Author: Rafael Gomez-Moriana

Knock on Stone: A Brief, Informal Acoustic Experiment at the Barcelona Pavilion

The original Barcelona Pavilion is believed to be the first time that stone was “hung” in the form of thin panels from an internal structure, with an airspace separation instead of mortar. In other words, it is the first case of a non-monolithic stone wall, as opposed to the solid, load-bearing masonry walls of time immemorial. The reason for using thin panels was probably to save money, as well as to be able to reuse the precious stone after the pavilion had served its purpose. Yet, the pavilion walls also contains segments of traditional solid stone, namely at the ends of its characteristic “free” walls. This was presumably done to avoid having to expose an edge of a stone panel when turning a corner, which would reveal its thinness. It’s a simple detail, but it shows how important it was for this building to convey a desirable appearance over and above its constructional reality; in essence, to establish a certain decorum. It was built for an international exposition, after all, a type of event which is entirely scenographic. In fact, it’s known that the back-sides of the pavilion had stuccoed brick walls painted to look like stone. I have visited this building on countless occasions, and never actually noticed that it contains both monolithic as well as superficial stone, and that the only way to distinguish these is by knocking on them...

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Barcelona’s biggest market, Mercat Sant Antoni, has finally opened its doors after a renovation process lasting nearly a decade. The original market, by architect Antoni Rovira i Trias, was completed in 1882 inside the then-new Eixample district, occupying an entire city block with a diagonal cruciform configuration that intelligently places entrances at every street-intersection. With its multiple access-points (there are also four mid-block entrances) and its seamless integration with the urban infrastructure, Mercat Sant Antoni was effectively a megastructure nearly a century before these became an architectural thing. A “mini-megastructure”, perhaps, but prototypical nevertheless. First of four underground levels, with a fragment of a rampart unearthed on the site. Now, with the addition of four new levels underground –one level contains a supermarket as well as a multi-use space with archaeological ruins uncovered during the big dig, another underground level is an unloading area for dozens of delivery trucks, and two more levels contain underground parking– this is even more of a megastructure. To boot, the block that the market occupies now forms part of a “superilla“, or a superbock within which streets have been converted into greenways, intersections into public squares, and motor-traffic has been reduced and calmed beyond recognition. A superilla-mini-megastructure? This was previously a busy traffic intersection, now it’s a small square within a “Superilla” The renovation of Mercat Sant Antoni by GINA Architects has all the characteristics...

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Housing Thinking

[Originally published in House US, eds. Jae Sung Chon and Kent Mundle (Winnipeg: OCDI Press, 2018)] “Les 5 étages du monde parisien”, Edmond Texier, Tableau de Paris (courtesy In comparison to the design of a single (-family) house, or indeed any singular architectural object, housing involves a different way of thinking. The architecture of housing has more to do with systems, economies of scale and multiplicity. It forces us, more than with any other kind of architectural design project, to consider space in terms of public versus private use (and the various shades of grey in-between), spatial appropriation, flexibility, efficiency, and yes, practicality. It requires us to think about the spaces between buildings as much as those inside, and to think about landscape in much more subtle terms than merely “green space”. Housing is architecture at its most humanitarian, social, and ecological, and as such at its most political, urban and complex. It is where architecture comes closest to confronting the ecological and therefore ethical question of how we should live; of how we should construct our habitat so that it is fair, just, and sustainable. Housing thinking addresses the very form of everyday human life itself. After all, housing is what mostly makes up the built environment. Other types of buildings might be accorded more monumentality and prestige, along with bigger budgets, but the mere bulk of housing...

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Stop Demolishing Useful Buildings: a Manifesto for an Architecture of Transformation

I’m a walking nightmare, an arsenal of doom I kill conversation as I walk into the room I’m a three line whip I’m the sort of thing they ban I’m a walking disaster I’m a demolition man (Demolition Man, by Sting) Demolition in progress in Barcelona’s historic centre Why is the demolition of old buildings and their replacement by new ones still widely seen as a sign of “progress”? Why is transforming an existing structure considered somehow “less architectural” than demolishing it and building anew? Demolishing perfectly sound, useful structures harms both the environment as well as our collective memory. In this age of human-induced climate change, existing buildings should be maintained and transformed through adaptive reuse whenever possible, regardless of whether they are listed as heritage or not. But there is also the issue of collective memory that is permanently lost whenever buildings are demolished that could otherwise be refurbished: their replacement by new buildings usually leads to a much more sterile and soulless environment, especially when this is done on a massive scale. This is not about preserving a status quo for reasons of nostalgia. Far from it. There are plenty of structurally unsound buildings everywhere for creating new building sites, to say nothing of the abundance of empty lots in many cities. This is rather about not always discarding things that are still perfectly useful, and...

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A New Low: the World’s Tallest Building

Faced with a half-day layover in Dubai recently, I decided to visit the tallest building in the world. I could have opted to visit a more architecturally pedigreed building, such as Concrete at Alserkal Avenue by OMA, or the Muraba Residences by RCR, both designed by Pritzker laureates. But no, I opted for the “marvel of engineering” that seemingly everyone else visiting The United Arab Emirates was also rushing to see, judging by the lineup at the ticket counter before it even opened. Dubai’s high-brow architecture can wait until another layover. Fashion Avenue at the Mall of Dubai The oddest thing about visiting the Burj Khalifa tower is the approach. It’s impossible for a visitor to enter through the building’s front door and lobby just like the everyday users of the building. Instead, visitors must approach this mega-skyscraper through an adjacent mega-shopping centre, the Mall of Dubai, from which a tunnel-like corridor containing an exhibition of gee-whiz factoids about the building leads to a ticket counter and waiting zone. At the ticket counter, a choice has to made between “At the Top”, a ride up an express elevator to the 124th and 125th floors that costs 135 AED (roughly €30), and “At the Top Sky“, a ride up another express lift to the 148th floor that costs a whopping 525 AED (nearly €120). Of course, I opt for the...

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