Barcelona: Hall of Shame

Jun 30, 2003
Dec 14, 2017

Treatment of elderly people on major streets

When you add it all up, a city that treats its elderly badly is clearly at odds with its most sacred and wise citizens. This is not uncommon among most cities. In fact, New York, our home city, is even more negligent than Barcelona. But Barcelona, because of its great boulevards and streets seems to have forgotten that with that great quality comes the necessity to temper traffic to be more harmonious with the character of its street.

Passeig de Garcia Faria & Passeig Colom

These two streets are part of the waterfront network of roads that connect the city north and south. Parallel to these streets and often under them is a highway. The architecture of building along these streets coupled with the sterile sidewalks and fast moving lanes, takes out a whole opportunity to travel comfortably along the a main boulevard along the water. This is such an egregious error.

It reminds us of the similarly terrible road along the San Francisco waterfront. It severely inhibits activity and complementary development along the waterfront and in our view serves as a major obstacle to the city. A moat could hardly be worse.

Seating in Placa Reial

This is comical. Nowhere have we seen a more overt attempt at trying to get rid of "undesirables." The picture speaks for itself. Clearly every one loses in this feeble attempt to rid an important square of terrible behavior. Carefully adding activity and appropriately placed amenities with substantially improved management and security could return this once important asset to its former greatness.

Parc Diagonal del Mar

We were sorely disappointed – and disturbed – at this development. People had told us that it was the future of Barcelona; if this is so, then Barcelona is in serious danger. In the Hall of Shame, Diagonal del Mar ranks right up there with two other awful parks, Citroen and La Villette, in Paris. There were no games or activities that except a playground. Even there, we watched kids enter, explore for a short while, become bored, then go play on the grass.

We like to think this park was designed by lawyers. At no place could you touch the plentiful water. The buildings and shopping center also contribute to the “look but don’t touch” attitude. The residential towers are set in empty plazas which give you the impression that you are only meant to drive up to them (in fact, we only saw cars going to and from them). The entire development perfectly defines what we mean by our “Hall of Shame” on the Great Public Spaces website.

Museu d'Art Contemporani de Barcelona

This was such a tragic missed opportunity. This art museum could be such a fantastic public gathering place for the diverse Raval community that surrounds it, an expression of contemporary art to add a special quality to a dense urban neighborhood, and a bringing together of people from all over the world for a combination of art, culture, and local residents. Instead, it is a terrifically successful skateboard park that draws skaters from all over Catalonia.

We liked the architecture and the exhibition spaces, although the art itself was lackluster enough that there were more people looking at the skateboarding outside than inside the entire museum. What could be a great example of a contemporary building fitting into an ancient walled city and contributing to its community life and culture is instead truly out of place.

As with so many buildings of this ilk, the main problems were few uses on the ground floor (to engage and attract pedestrians), and an insistence that the plaza design reflect the minimalist building design. A purely visual space invites only purely one-dimensional uses. Suburban buildings relish making a big design statement – and they have the space to do so (for better or worse). Urban buildings need to support dynamic human activity, and therefore need appropriate and sensitive design. Apparently, the designers of this building did not understand that responsibility. 

Hotel Arts Barcelona

The rooms of this waterfront high-rise hotel start on the 2nd floor. All of its restaurants and other amenities are far removed from anything that resembles a city. The base of the building serves the automobile with scant attention to human activity. Isolated, it blocks what could be a natural progression of individual buildings that reinforce and complement those around them. In all, this hotel seems designed for people who are afraid of setting foot in a real city. In fact, the whole district, developed for the 1992 Olympics, is a disappointment. 

Placa Paisos Catalans

This plaza in front of the Estacio de Sants (railroad station) is an empty, useless disaster of a space. There is no gathering place, no vistas… in short there is no there, there. This desolate void is no way to arrive or leave a great city.

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