Author: Rafael Gomez-Moriana

Gaudí’s Essential Hut

  El Xalet de Catllaràs is a mountain refuge by Antoni Gaudí completed in 1905 for workers of the Asland cement company owned then by Eusebi Güell, Gaudí’s principal patron. It is situated in the foothills of the Catalan Pyrenees at an altitude of almost 1400 m. Getting there requires hiking (or mountain-biking) 10 km uphill along a forest trail out of the small rural town of La Pobla de Lillet (where Gaudí also designed a private garden for the textile industrialist Joan Artigas). The refuge sits all by itself on a small plateau in a clearing in the forest; a context that is radically different from the rest of Gaudí’s oeuvre. No tacky souvenir shops; no fast food joints whatsoever. When I went there with my hiking buddies on a recent weekend, there was nobody else to be seen anywhere for miles. Together with the snow and freezing cold temperature, it felt almost like being back in Canada. Indeed, at first sight, Gaudí’s 1905 refuge is reminiscent of those 1950s North American “A-frame” cabins that are also typically situated in forests, except that Gaudí’s “A” has a rounded apex as well as curved stems, and is not a frame structure at all, but a masonry vault based on the geometry of a catenary or funicular, which Gaudí experimented with throughout his career. Despite their structural differences, both the North American...

Read More

Electoral Architecture

Elections for the mayorship of Barcelona are coming up later this year, and we’re already being delivered promises in the form of outrageous urban-architectural proposals. As reported by yesterday’s La Vanguardia, a German businessman named Karl Jacobi, who is running for mayor, is promising to build 300,000 social housing units on a new artificial island off Barcelona’s coast. Yes, three hundred thousand. In a city that seriously lacks affordable places to live, social housing is a serious necessity. But an artificial island? Has Herr Jakobi considered how large such an island would have to be to accommodate that many dwellings? If this...

Read More

Fake Architecture News II

Screengrab of article in A few posts back, I discussed “fake architecture news” (FAN) in blogs and social media, describing an offer I had recently received to allow this very blog you’re reading to feature unidentified “sponsored content” in exchange for financial compensation. Another example of FAN is this story, published in an Australian real-estate magazine, about a stunning house by the Iranian firm Nextoffice. “A feat of engineering” is the first line we read in the caption below the opening image; a term that strongly implies that the work in question is built. After all, there is a big difference between a building consisting of real bricks and mortar –and with real people actually living in it– and one that exists merely as imagery, no matter how perfect. Considering how radical the design is, it would indeed be quite a feat of engineering if this house actually existed. (It would also probably be a feat of money-spending and  –given all the glass– air-conditioning, but that’s another story.) Let’s start reading the article: “It appears to be made from improbable shapes, architecture too sophisticated to be true. Yet this futuristic home in Iran is a feat of engineering as much as it is impressive design.” Note the use of the words “made”, “true”, “in Iran”, and the repetition of “feat” in the opening paragraph. This stunning house must surely be for real!...

Read More

How Much Does Your Conscience Weigh, Mr. Foster?

Dear Norman, I just read the following in the Architect’s Journal: “Amid an escalating crisis over the missing journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Saudi authorities have announced Foster’s place on the advisory board of its $500 billion NEOM project. An official statement seen by the AJ and dated last Tuesday (9 October) announced that Foster is one of 18 ‘global experts’ on NEOM’s global advisory board, which would help realise the mission of the proposed desert mega-city, described as the world’s most ambitious project.” I know you superstar architects can never say no to a project when a generous budget is involved and you are given carte blanche by the client, not to mention immunity from environmental feasibility studies, community participation workshops, or building permit applications. Those things –like taxes– are for little architects. You would know better than anyone. I, for one, wish to hereby inform you of my refusal to cover the NEOM project in the future in any way, shape or form. And I call on all critics to follow suit. Sincerely, Rafa   P.S. Just so you don’t feel singled out, Rem was the recipient of a similar letter some years ago, on a similar topic. Source:...

Read More

Is Tourism the Only Thing Killing Barcelona?

La Rambla on a warm summer night: tourists, tat, prostitutes, and more tourists. A few days ago, The Guardian published a piece titled “Why Tourism is Killing Barcelona” that describes the damage that “overtourism” is causing in this city. However, to complete the picture (and since the comments section of the Guardian article is closed), I would like to point out some other things killing the city as well. Drugs. Heroin is back, and Barcelona’s heroin is among the cheapest in Europe. Sometimes it sells for as little as 5€ a fix. How do I know? I live in El Raval, where there are dozens of “narcopisos” (drug dens), which are mostly bank-repossessed flats squatted by drug traffickers. The junkies, many of them homeless, are from all over Europe and elsewhere; speaking English, Italian, German, and Dutch, among other languages. Now I suppose we could say that they are “narcotourists,” but what is certain is that they are attracted to the city not by its sights, but by the apparent leniency of local law enforcement, which is concentrating its efforts on jihadist terrorism ever since the attacks of one year ago. Dirt. In my 17 years of living in Barcelona, I have never seen so much trash in the streets. The city’s cleaning crews can’t keep up. Is it all tourists’ garbage? A good part of it is, yes, but much of...

Read More