you lose the intensity you need to work
with in places like this...
It is, it has been, a complex process...
With too many levels of government and not always well
And with proposals that are left forgotten in drawers, and then one day
come to light...
It could be said that the planning of Ciutat Vella has been as confused
and contradictory as the city itself.
And perhaps thats not such a bad thing.
Maybe identifying with reality, with all the most difficult aspects, is
the only way to work.
Ideas and working hypotheses always seem too far off...
The reality of a street, a house, always demolishes the clear idea we
had about it beforehand.
From this... on the basis of the existing conditions we have been
carrying out a highly specific scheme on the growth between Cambˇ and ┴lvarez de
Castro... and the surrounding area of Santa Caterina Market.
Although we know what we want:
Buildings whose ruins can also appear contemporary...
That dont show pride in the new over time...
We have a conglomerate with the existing fabric of houses...
That accept the complexity and density of a place...
Their projects should display energy that is capable of playing with
And above all
they mustnt hide their backs,
they mustnt be a barrier against a reality that it is still
considered necessary to get rid of...
Its hard to talk about the future...
This mixture of contradictions means that schemes advance with a host
A no-sooner-said-than-done approach is not possible here.
We would like our proposal to disappear into the complexity of the
And so, if know were confused as we work, and the success of the
proposal... on its disappearance in the future...
At a time like this its difficult to know quite what were
CULTURE AND CRIME
by Arcadi Espada
In the summer of last year, when the Raval district was in the midst of
the death throes of its ill repute the spurious dismantlement of a ring of
pederasts, certain members of the media took advantage of the circulation- and
ratings-boosting event to trot out an elementary but extremely damaging rhetoric. While
reporting the outrage, they spun their underlying metaphors around a striking contrast:
the sinister sordidness of the pederasts behaviour against the backdrop of the
resplendent white and explicit mass of the Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art (Macba).
It was a very fertile rhetoric and one that played strictly by the
rules of metaphor. Before long, rumours began flying around the scene that some of the
alleged pederasts had been in the habit of stalking their prey right there on the plaza in
front of that monument to contemporary art. While tender young children scuttled about
carefree on skateboards and bicycles, or ricocheted soccer balls loudly off the
surrounding walls, the hunters watchful eyes from the darkness of his
soul surveyed the scene. The conclusion was disheartening in the extreme: culture is
ineffective against crime. Those wielding the metaphor did so for the most part without
realising that the debate that they were serving up was old, ancient in fact. And that the
almost defunct 20th century itself has been one of its most frequent and terrible venues.
These rhetoricians, of course, were interested only in the affairs strictly local
ramifications, while at the same time running the risk that the metaphor might get no
further off the ground than a frightened hen. According to their missives, the moral was
that the Barcelona inspired to great expectations by Maragall had taken a direct hit from
reality in the softest part of its underbelly, in the Ravals weary heart. Culture,
whether the traditional variety, symbolised by the Museum, or the more modern and perhaps
inscrutable version, symbolised by the hygiene of town planning, had been incapable of
keeping the neighbourhood from becoming a sinister pornographic backdrop to a parade of
One year later, nothing remains of all that, aside from the profound
and irreparable misfortune of the wrongly accused. This is neither the time nor the place
to dredge the subject up once again, in spite of the fact that amends still remain to be
made to the neighbourhood. The metaphors and those who wielded them have abandoned the
scene, in search of greener pastures. They never stay long, being flighty and hard to pin
down. As for myself, a year later I stroll through the welcoming streets of the Raval and
I cannot help but succumb to the Pangloss syndrome: this is indeed the best of all
possible worlds. And I am on the verge of proffering a shout of exultation at the top of
my lungs. Long live culture, down with crime! But I hold my peace and stroll on.
I have entered the area by way of Carrer Gravina. One of many
alternatives. A childhood reminiscence, perhaps: the street sloped down lugubriously, but
on the corner, on Plaša Castella, a brightly-lit bar had just opened, purveying platters
overflowing with appetisers, Russian salad, German salad, salads from all over Europe.
Now, the street has been transformed and instead has all the bearing of a heroic admiral
of the Spanish navy, with a hotel that looks as if one could suffer quite happily from
insomnia there. But the greatest novelty is on the corner of Carrer Pelai, where there is
a relatively new fast food restaurant. It has one rather special feature: according to
their announcements, the food it offers is made only from fresh ingredients, with none of
the more or less stimulating junk food additives. Otherwise, it is quite faithful to its
genre, offering inexpensive meals at all hours with unpretentious service. And, as usual,
it is always full of youngsters.
This is wonderful news for the Ravals culture, a direct and
simple but at the same time very powerful emanation of the momentous cultural occurrences
going on around it, of the new university campuses, centres for the avant-garde, and new
museums. Crime is fought on the front line of the palate. The formation of intuitive,
healthy palates, ones that are capable of responding to stimuli and have not been dulled
by vulgar spices, by explosive sauces, is a primary task of education. The damage wrought
on intelligence by the dismal diet dispensed by student rooming-houses, permeated by
boiled cabbage, is incalculable.
Across Plaša Castella we find another discreet novelty: the Nuevos
Medios bookshop has recently moved to the neighbourhood, after an initial and brief
sojourn on Carrer C˛rsega. It is now situated on the corner of Carrer Valldonzella,
lodged between the back entrance to the premises of the daily newspaper La Vanguardia and
the Faculty of Communication Sciences of the Universitat Ramon Llull. It hardly needs
stressing that this bookshop specialises in journalism and journalists and that it has
come in search of an ideal ecosystem. This is, in fact, the prime objective of municipal
governments and public initiative: facilitating the orderly and strategic proliferation of
ecosystems. In all likelihood, ecosystems need totems. The Ravals ecosystem already
has two: the Barcelona Centre for Contemporary Culture (Cccb) and the Macba. There is a
curious complementarity between the two. The former has, so far, played a vital role in
familiarising citizens with the neighbourhoods new identity. Its agenda has been
attractive, rigorous and consistent, although its vigour has diminished somewhat of late.
But its architectural qualities are not displayed outwardly. Instead, its rather
impressive architecture has opted for introversion. This is certainly a very positive
choice from the standpoint of expository elegance, but one that offers somewhat dubious
results with regard to the symbolic needs of the neighbourhood that is its home.
Paradoxically, this is quite the opposite of the effect produced by the Museum of
Contemporary Art. It is, to my taste, a mediocre building expressed in hesitant terms, one
that seems to have imposed itself by mere force of arms. To make matters worse, it has so
far failed to come up with a credible agenda. Even so, the force of the buildings
sheer physical presence, intensely outward-looking and creating a huge plaza that has
relentlessly modified the habits of movement and interaction of the people living around
it, is more than sufficient, since its totemic aspect works to full effect. We might say,
without stretching a point too far, that the Museums impact is totally divorced from
its internal health: the Museum could be empty and inactive, and it would still serve its
purpose, as long as no one were to become aware of the fact, which has effectively been
the case for most of the time since its opening. To the extent that, in the shadow of the
big white mass, even before construction was completed, the neighbourhood witnessed one of
the showiest phenomena of transformation, i.e. the transfer or opening of a whole series
of galleries selling all manner of modern art: glass (Espai Vidre), jewellery (Magari),
photography (Urania), painting (Alter Ego, Galeria dels └ngels, Ferran Cano, etc).
I have focused so far on two totems, but there are actually three. Here
it is, in front the Grup 62 building, a huge stone illuminated beautifully by the light of
November, the month that best sets off the colours of Barcelona. The establishment of this
publishing house in the neighbourhood was a welcome piece of news. In the first place,
because it is indicative of substantial confidence on the part of the private sector, a
gesture that increases peoples confidence in their own ecosystem. Citizens tend to
view injections of exclusively public funds with rather seamless incredulity. Even when
the outcome is irrevocable. It is only when they see someone laying their own money on the
line that they react with a modicum of neighbourly affability. In this sense,
the buildings architectural style is most appropriate: the bands of glass
alternating with the bands of stone place the office workers in full view of passers-by.
The sight of someone else working always suffuses the observer with a feeling of content,
but this is a particularly noteworthy situation in a neighbourhood where such arrivals by
private enterprise have been conspicuously absent for a long time. And the fact that it is
a business dedicated to the manufacture of cultural products, besides, can only bode well.
The publishers presence here has already begun to generate a pleasant wave of
imitation more or less sparked by the opening nearby of a sort of cultural embassy of the
Balearic Islands, offering a sampling of the archipelagos current intellectual and
artistic products, as yet without a great deal of coherence or completeness although
promising much for the future.
In much the same way, news of Grup 62s arrival has not exactly
been discouraging for the other bookstores in the immediate vicinity. This is especially
the case with the Llibreria del Raval, on Carrer Elisabets, which, after having jumped the
gun, opening before it should have and then having to close, has now re-opened just as
voluminously and professionally but with a greater air of permanence. The other two
bookshops in the area, on Carrer dels └ngels, deal in second-hand books and they are
magnificent. Their books are generally clean and displayed in an orderly fashion, and one
of them has found a solution to the problem usually encountered by customers in this type
of shop. As it was, you would enter the shop and would find first a heap of musty volumes,
and behind them, in the back, the similarly yellowed face of the bookseller. You would try
to avoid them, if possible, and browse. If you were looking for a particularly book, the
search was usually fruitless, because next to a volume containing Mr. Ignasi
Domenechs best recipes, you were likely to find a first edition of Metropolitano,
Carlos Barrals underground poetry, a work tending to cause attacks of indigestion.
In view of such an inscrutable filing system, you would ask:
"Gaziels complete works ... in Spanish?"
"La inspiraciˇn y el estilo, by Benet?"
"All we have by Benet is a book on repression."
"And what about Medio siglo de vida barcelonesa, by Mario
"I had one, but I sold it a long time ago." (...)
THE ONGOING DEVELOPMENT IN CIUTAT
by Pere Cabrera i MassanÚs, arquitect
With the introduction of democratic municipal councils, the General
Development Plan was adopted as the framework planning instrument on the basis of which
other plans were based, such as the Special Internal Reform Plans (known as the PERIs).
In the eighties, the expansion of the port of Barcelona towards the
west, coinciding with the policy of local government to recover the sea-front, led to the
adopting of three very substantial projects: the redevelopment of what up to then was the
Port Vell, or Old Port, the regeneration of the beaches, and the Parc de la Catalana,
three projects which were essential to the periphery of the sea-front area of Barceloneta,
where once again the revaluation of public space and the urban interconnection were the
underlying driving forces.
It was necessary to redefine the city centre in relation to the new
city and, in relation to the twentieth century, the metropolitan context. The new
infrastructures took on a new structuring role. The route of the new Ronda del Litoral
(Coastal Ring Road) passed through the historic centre, and thereby connected it with the
greater metropolitan region and broke the historic dependence of the city centre on the
Eixample. The roads network of the historic centre was defined by the Rondas, the Rambla
and the Via Laietana, with the Gran Via acting as the basic link giving access to the
metropolitan area. (...)
The construction of the Ronda del Litoral ring road system has
connected Ciutat Vella to the metropolitan system, thus reinforcing its identity and its
special position within the context defined by the General Metropolitan Plan. This
constitutes the latest chapter in the process which commenced with the horizontal
development of the Roman roads system, as opposed to the verticality of the grid system
resulting from the growth and extension of the city under the Barcelona Plan.
The role of public space has been a decisive mechanism of social
distribution in recent years and explains the process of action and transformation. The
objective of public space projects in Ciutat Vella has been to create new itineraries and
heal wounds, with a focus on public circulation. This consideration of public space in
Ciutat Vella has taken into account concepts ranging from the change of scale to the
regenerating role of development in order to generate and give structure to city and
(...) The following classification should help us to appreciate this
1. Historic plazas, consolidated plazas
These plazas originated in the order of Carles III (1775) prohibiting
the creation of cementaries within cities and subsequently in the creation of the plazas
Sant Just, Sant Miquel, Sant Pere de les Puelles, Santa Maria del Mar, etc. Later on, the
confiscation of church property, and the burning of monasteries and convents in 1835, and
the bombing of Barcelona by Espartero in 1842, gave rise to these plazas where the
interaction of building / public space took on its own significance independent of the
surrounding urban context.
The commencement in 1985 of the rehabilitation of the Plaša Reial,
which was constructed according to a single integral plan, heralded the beginning of a
phase of recovery of the original function of these spaces. This line of action also
affected the Plaša de Sant AgustÝ Vell, les Basses de Sant Pere, and the Plaša de Sant
Pere de les Puelles, forming part of an itinerary through the mediaeval city, and other
examples such as the Plaša de l└ngel, the Plaša de les Olles and the Plaša de la
Llana. All these actions shared the same objective, complete restructuring, not merely
restoration, in the light of the specific identity and characteristics of each case.
2. New plazas
The need for new public spaces in Ciutat Vella on sites formerly
occupied by blocks of buildings is a constant concern which is to the forefront of all new
developments right from the initial stages. These new spaces, which are in effect planned
plazas, are growing in number. They tend to be of reduced dimensions, and their role is to
act as a central focus for a new urban landscape, in the light of their inherent quality
and of their profusion and strategic situation, as already mentioned by the GATPAC (the
Group of Catalan Artists and Professionals for the Progress of Contemporary Architecture)
At the Plaša de la MercŔ, the demolition of a building exposed the
Baroque fašade (1765-1775). (
) While this strategy derived from the end of the last
century, this is not to say that this type of action will not be repeated. Thus, prudence
is required, so as not to engage in indiscriminate demolition which would not always yield
good results. Experience shows us that the rehabilitation of the building stock will be
more successful if the public space generated is more generous and more functional than
the preceding situation. Thus in replacing new buildings on the site of existing
buildings, new public spaces may be generated, creating new public plazas.
3. Parks and public gardens
Ciutat Vella is located between three very singular spaces: on the one
hand, the city parks Montju´c and the Ciutadella, and on the other hand, the sea-front.
Throughout the past decade, Montju´c and the sea-front have become
accessible to the citizens, in the case of the first, involving enhanced communications to
the environs of Montju´c and in the case of the second, involving a radical change in the
relationship between the sea-front and the city. The Parc de la Ciutadella is host to many
different buildings and institutions the zoo alone occupies two thirds of the park
and has a problem of accessibility. (
) Work should continue to achieve the
full recovery of the Ciutadella as a city park for the East of the city, the meeting point
of the neighbourhoods Sant MartÝ, the Eastern Eixample, and the Ciutat Vella itself. The
area lying between the railway tracks at the Estaciˇ de Franša and the site of the
former railway station serving nearby towns, near the Plaša Ocata, should serve as a new
connection with the Barceloneta neighbourhood. (
4. The streets
On the instructions of Charles III in 1717, who remarked that "The
construction of new houses or demolition of old houses, gives us an opportunity to widen
and straighten streets
." there began a process of actions, improvement of the
lay-out of streets, opening up cul-de-sacs, the straightening and widening of streets,
applying mechanisms to achieve alignment and new street-lines. Place names in Ciutat Vella
have a rich and meaningful vocabulary: from the street to the passage and way, front and
rear, river courses and channels, climbs and descents
. All these historic formations
have undergone development in recent years and have been renovated with care, and the
reference adopted has been street-level development (without footpath) with stone from
Montju´c, the so called Florensa model, where new technologies have incorporated remedies
to the design problems from the outset. Right throughout the twentieth century, the quest
for the suitable model has been a permanent feature, from the first streets paved with
flagstones from Montju´c. In recent years the mechanisation of the production of
flagstones has led to a reinterpretation of the model, and the course of the street is now
further emphasised by the street level being completely horizontal (without a footpath),
containing and highlighting water drains, and using calligraphic resources, such as
texture, changes of direction, types of joints, etc., on a diversity of routes which could
initially be expected to result in one single aspect, but which gains diversity, to the
point of being in danger of lacking coherency. (
.) New developments have been
conducted such as the Palau Reial Menor, the region of Carrer Uniˇ and Nou de la Rambla
and the Western Eixample with wider, more geometric and uniform footpaths. It is important
to preserve the character of these streets, which is closely linked to the surrounding
5. The limits, the old roads and the new passages
The Gran Via, the Litoral Ring Road and the sea-front are the limits of
Ciutat Vella, with the Rondas acting as connection from the former exits from the walled
city. Other limits, such as the Passeig MarÝtim, in the course of the redesign of the
perimeters of the Barceloneta neighbourhood, have been extended so as to connect with the
Olympic Village and Montju´c, resulting from the recovery of public spaces such as the
Moll de la Fusta and the Moll de la Barceloneta. A characteristic of the urban tradition
of Barcelona prior to the Pla CerdÓ was the lack of large open spaces. There were only
three of any substantial dimension: the Rambla, between the second and third city wall;
the former Passeig de lEsplanada with the Jardins del General located between the
Ciutadella and the city wall, and the Passeig de la Muralla de Mar, formerly located on
what is now the Moll de la Fusta. With the exception of the Universal Exhibition of 1888
and the Passeig LluÝs Companys and the Parc de la Ciutadella, we have had to wait to the
past ten years to encounter new thoroughfares and urban public spaces.
To summarise, I would like to point to the following points in the
story of the transformation of public space in the Ciutat Vella:
Restoration should continue in the new consolidated plazas.
There is an established model of design for the revitalisation
of new streets.
New communication routes should continue to be established, for
example, from the Olympic Village to Montju´c through the Ciutadella and the Passeig del
The Ciutadella should be recovered as a city park, the Plaša de
la Gardunya, the Pati de la Miseric˛rdia, Campmany, etc. with new gardens such as the
Valldonzella or the Vila de Madrid, with a perspective of public space as a means of urban
intercommunication, as such communication facilitates the recovery of these spaces as a
city activity, accessibility, and the establishing of new and interesting buildings and
(...) The development works under the Integrated Rehabilitation Area
programme are now in their final phase. We should recall that the PERI, for financial and
legal reasons, limited its own actions to the areas which already came within the scope of
the General Metropolitan Plan.
The experience over the past ten years of ongoing works in Ciutat Vella
displays that the logic of the new city should not be imposed on the old city as the
appropriate mechanism for the solution of its problems. Continuous and sustained public
action is required, applying new ideas and above all the experience acquired in relation
to the instruments of action and administration, since what is needed are agile planning
systems with a very specialised field of application.
It is hard to implement a plan in isolation from the actual mechanisms
of execution. It is difficult to see such a plan through unless it receives support from
the institutions and from the public. There must be a will to return the historic centre
to its vital cycle within the city: to maintain the centre, it must be transformed. Urban
design criteria must be used, incorporating contemporary forms and requirements of public
housing and services, maintaining a combination of residence, commerce and services
traditional to these areas of the city. Historic and contemporary elements should
complement each other, without having to recur to historic pastiches.
New buildings should incorporate the characteristics of historic city
centre buildings, and participate in the new public spaces, to ensure that such projects
and their execution achieve the desired urban design objective, and complex and sensitive
architectural criteria should be applied in order to respond to the character of the
environment, and enable development with a greater range of diversity. In addition, the
qualitative and quantitative importance of residences should be acknowledged. (
Extensive areas of the city have been recovered with the new buildings
viewed as large containers permitting new activities, and new uses. This is the case of
the main Catalan civil Gothic buildings, which we can regard as containers which act as
landmarks in the itinerary, not as isolated monuments but rather as references and
integral pieces within the whole. These buildings acquire a new structuring role in the
surrounding urban environment, in which the range of uses gives new life to buildings with
historic and artistic value. This is also the case with small residential buildings which,
owing to their strategic situation, their influence on the surrounding area, their own
particular character, form part of the urban landscape and should be preserved to achieve
a quality rehabilitation maintaining the character and the values of the historic centre.
This is a particularly difficult objective where the density of the environment,
superposition, uses and activities, the history of the location, should be regarded as
positive qualities in order to achieve social, economic and cultural revitalisation of
degraded areas and prevent them from sinking into irrecoverable situations. And all the
while, we must be mindful of the quality of life of the residents, so as to incorporate
the historic centre into the vital cycle of the city and bring new values to the centre,
so that this procedure does not consist merely in a simple cleansing process.
Development in the historic centre within the context of an essential
and constant process of reform is very complex, and cannot be reduced to a number of
schematic formulas. Care should be taken not to fall into the trap of adopting criteria
and courses of action which reduce historic centres to one single predominant use, such as
tourism, services or university. In order to adapt the city to the change, it is necessary
to discover its hidden structures, time, place and its evaluation, with patient
investigation. What is required is to determine the inherent variety and disorder,
different nuances and pockets, different scales and uses, density and ethnic
, regarding diversity as a potential, as opposed to a uniform unit. Historic
centres as opposed to functional segregation are characterised as being the result of a
fragile balance of very disparate considerations. When development is required, special
instruments are required to adapt them to these changes, and the position and function of
the historic centre should be redefined within the new urban and metropolitan system,
maximising the increased importance of their role as city-centre, not succumbing to
regional segregation and dispersion, thus ensuring sustainable growth and in terms of
economic, social and cultural progress and quality of life.
CIUTAT VELLA, THE FUTURE OF
by Xavier Casas i Masjoan, deputy mayor president of the ciutat vella municipal
From the mid 19th century until the current democratic period, well
into the 1980s, the Ciutat Vella (Old City) district was unfairly prejudiced by the
expansion of Barcelona beyond the former city walls. This should not have been so, but the
truth is that for more than a century the growth of the new city was accompanied by the
degradation of the old city. The different districts occupying the 400 hectares within the
city walls had become one of the most densely populated urban centres in Europe. In 1986,
more than 100,000 people were living in surroundings that had been allowed to undergo
urban, social and economic degradation and which the public authorities had turned their
backs on for many decades. Paradoxically, it was precisely the area where the
representatives of public authority (rather than of local people) took all the decisions.
In the second half of the 1980s, we started to do away with the absurd antagonism between
the new Barcelona and the Ciutat Vella.To begin with, the panorama was not very
encouraging. All the negative factors derived first from Barcelona's industrial growth and
then the economic crisis of the 1970s, had been concentrated in the Ciutat Vella district.
Unemployment, hard drug consumption and prostitution found fertile ground in a set of
districts characterized by the degradation of the housing stock and the architectural
heritage, and by historic aims first raised in reforms planned in the early 20th century,
but which were never fulfilled. As a result of all these factors, many people moved away
to other parts of the city, a phenomenon that was as intense as the influx of immigrants
into this degraded area, precisely because it was the only area they could afford to live.