Author: Rafael Gomez-Moriana

Sponging the City

Esponjamiento urbano, a Spanish term that literally translates as “urban sponging”, refers to the process of aerating dense, historical urban environments so they become more “porous”. It involves demolishing buildings to make way for public space or public right-of-ways of some sort, thus reducing urban density. A similar concept in French is percement urbain, meaning to “pierce” new avenues through a city fabric; the most famous example being Baron Haussmann’s renovation of Paris. The pre-modern European city,  enclosed by ramparts, was densely built up mainly for reasons of defensibility. However these ramparts eventually became ineffective against “improvements” in artillery, at which time they became perceived as a limitation on urban growth rather than a protective shield. Barcelona was late in tearing down its ramparts (Bourbon rule prevented Barcelona from doing so for a century and half as a form of collective punishment), which explains why its historical city centre is so dense. When its walls finally did come down, late in the 19th century, the city quadrupled in area following an urban plan –the famous Eixample grid by Cerdà– that was much more “spongiform” for reasons of public health and transport efficiency; a plan based on “sun, space and green” decades before Le Corbusier would coin that motto. Many public spaces in the historical centre of Barcelona were created through an “urban sponging” process. Plaça Nova, Plaça Reial, Carrer Ferran, Via Laietana,...

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Notes from a Recent Construction Site Visit

La Borda’s north-facing street façade. The double-height communal space will eventually be enclosed with polycarbonate to form an intermediate climate zone in conjunction with a central atrium. I was recently fortunate enough to be shown a truly interesting work of architecture currently under construction in Barcelona: La Borda housing co-operative, by Lacol Arquitectes. Visiting buildings while they are under construction is, for me, fundamental (pardon the expression) to architectural learning. On a construction site, something real is being built for a practical use, not something that is merely intended to be admired visually or conceptually. Normally, of course, we visit...

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Inner Space

Photo by José Hevia courtesy GuillermoSantoma.com [Originally published in Azure Magazine November 2017] For an up-and-coming advertising agency called The Keenfolks, following the rules is not necessarily top of mind. Creativity – read: less polish, no budget – is more important, as is experimentation, and letting ideas fall where they may. It made perfect sense, then, for the founders of the Barcelona firm to let local designer Guillermo Santomà do as he liked for their new office space, situated in a former factory complex where a half-dozen or so other start-ups are neighbours with automotive and metal workshops. Santomà chose to model the office after the white-cube paradigm of an art gallery, and he built the project himself – an approach more like an artist than that of a designer. In fact, Santomà’s designs are often hard to distinguish from fine art. His interiors can be wildly chromatic, and his one-off objects are a cross between form and function: a chair, for instance, that is made from Plexiglas and a found rock, and a set of chairs covered in tiny blue swimming pool tiles. Visitors enter the Keenfolks office – a bright, 300-square-metre single room with windows on two sides – from a large stairwell off the street. The first object they encounter is a dome, crowned with palm leaves, that resembles one of Italian artist Mario Merz’s “igloos,” replete with...

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Vinylizing the Barcelona Pavilion

The Barcelona Pavilion is as white as Greek yoghurt right now. All the Roman travertine, ancient green marble, green Alpine marble, the golden onyx and stainless steel surfaces have been covered with white vinyl as part of an installation by local architects Anna and Eugeni Bach titled “Mies Missing Materiality” (hereinafter referred to as “MMM”). The only surfaces that have been left unchanged are all the glass, the pool, and the ceiling, which is white anyway. The red velvet curtains and the black carpet have been removed, as have the famous chairs designed by Lily Reich. The installation is coming down on 27 November, so if you’re an archi-tourist who is thinking of making the pilgrimage to Modernism’s greatest building this week, you might want to hold off. As we know from having read William O’Doherty’s Inside the White Cube, white is itself a colour. The architects could have selected pink, orange, or black vinyl, but no, they chose white, coincidentally (or perhaps not) the de rigeur wall colour of every contemporary art gallery. Indeed, the pavilion right now looks vaguely like Richard Meier’s MACBA contemporary art museum situated not very far away. But it’s the title that is curious, because vinyl is itself a material. For one thing, it’s highly toxic to the environment, and in this case, exactly 3800 m2 of removable vinyl adhesive film was used. Like paper,...

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Diving Deep: Tunateca Balfegó by El Equipo Creativo

Photo: Adrià Goula [Originally published in Frame Magazine #118] In creating Tunateca Balfegó Espai Gastronómic, a restaurant dedicated exclusively to dishes prepared with Atlantic bluefin tuna (atún rojo in Spanish, an allusion to the deep red colour of the raw meat), acclaimed Barcelona studio El Equipo Creativo was tasked with both the interiors and the concept of the somewhat unusual establishment. The project is the brainchild of a family from the small coastal town of L’Ametlla de Mar, in the neighbouring province of Tarragona. Having fished the Mediterranean for five generations, the Balfegós are renowned for supplying top chefs around the world with this highly prized delicacy. Don’t be confused: despite its name, the Atlantic bluefin also populates the waters of the Mediterranean. “We were commissioned to design a gastronomic space that would promote Atlantic bluefin tuna as a quality product and, at the same time, make it known to the general public,” says El Equipo Creativo partner Natali Canas del Pozo. “We worked closely with the Balfegó family from the very beginning, at the conceptual stage, even before a space had been found.” The challenge, she explains, “was to create a showroom or ‘flagship store’ for a brand of tuna – and to do for that brand what has been so successfully done with Iberian ham: make it widely known as a local product of a very high quality.” To achieve...

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