Mark Raymond on City and Design

“Architecture is the making of the city over time.” – Italian architect Aldo Rossi

Mark Raymond, president of The Trinidad and Tobago Institute of Architects, argues that, in order to achieve a more equitable society, cities must design public spaces that facilitate greater participation. He criticizes the privileging of architecture as visual commodity over more pragmatic aspects of design like how a space will be used. Instead of creating cities that boast spectacular buildings designed by star architects, the focus should be on the production of spaces that bring people together. I wholeheartedly agree and recommend that you watch the video. However, I find it surprising that he mentions Barcelona as a blueprint to follow. What one can and cannot do in public space in Barcelona has progressively become more restricted since the passing of the Laws of Communal Living in 2005. Also, the image of Barcelona is tied precisely to famous architects like Richard Meier and Jean Nouvel and their respective buildings, the Museum of Contemporary Art (MACBA) and the Torre Agbar to name a few. The latest spectacular project to generate controversy has been the Hotel Vela by the highly acclaimed architect Ricardo Bofill. This luxury hotel is just another example of urban planning that does not benefit the people…

T-5 Days and Counting Until Barcelona Becomes a Patented Collective Brand

David Harvey in “The Art of Rent” outlines the importance of the selling of place in order to generate monopoly rents. No city has mastered this technique better than Barcelona. Since the 1992 Summer Olympics, Barcelona has successfully marketed itself as a modern, innovative, and cosmopolitan global city that offers tourists and investors design, culture, high-end products, and cutting-edge technology. Companies like Natura Bissé (cosmetics), Custo (clothing) and Damm (beer) have attached the name Barcelona to their products to help sell them. To protect the Barcelona Brand, the Barcelona City Council has decided to patent its good name. If the Spanish Office of Patents and Brands (la Oficina Española de Patentes y Marcas) rules in favor of the request on April 16, 2012, Barcelona will become the first metropolitan area in Spain to be granted a patent.

 To find out more, read Jaume Aroca’s article in La Vanguardia (in Spanish).

City Planning 101: Ildefons Cerdà

Ildefons Cerdà (1815-1876) was a (socialist) nineteenth-century planner of note. In his two volume Teoría general de la urbanización / General Theory of Urbanization (from 1867; the link is to tome I on googlebooks) Cerdà invoked the organic metaphor of the city prevalent at the time–writing things like:

“Introducing the scalpel into the most intimate and recondite areas of the social and urban organism, one discovers the original cause alive and in action, the fecund seed of the grave illness that corrodes the entrails of humanity” (1867: 16–17, my translation).

Urban Scholar Richard Sennett touches upon this metaphor in his bookThe Craftsman (2008) where he writes of the connection between the city and knowledge of the human body:

“The scalpel had permitted anatomists to study the circulation of the blood: that knowledge, applied to the circulation of movement in streets, suggested that streets worked like arteries and veins” (2008: 204).

In his design Cerdà privileged (created?) the “xamfrà” (chamfer in English) or truncated corner. As scholar Joan Ramon Resina writes “The xamfrà is the palpable sign of Cerdà’s subordination of living space to movement” (Barcelona’s Vocation of Modernity 22).

The pictures below show: Cerdà, an image of Cerdà’s Eixample pushing beyond the gangly streets of Barcelona’s medieval walls, a building set on one of Barcelona’s characteristic xamfrà corners, and strangely, a brand of cava named after the planner’s truncated corner (gotta market that culture…).

For a great visual meditation on Barcelona’s urban environment, change and modernity, see the film En construcción by José Luis Guerín–and a fantastic article by Abigail Loxham on the subject.

Barcelona on/off Film

Barcelona–the city with (as scholar Joan Ramon Resina titles his 2008 book) the “vocation of modernity”–has been the star of a number of films. Perhaps none are as visually stunning and recent as Biutiful (2010, starring Javier Bardem but featuring an incredible, numerous cast, directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu).

Substantially changed by planner Ildefons Cerdà’s nineteenth-century geometrical vision for the city (above, the plan dates from 1859), Barcelona experienced subsequent changes in 1888, in 1929, and in preparation for the Olympic Games in 1992.

The more recent changes are also analyzed in depth as part of Donald McNeill’s 1999 book Urban Change and the European Left, and the areas at the center of these new late XXth-century changes have a predominant role (even if they appear only infrequently) in the film Biutiful–where the triumphant, international vision of Barcelona as a model for contemporary urban planning is splendidly juxtaposed to the underworld of sweatshop labor and exploitation upon which many of Barcelona’s successes rely.

Definitely a must-see film for students of urban cultural studies.