portada de BMM

by Anatxu Zabalbeascoa

The architectural and town-planning works carried out in Barcelona now constitute an exportable model. Proof of it is that numerous architects from Barcelona are currently working on the reconversion of different urban areas in Europe and other parts of the world, as well as taking part in a wide range of construction works and projects. This influential presence on the international town-planning stage is a result of the world-wide recognition of the so-called "Barcelona model", substantiated by the recent awarding of the RIBA (Royal Institute of British Architects) Gold Medal to our city. The following dossier is a compilation of the many public and private projects which architects- born or based in Barcelona- have conducted in foreign countries over the last three decades. The last appendix to this dossier gives a detailed list of all the works carried out abroad by those professionals since the nineteen sixties.

The Barcelona model
The recent awarding of the RIBA (Royal Institute of British Architects) Gold Medal to the city of Barcelona has placed emphasis on the appreciative stir which the recent urbanistic transformation of our city has caused on the international architecture scene. It was the first time ever that that prestigious British prize was awarded to a city, i.e. a certain conception of town-planning, above the recognition of the architectural achievements of a given individual or a team of professionals. Actually, the Royal Institute of British Architects chose to reward a whole town-planning scheme- directed by the City Council and therefore following certain political guidelines- with the proven capacity for combining architectural quality with due respect for history and, above all, social requirements. Architecture is a complex, tricephalous art which frequently neglects or, on the contrary, overemphasizes the importance of one of its three "heads", i.e. the economic, cultural and social factors, respectively.

The significant town-planning works recently carried out in Barcelona- the city's opening to the sea and the recovery of the waterfront, the restoration and pedestrianization of the historical city centre, the construction of countless public spaces, the carefulness and coherence displayed in the design of the pieces of urban furniture and micro-architecture, etc...- nowadays constitute an exportable model, and this is corroborated by the fact that numerous architects from Barcelona- e.g. Manuel de Solà-Morales; Emili Donato; Joan Busquets; Martorell; Bohigas y Mackay (MBM); and Beth Galí- are currently working on the reconversion of large urban areas in Europe and other parts of the world. Naturally, such an influential presence on the international town-planning stage is a direct result of the world-wide recognition achieved by the so-called "Barcelona model" diffused through exhibitions and publications as well as publicized by the city itself. Such recognition also takes place at a time when many of the authors of those urbanistic improvements are voicing their concern about the necessary though at times dangerous actions of private investors. Now, if the latest developments, the latest criticisms- in many cases expressed by the very architects and town-planners who have fostered the city's transformation- were taken into account, they would surely constitute the right and proper culmination of the aforementioned "model", given that it would show the city's capacity to generate self-criticism and therefore to ensure its validity, maintenance and vitality.

While Barcelona's achievements range widely from large-scale city-planning works to smaller-scale interior or object designing, they undoubtledly share a common feature which is the connection established and recognized throughout the world between the city of Barcelona and high quality design. Bars, restaurants and discotheques, as well as commercial establishments and spaces used for leisure activities have all benefited from a consensual image that conveys the idea of a special attention to detail and of skilfully executed works in different- fundamentally, more purified or more elaborate- architectural styles. Beyond the elegant and rather subdued design patterns favoured and diffused by the Barcelona School of Architecture- in buildings that combine the guiding principles of an international style with those of an older Mediterranean tradition, further enhanced by the use of quality materials, essentially combinations of metals and woods-, the architectural language that really became an international milestone associated to the city of Barcelona is to be found in some of the bars, restaurants and clubs that liven up the nightlife of the city. The festive and carefully executed style of design which started spreading across Barcelona in the late nineteen eighties contributed to create an image of exquisiteness and hedonistic life style and to project it throughout the world. That image caused a great stir worldwide, which was soon translated into the increasing number of commissions Barcelonese designers and planners started receiving from foreign companies and, more particularly, in a project that appeared as a mark of the spirit of the times, that of a Japonese bar-hotel-restaurant-cum-discotheque which was called Barcelona Crossing. The design of Fukuoka's building had been planned by an Italian architect who exported not only buildings but also ideas : Aldo Rossi. Inside the building, the interior design by Alfredo Arribas- one of the "gurus" of bar designing in Barcelona- coexisted with Xavier Mariscal's graphic works and the creations of designers Juli Capella and Quim Larrea.

The two edges of that sphere of activity- town-planning and design, public spaces and interior designing- would shape a major trade area for a city with the capacity for exporting architecture. Nevertheless, we should not be so naive as to assume that an "appellation d'origine", the strength of a city's trademark, might be the sole factor instigating such a thriving export of ideas and projects, because the main agents involved in that trade- some twenty professionals- could not form a more diverse group. Besides, it is well known that the consolidation of the European Union has been a major contributory factor to the architects' freedom of movement throughout the Union and the "internationalization" of many architectural competitions. However, it is also true that, more particularly in the sphere of city-planning, many of the accepted tenders were guaranteed by the results of earlier works carried out in Barcelona. In any event, the professionals who were granted the most important commissions (Solà-Morales, Martorell-Bohigas-Mackay (MBM)) as well as some of the chosen younger designers (Octavio Mestre) knew quite well that the works they were assigned to carry out were meant to bear the stamp of the famed "Barcelona model".

This is not actually the first occasion our city has ever had to export its architecture, neither is it the first time that Barcelonese professionals are asked to work away from their home town, but we might say that this period of time- i.e the last two decades- is the first one in which such a large number of Barcelona-based architects are working in foreign countries. Some of them even have more assignments outside the Iberian Peninsula than in their homeland. In earlier times, "exporters" of architecture were but isolated cases, pioneers who, fundamentally speaking, could be classified into three groups : the adventurers or traders, the exiles, and the professionals with international connections.
In this domain, Gaietà Buïgas (1851-1919) stands out as a pioneering architect. Famous for being the author of the monument to Christopher Columbus in Barcelona, Buïgas emigrated to America after designing several buildings in Catalonia : the Naval Pavilion for the Universal Exhibition in Barcelona (1888), the Vichy Catalan watering place in Caldes (1898), the Comella Palace in Vic (1898), etc.... The architect settled in Montevideo in 1904 and there, perhaps under the influence of his new surroundings, his works ceased to display the epidermic, almost anecdotical, stamp of "Modernisme" that used to be found on his Catalan buildings to adopt a contextually right Neoclassical style that would lead him to erect buildings throughout Uruguay. Later, after planning and constructing buildings such as the seat of the Banco Popular de Uruguay (Montevideo, 1905) or the Unión Católica house (Minas, 1907), Buïgas would move to Buenos Aires. At about the same time and precisely for the cathedral of the Argentinean capital, Catalan architects Cadafalch and Goday had just submitted a Neo-Gothic project that was never carried out.
Rafael Gustavino (1842-1908) was the second architect from Barcelona on the list of pioneer "exporters" of architecture and his personality coincided more with that of a go-ahead entrepreneur and, obviously, a daring adventurer, than with that of an evangelist in the Catalan tradition. As a master builder, Gustavino had built several houses in Barcelona. It was in his design for the Batlló factory (1868), located on carrer Urgell, that he first included the so-called Catalan vault, a structure that made use of a traditional building technique dating from the Middle Ages. The use of Portland cement was a major contributing factor to the increased strength of such vaulted surfaces- formed by two layers of rubble bricks joined together-, and that technical advance was precisely the main reason for his journey to Philadelphia where he would attend the 1876 Fair. Following his stay in Philadelphia, Rafael Gustavino collaborated with the first consultancies specializing in architecture that had opened in New-York and Boston. There, in his capacity as consultant, he was involved in the construction process of more than one thousand buildings that ranged from the crypt of Saint John the Divine Cathedral (1901)- the cloister of which Santiago Calatrava is presently completing- in New-York, to the Boston Library (1895).

In 1887, Antoni Gaudí (1852-1926) travelled around Andalusia, Tetuan and Tangier together with the Marquess of Comillas and drew up a project for the building that was to house the "Misiones Católicas" (Catholic Missions) in Tangier, a building that finally never materialized. Twenty years later, a North American developer fascinated by what he had seen of the "Sagrada Familia" works would commission Gaudí to build a high-rise hotel in New York, but this project would not proceed beyong the planning stage either. It would be another architect from Barcelona, Ignasi Brugueras (1883-1963)- who at that time lived in El Salvador- who would recover some of Gaudi's drawings and use them in two of his own projects, namely another skyscraper built in New York and a monument commemorating the Independence of Guatemala.

Nicolau Rubió i Tudurí (1891-1981) was possibly the last of the travelling architects, the last adventurous personage. In 1931, he designed a terraced garden, deriving inspiration from the traditional Mediteranean vegetable gardens, for the Duchess of Gramont in Vigoleno (Italy). But a few years later, the "Grupo de Arquitectos y Técnicos Catalanes para el Progreso de la Arquitectura Contemporánea" (Group of Catalan Architects and Technicians for the Progress of Contemporary Architecture), more widely known as GATPAC, would bring a new air of international modernity to the Catalan architectural stage. Among its members, following the wake of Le Corbusier, stands out the unquestionable figure of Josep Lluís Sert (1902-1983). Sert who, in collaboration with Luis Lacasa, had designed and built the Pavilion of the Spanish Republic at the International Exhibition held in Paris in 1937, when the Civil War was already raging in Spain, went into exile to New York after the war. Once there, he became president of the International Congress on Modern Architecture and, in 1943, he entered into partnership with Paul Schulz and Paul Lester with whom he would later carry out important town-planning projects in several South American cities : in the résumé of his works, the Nueva Cidade dos Motores in Brazil (1945) competes on equal terms with the plans of a new Bogota in Venezuela (1951), a new Medellin in Colombia (1949) and remodelling works in Chimbote (Peru, 1948) or Havana (Cuba, 1955-58). Years later, in Iraq, he designed the building that would housse the United States Embassy. As dean of Harvard University and in association with Jackson, he would continue to design office buildings, schools and business centres. However, it would be at the end of his carreer when, back on the shore of the Mediterranean, he would recover his taste for the Catalan vault, of which he made use again in several buildings such as the Carmel de la Paix convent (Mazelle, 1972), Georges Braque's house in Saint Paul de Vence (1960) or the Maeght Foundation, also located in Saint Paul de Vence.

A disciple of Sert, Antoni Bonet Correa (1913-1989) worked for some time as a collaborator in Le Corbusier's studio together with two Argentinian architects, Turchan and Ferrari, who convinced him to move to Buenos Aires. There, he would plan and construct the Paraguay-Suipacha building (1938), the Martinez (1940), Oks (1955) and Olmos (1960) houses, as well as, among others, the Rivadavia building in Mar del Plata (1957). In collaboration with his Argentinean partners, Bonet also designed the "Mariposa" chair, which would become an unquestionable milestone in the history of chair designing.

Now, after the exiles, let's talk about the masters. Josep Antoni Coderch, one of the architects who most strongly influenced the youngest generations of Barcelonese- and Spanish- professionals involved in the building industry, owes his commission to design the Spanish Pavilion at the IX "Trienal", held in Milan in 1951, to his friendship with Gio Ponti and Alberto Sartorius- formed in 1949 during the Fifth National Congress on Architecture held in Barcelona-. Among older professionals, Coderch is probably the last "exporting" architect. The construction of Casa Vittoria by Lluís Clotet and Oscar Tusquets in 1970 on the island of Pantelleria, in Italy, marks the beginning of the era of contemporary- and, in many cases, post-modern- exported architecture, which is the subject matter the following pages are meant to discuss in a manner that we trust to be exhaustive and objective.