Architecture in Barcelona

When Barcelona hosted the first ever World Architecture Festival in late 2008, the event was such a success that it was immediately decided to return to the Catalan capital the following year.

And, really, no-one should be surprised.

Few cities can boast such a wealth of stunning architecture: ranging majestically from 4th century Roman remnants to the classically resplendent cathedral in the Gothic Quarter. Then moving on to the turn of the 20th Century Catalan Renaissance buildings. And finally, last – but in no way to be considered least – some amazing modern architectural wonders.

Don’t let anyone tell you that Barcelona’s architecture is simply about Gaudí!

The three predominant architectural styles to be found in the city can be categorised as Catalan Gothic, Modernism and Contemporary. The first of these, naturally, is especially to be found when wandering the narrow streets of the Barri Gòtic. This is a classic medieval maze of palaces, grand houses, courtyards and churches from around the 15th Century.

Ironically, perhaps, the Gaudí inspired modernistas of the turn of the 20th Century incorporated Catalan Gothic into their own innovative ideas – along with Islamic, Romanesque, Byzantine and ‘fairy tale’! This unique Catalan style, featuring adventurous new combinations of building materials – glass, tile, brick, steel – as well as a startlingly new sense of perspective can be seen at its most stunning in the L’Eixample area. For example, in the Manzana de la Discordia, visitors can see buildings by the trio of great Catalan architects – Lluís Domènech I Montaner, Josep Puig I Cadafalch and Gaudí – all adjacent to each other. The other major Gaudí designed constructions are well-known and comprehensively covered elsewhere in these pages but the influence of his two contemporaries cannot be dismissed. Go to the Palau de la Música to appreciate Domènech’s virtuosity and, for, evidence of Puig’s imagination, look no further than Els Quatre Gats.

But Barcelona, above all else, is an organic city and nowhere is this more apparent than in its architecture. Always ready to embrace new ideas, there are some startling buildings that have been constructed within the past 20 years.

The Montjuïc Tower, for example, was designed by Santiago Calatrava to commemorate and symbolise the Barcelona Olympic Games. This 136 metre tower resembles a stylised piece of sculpture, almost bone-like, hewn from a single piece of marble or ivory.

Then there is the Telecom Tower designed by Sir Norman Foster at Collserola, 288 metres high and to the north of the city, watching over it.

As recently as 2005 Barcelona saw the opening of Jean Nouvel’s skyscraper, Torre Agbar – inspired by Gaudí, the strangely shaped peaks around Montserrat and the blues of the Mediterranean Sea. The building has been praised for its ‘magnitude and daring architecture’; a phrase that sums up the whole city.

And this is still going on. Barcelona’s Nou Camp stadium is currently being redeveloped – again by Sir Norman Foster – so that, by 2013 – it will be a dazzling tribute to Gaudí and his contemporaries, with a façade resembling his ceramic style appearance, in Barcelona’s (and Catalunya’s) historic colours.

Wherever you go in Barcelona, you will see bold, imaginative buildings that help transmit the rich history of this vibrant, individualistic city.