Architecture can reveal key stories about a city's past or hold a vision of its future. Some of the most architecturally interesting structures are obvious, but other times they are easy to miss. Today, we take a journey through Barcelona, one of CAPA's global cities, to check out some of the architecture you should be sure to see when you study abroad.
1. CASA AMATLLER & CASA BATLLO
There’s a block along Barcelona’s famous shopping street Passeig de Gràcia that’s nicknamed “Manzana de la Discordia”, or “The Block of Discord” where the buildings, designed by four of the city’s different Mordernista architects, all clash in their styles. The most famous of these is Cast Batlló, one of Antoni Gaudí’s impressive whimsical masterpieces and an UNESCO World Heritage Site. Next door is the intricately detailed Casa Amatller, designed by Josep Puig i Cadafalch. It’s a “typical urban gothic residence” in which a building of apartments is made to look like one single grand home. Walk the full length of the block while you’re there.
2. MERCAT DE SANTA CATERINA
Even better admired from the surrounding balconies (or from the top of the Barcelona Cathedral) than the ground, the star of the Mercat de Santa Caterina is its dramatic roof. Writer Jonathan Glancey described it well in a Guardian piece, where he wrote that the market’s roof is “adorned with a magic carpet of 325,000 colourful ceramic tiles lifted on writhing, and intertwining, steel columns.” Spanish ceramics artist Toni Comella collaborated with architects Enric Miralles and Benedetta Tagliabue in its design and its structure was engineered by José María Velasco Rivas - a true group effort. Below that magical roof is a food lover’s paradise, so don’t skip a look inside to pick up something delicious!
3. MUSEU BLAU DE LES CIENCIES NATURALS
Also known as Edificio Forum, the building that houses the museum of natural sciences was designed by Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron. It’s impossible not to notice the striking mix of shapes and textures within the building, with its triangular form and the vivid blue plaster that coats its surface. Vertical “voids” have been sliced out - seemingly at random and in various long shapes - to reveal a reflective material beneath. Visually, this connects the top of the building with the bottom, but it also provides light and ventilation to the indoor spaces. There’s a public plaza beneath, the ceiling of which is covered with custom-designed metal tiles that are meant to look like the surface of the nearby sea. Inside, there are various exhibition spaces (including a permanent exhibition called Blue Planet), workshops, labs, a media library, restaurant and shop.
4. TORRE GLORIES
Formerly known as Torre Agbar, the former headquarters of the water company Grup Agbar was originally designed to resemble a geyser. It was also inspired by the Montserrat Mountain range and the towers of La Sagrada Familia, meant to become a symbol of Barcelona. Locals have christened it with several playful nicknames. It’s very different from the many Gaudí buildings that the city is most famous for and is worth a visit especially at night when it is lit up in different colors. The 38-story skyscraper was a collaboration between the Atelier Jean Nouvel and the local b720 architectural practice. It’s covered in 59,619 strips of sheet metal painted different colours - panels that, combined with the effects of the glass, alter the color balance of the tower depending on the time of day and the season.
5. PALAU DE LA MUSICA CATALANA
Opened in 1908 and declared an UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997, the Palau de la Música Catalana was designed as a concert hall for choral and classical music and still functions as one, but now features a wider array of genres, including Flamanco. Both the outside and inside are truly awe-inspiring and vibrantly colorful works of art. The architect was Lluís Domènech i Montaner. This is another great example of the Catalan Modernista style, but also pays strong attention to function which was not typical in the Modernista buildings. In fact, its walls are the first example of curtain wall structures. It’s worth booking a guided tour to explore the whole building, especially the main concert hall.6. HOSPITAL DE LA SANTA CREU I DE SANT PAU
A masterpiece by the architect Lluis Domènech i Montaner and another example of Barcelona architecture on the UNESCO World Heritage List, Hospital Sant Pau opened in 1930. Built to combine six medieval hospitals into one large space, it was a fully functioning hospital until 2009 before undergoing renovations and, in 2014, becoming a museum and cultural center. It was designed originally as a “park hospital”, an escape from the city for the sick and their families, full of trees and gardens where medicinal plants are grown. Horse chestnut, lime and orange trees give the grounds some summer shade. Inside, there’s an impressive entry hall with mosaic ceilings and marble columns. The shape of the main building is meant to represent a person welcoming patients in with open arms.7. TORRE DIAGONAL ZEROZERO
An example of high tech architecture, Torre Diagonal ZeroZero was designed by Emba Estudi Massip-Bosch arquitectes. It was erected in an impressive time, with the diamond-shaped structure going up in just eight months and its inauguration two short years after construction began. At one point, more than 450 workers were on-site simultaneously, with three shifts a day. The most visually impressive aspect of this building is its exterior with the shape of the criss-crossing lattice taking cues from its location. (The tower is at the beginning of Avinguda Diagonal, a street that crosses the whole city diagonally.) It’s meant to be supportive during high winds or earthquakes. From the top 24th floor, there are excellent views over both the city and the sea.
8. CASA MILA
Casa Mila is more popularly known as La Pedrera which means “stone quarry” because it physically resembles an open stone quarry. It’s another one of Gaudí’s buildings - his most iconic work of civic architecture. Like many of his pieces that take take inspiration from the natural world, La Pedrera does too. It’s also another one of the many UNESCO World Heritage Sites found in Barcelona. The curvy facade is a curtain wall rather than a structural one with impressive decorative wrought iron balconies. The “weird” design of the building brought about a lot of controversy with the neighbors when it was created! It was originally designed as a home with additional apartments to rent out, but now hosts various cultural events and you can take tours. The rooftop is particularly lovely to explore. 9. BARCELONA PAVILLION
BBC writer Jonathan Glancey called Mies van der Rohe’s Pavilion “one of the most influential modernist buildings of the 20th Century”. It was originally part of the 1929 International Exposition in Barcelona where it stood for only a short while as a temporary structure, during which time it was called the “German Pavilion”. It was peaceful and serene and had no purpose but to be used for quiet time and relaxation. So loved and memorable was this structure in that short time that, in 1983, a group of local architects get together and decided to reproduce the building from drawings and photographs. The replica opened in 1986, and it once again stands in its original location at the foot of the National Art Museum of Catalonia and Montjuic.
10. LA SAGRADA FAMILIA
Saving what is arguably the most famous on this list for last, a must-see piece of architecture while you’re studying abroad in Barcelona is, of course, Gaudí’s La Sagrada Familia. It’s a building created to embody his religious beliefs. He was devoutly catholic. Fittingly, he is buried there. Each of the architectural elements - the pillars, the spires, etc. - represents some sort of Christian symbolism. Construction began in 1882 and the expected completion date is not until 2026, so there’s still a lot of work to be done and the building is constantly under construction, but that’s just part of its charm for now. The interiors are an incredible site to see. You’ll either love it, or you’ll hate it (like George Orwell who famously said it was “one of the most hideous buildings in the world”). Either way, go and decide for yourself. Don’t miss it!