A skyline in motion
© Laura Dosouto López

Barcelona is a vibrant city under constant renewal. Its desire for change, transformation and rejuvenation has turned it into the place that we know today.

Barcelona’s tallest building until 1931 was the Gothic Cathedral of Santa Eulalia, rising 90 m in height. What happened in 1931 to change this situation? European trends began to enter our country and Barcelona was the first place to feel the effects. The Universal Exposition of 1888 meant an economic, social and, of course, urban, artistic and architectural expansion. Parks were remodelled, avenues and promenades were built and, what was most revolutionary, electric lighting was installed on the grounds of the Exposition and along the Ramblas and the newly built Passeig de Colom.

Just 40 years later, the rationalist trends reached the city through such architects as Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Le Corbusier and Walter Gropius. The Universal Exposition of Barcelona of 1929 once again forced the city’s inhabitants to leave their comfort zone, to mirror themselves in other cities and to undertake additional major improvements in communications and transport, the public space and, in short, the urban scene. GATCPAC (Group of Catalan Artists and Technical Experts for the Progress of Contemporary Architecture) led these new trends in Barcelona and it was in this context that the Torre de Jaume I (107 m) was built. Designed by Carles Buïgas, this tower exceeded the height of Barcelona Cathedral and today it is still a view point overlooking the city while continuing to link Montjuïc hill and the city’s port.

1992 marked a watershed for the city. The Barcelona Summer Olympics completely remodelled the town. The buildings which are still today the tallest in Barcelona –the Mapfre Tower and the Hotel Arts (154 m)– date precisely from that period, when many other outstanding structures were built to modernize the city service infrastructure.

Scraping the sky   
What do the Hotel Porta Fira, the Hotel Habitat Sky and the Hotel Barcelona Princess have in common? It’s not their location, colour or shape... but rather their height.

The Hotel Porta Fira is the fifth tallest building in the Greater Barcelona. It is formed by two towers, which at first sight appear to be completely different but which establish a subtle dialogue between each other. One looks like a cross-section of the other – they are opposites and yet they are complementary. The first tower rises and twists to its top, where it spreads open like a flower; while the second one also twists inside, reflecting its counterpart, although its façade gives the appearance of a prism to the observer.

The Meliá Barcelona Sky, by the architect Dominique Perrault, is the second tallest hotel in the city of Barcelona (120 m). The project is formed by three volumes in dialogue. It has a horizontal base with a programme of public activities that represents the horizontal Barcelona, establishing a relationship with the city. The tower features a cantilever of 20 metres, in which the private areas of the hotel are found, evoking the vertical city.The Hotel Barcelona Princess is formed by two very slender towers which give an impression of great verticality. The two buildings are joined by a walled bridge with glass pavements. The architect Tusquets approached the design with the aim to make people feel Barcelona from inside the bridge. At the same time, inversely, the people on the street feel an awareness of the design since the great vertical strip between the two towers casts a swathe of sunlight onto the pavement of the Diagonal Mar.

Architectural tree
In some cases architecture turns sculpture, presenting a great expressiveness causing an organic impression. This is clearly what happens with the Telefónica Headquarters by EMBA/Enric Massip-Bosch. Its exterior skin branches out like a huge white tree, allowing light to enter the building’s interior. The membrane is formed by a white metal grid structure based on the double vertical tube-in-tube system. This tower, with its 24 floors and 110 metres in height, stands at the beginning of the Diagonal, overlooking the city and the coastline. The building has a twofold scale: far and near. Its external form serves the city, while its internal forms, its ground-floor atrium of 30 m in height and the permeability of its façade serve the near scale. The tower itself and its occupants participate in the city’s activity in this way.

Endless spirals
The offices of the Spanish cosmetics and perfume multinational Puig, designed by Rafael Moneo and GCA Arquitectos, stands out for its avant-garde architecture and its environment-friendliness. The Puig tower shows a pure prismatic geometry transected by a spiral glass covering. The glass skin acts as a filter to insulate the building and enhance the energy performance of the façade. Despite its height of 114 metres, the tower evokes an ongoing growth of a seemingly endless building thanks to the ascending spiral of diagonal strips with a 15º inclination that wraps around it. It is perceived as a slender unitary volume conveying lightness and neutrality.

Barcelona’s technology district  
A new city concept arose in the year 2000 on creating the 22@ district. 200 hectares of industrial land were converted into an innovative space where over 4,500 new enterprises in such fields as telecommunications, energy and medical technologies have established themselves. For the hearing aid company Gaes, in 2008 the Mizien practice designed a headquarters complex emanating technology and sophistication. Here, a glass skin links a new building which integrates with two existing structures and shelters an exterior square, creating an interplay of filled and empty spaces that enlivens the adjacent public space. This skin solves several issues at once: it defines the street corner, it is ventilable and flexible, and it protects against the westerly sunlight with its green tone, reducing solar radiation to 30%. What’s more, the façade’s domotic control adapts the opening of its slats to the sun’s position.

The urban transition, intelligent buildings and flexibility, both functional and material, are all marked by the new way of looking at the habitability and growth of the city. In short, Barcelona is like a great laboratory that builds itself without resorting to trial and error. And it’s forging ahead with confidence.