Barcelona: Great Public Spaces
Antonio Gaudi, along with his patron, Eusebi Guell, had started out building a park with 40 house sites for large families with children and domestic help – an early, in-town version of the elite, walled-off neighborhoods we see today in the U.S. In fact, only two houses were built, and the remaining land became a glorious public park that is one of the great treasures of Barcelona and the world.
Las Ramblas is one of those rare streets that makes you more enamored of its subtleties each time you travel along it. This former stream bed, used as a promenade by citizens when it was dry, was in time covered over to become the ultimate “River of Life”: a place people came together to experience the life of their city. Today it still is the grandest of walkways, one with very distinct changes among its sections (thus the plural name) as one strolls its 5,000 feet from the Placa de Catalunya to the Monument a Colom next to the sea. [click here for a slideshow]
We loved the wonderful quiet and comfortable quality of this ramblas. Its effect is one that immediately slows your pace, allowing you to observe the numerous people just relaxing and enjoying themselves (an activity at which the locals excel). It also has glorious architectural bookends: the Sagrada Familia and the Hospital de la Santa Creu i de Sant Pau. [click here for a slideshow]
On Sundays this park is a kind of international “happening” of enormous proportions; overall, it’s one of the most intensively used parks we’ve ever seen. This makes it a great place to observe public life, as it draws a variety of people from all ages and cultures, who use it in equally varied ways. Ciutadella is a living demonstration of user-friendly design, showcasing all the components needed for a good park. Comparing it with Parc del Diagonal (Hall of Shame) only further confirms how bad the latter is. [click here for a slideshow]
The presence of this market is a real indicator that the Barri Gothic, the heart of the old city, is alive and well. This is not a tourist market (though tourists do come in large numbers) – it is first and foremost about food. The huge array of goods draws all kinds of people, who come to eat standing up at a number of small bar/cafes, or to buy provisions for their next meal.
Having sat upon benches all over the world, we think that those designed by Gaudi at the Parc Guell and on the Passeig de Gracia are unsurpassed examples of a seamless combination of art and function. Remarkable, in that combining these two qualities seems so important. Yet the simple originality of these benches is so striking, you can’t help but ponder how little attention is commonly paid to something so elemental. [click here for a slideshow]
Even though the word is French, we believe that Barcelona defines “boulevard” for the rest of the world. It has all kinds, from wide streets with wide sidewalks; to streets with a small “Ramblas” down the middle; to the most elaborate version, with major travel lanes and side-access roads, divided by generous walkways for pedestrians. Each boulevard type has many variations, making Barcelona the only place to fully appreciate the evolution of the boulevard.
Easily a worthy contender with the Champs Elysee as one of the grandest boulevards of the world. In fact, we prefer the Passeig as it is more restrained commercially, creating a nice balance among sidewalk, architecture and commercial activity. When originally built, it had narrow sidewalks with a side access road and a wide walkway for strolling (a primary activity at the time). With little access to the stores in buildings lining it, the boulevard struggled. Eventually the sidewalks were widened and the street took its current shape. At 180 feet, it is one of the widest of any city. But it is still comfortable, with an appropriate scale in relation to the size of the buildings flanking it. The extraordinary architecture along this street is one of its great attractions. [click here for a slideshow]
This church has an almost mystical presence in the city. One can never forget the uniqueness of this grandest example of Gaudi’s architecture. We think it’s comparable to the Taj Mahal, the ruins at Tikal, or the Sydney Opera House. [click here for a slideshow]
One immediately thinks of the Opera in Paris or La Scala in Milan when one becomes familiar with the magnificence of this palace to the arts. Despite being tucked away on a narrow street, you quickly sense the power this building has on its surroundings. People seem in awe just being near the energy that it exudes.
The grand buildings that make up this complex are in utter contrast to contemporary hospitals, vast mazes of passages that are cut off from any sense orientation. What went wrong? Here is a complex of beautiful buildings that offer many public and private places for rest and contemplation. There is also a sense that each building has its own purpose, and yet together there is a wholeness that makes this hospital seem very special. Doubtless its layout creates many problems, but many of the positive qualities at this hospital seem missing in our more modern versions. [click here for a slideshow]
Architecture of the Eixample
Cities that expanded from the late 1800s to the early/mid 1900s — such as Vienna, Prague, Paris, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Stockholm, and Saint Petersberg — did so by adding to the old, often walled city with a grid system. The Eixample is one of the best examples of this development, with a wealth of architecture from that period by such names as Antoni Gaudi, Telm Fernandez i Janot, Enrique Sagnier I Villavecchia, and Josep Puig i Cadafalch that leaves an indelible impression of innovation and excellence. Most buildings are eight to nine stories high; some have murals and often wonderful details, allowing important interior rooms to have a better exposure to the street. [click here for a slideshow]