portada de BMM


In the year 2001, the market for the 21st century

In the year 2001, the market for the 21st century will be unrecognisable. The doors of the Boqueria will open in the first months of the year 2001, to reveal a totally rejuvenated market. Barcelonans visiting it will discover a structure that will have been restored from top to bottom, which will have gained in natural light and which will be easier to move around in and find what you are looking for. "It will be spectacular", promises Joan Bonastre, the Market's director, "the Market will have opened up to the street." Barcelona's great Market was in urgent need of refurbishment. More than eighty years had elapsed since the last serious effort to give it a facelift in 1914, when the present roofing was installed. Since then, absolutely nothing.

The lack of maintenance, the ageing of the building and facilities, new shopping patterns, all demanded an in-depth change. (…)

The best opportunity of going ahead with the oft-adjourned project was to present itself in 1998. The fact that the market was included within the city's architectural heritage enabled it to obtain a grant of 500 million pesetas from the European Feder fund. Barcelona City Hall ran an open competition for design ideas, and four designs were entered. A amply represented panel selected the design presented by Lluís Clotet and Ignacio Paricio as most closely meeting the established requirements. The architects themselves were to direct the work. (…)

The renovation work will conclude with the fitting of a new metallic covering which will be positioned over the present asbestos one. A totally new building will house the market management and administration offices, lighting and services. (…)

Due to its privileged position, its prestige and the loyalty of its clients, the Boqueria was in a position to be able to put off the urgently overdue renovation without losing economic ground. Joan Bonastre himself admits, "Time has moved slowly here." Despite the years, a visit to the Boqueria continues to be a guarantee of finding just about any product. Bonastre claims "Any restaurant, no matter what its category, from one serving set meals at less than 800 pesetas a head right up to the highest standards, can find everything its kitchen needs in this market without having to go elsewhere". (…)

"Someone once said that the Boqueria is the most referred to market of the western world, and I am convinced that nowhere else can there be a commercial platform to match it, and with its renovation it will gain in dignity and yet retain its ability to give consumers a wide choice. The greatest underlying reason for the traditional market is its ability to supply fresh produce, and this will continue to be true.

The Boqueria offers quality, variety, professionalism and human contact", explains Bonastre.

The Manager of the Market speaks of two categories of client: the traditional shopper, usually female and somewhat advanced in years, and secondly, the younger shopper who "has recovered the pleasure of shopping".

The pleasure of shopping? "In a market, the seller tells you about the product that you are buying and provides advice on how best to prepare it, there is direct human contact. Unfortunately, in our daily lives we are in too much of a hurry as we try to make the best use of the scarce available time. However, shopping can be an enriching experience, especially in a traditional market. It takes more time? True, but other forms of shopping, all of which have their own virtues, cannot compete with the markets in this respect. Nowadays, there is space for the small specialised shop, the traditional market and the large surface shopping area. Each is justified on the grounds of different specific demands. Some people prefer the anonymous shopping found at the supermarket, though if we were to question restaurant owners we would find that the vast majority of them prefer the market. (…)

General considerations

by Lluís Clotet architect

Changing something we like and something liked by those who come from far away is a delicate matter. There is a certain awe involved in touching those places so shrouded in history which are the basis of our collective and individual memory.

However, a radically conservative approach would, paradoxically, lead to our letting the admired countryside, building or object die a natural death.

It is evident that the main protagonist is the wealth and variety of these elements, infinitely more complex than those of the Eixample or the surrounding suburbs. The Rambla, the streets, squares, the enclosed gardens... the interrelationship between all of these, make up an exuberant sequence of infinite variety, which we must strive to understand, conserve and continue.

Parallel to this, the architecture itself, that untouched compact mass, is wisely discreet and always ready to serve our priority to define and qualify what is public. From this view of the neighbourhood, we can understand the strategies now beginning to be put forward for redesign of the Plaça de la Gardunya.

Another consideration which has been fundamental to the design is our conception of the Boqueria Market not so much as a building but as a roof.

Strangely, few buildings exploit this, but one of the few that does is located near the Boqueria, and we can imagine that Elies Rogent, its architect, considered these issues when he came shopping to the market. His Universitat Central building has marvellous lines running from the exterior to the seat of the great hall, lines of a rich complexity, unfortunately all too rarely found. This noble place then was the setting for the present-day Market of Saint Joseph, more commonly known as the Boqueria. The market was covered with a metal structure, with the result that ever since it has been an impediment preventing a clear view of the magnificent architecture.

In addition, the present Plaça de la Gardunya will have to be reconceived as a single, indivisible unit, both in formal and functional terms, along with the Boqueria Market.

For it to cease being a merely residual, ill-defined space, it is necessary firstly that the Market no longer turn its back to the Plaça as it does at present, and it must become the natural and only access for vehicles and goods.

This obsession with the permeability of the facade provides the key to understanding the building which will house the new uses demanded by the programme. A new building of small surface area (12.6 x 12.6 m) and some 20 m tall will take the place of the old one which has recently been removed. The small surface area taken up and its central position with relation to the overall area are this building's main virtues. On each floor, a central core of accesses with an elevator occupies the area closest to the present-day market. The remaining free floor space measures 90 m. The Restaurant de la Gardunya will occupy the ground floor and loft. The other floors will house the various administrative offices. The public lavatories will be located in the basement. The building, completely of glass, will be protected by a series of metal laths where it emerges to the exterior by the side and above the roofing. Its industrial language is in keeping with that employed for the Market itself, alongside which it will form a unified whole.

Within the overall design of the Plaça de la Gardunya, the problem of general accessibility for goods will be resolved, as will that of rubbish removal. This will mean a change of position for the present-day rubbish shredder and will increase the permeability of the set of vertical accesses in the underground refrigeration chambers or perhaps allow them to be done away with entirely.

In this way, the new facade along Carrer Jerusalem will help to contribute meaning to the La Gardunya void and will balance the interior flow of the Market which is now totally lopsided due to the overwhelming importance of the pedestrian entrance from the Rambla.

There will be another important change in the redesigned Market. At present, the confusing relationship between the metal structures and the architecture means that when the Market closes, large areas of the surrounding zone cannot be used for any other purposes. After the refurbishment work, all the magnificent premises located in the ground floors of the perimeter buildings will be able to continue functioning even when the Market is closed, and this will help to bring life to this up-to-now rather lifeless area.

The overall design has been carried out with a view to ensuring that the Market does not lose its essential character, which comes from this orderly metal shelter structure generously covering the complex web of stalls yet remaining within the strict delimitation's of large-scale architecture. For this reason, all the intervention has been as light-handed as possible, virtually imperceptible and steering clear of any attempts to convert the Market into a standard, closed-in, modern shopping area.


The market today. The refurbished design

by Gabriel Pernau

It is the market of Barcelona. This was true in the past, when it was the city's only market and it still is true today for the thousands of visitors who visit it and photograph it every year, and also for the inhabitants of the districts of Barcelona who do their daily shopping there or go there in for special purchases.

It is the Barcelona market par excellence. The Boqueria market was the first, and today it is still a landmark for the streams of tourists flowing down the Rambla.

There was a time when supermarkets or large surface shopping areas did not exist, there was a time even before the small grocery stores came into being. People exchanged goods and services on the public highway, or in the few open areas found in the ancient Roman, Arab or medieval cities. The trading places became a meeting point and gradually developed into what we know as the market place. It was the place where, every morning or once a week, country folk and craftsmen came to offer their produce and goods.

Strictly speaking, the Boqueria market has a history going back 164 years. This is the time that has passed since it was officially located on the site of the old Monastery of Saint Joseph. Its roots however go back much further than that. The first documented reference to it dates from 1217. According to Josep Maria Carandell's account, the document stipulates that "a representative of the king has granted an individual the ownership of a table on which to chop meat."

That small area set aside for exchange on the Rambla was Barcelona's market of the 13th century. There, under tarpaulin covers, on the widest street of the city, the country folk and traders from outlying towns and villages crowded together to sell their lettuces and chickens.

Over the following centuries, the city was to grow dramatically in density. America was discovered and from the other side of the Atlantic there began to arrive new foodstuffs which ended up on Barcelona's tables. However, the city had not yet knocked down its walls. While around the year 1700, the city had a population of some 30,000 inhabitants, by the beginning of the 19th century this number had risen to 130,000. The concentration of activity into the main urban throughway became excessive. It became necessary to free up the Rambla and the quickest way to achieve this was by restoring the area taken up by the numerous monasteries and churches to public use.

In 1823, the first attempt was made to demolish the convent and church of Saint Joseph, which belonged to the order of the Discalced Carmelites, and the Boqueria Market was established on the site, though briefly. However, the effort to recover the area for public use failed due to the strength of what historian Ramon Grau, in a special publication issued to mark the market's 150th anniversary, referred to as the "absolutist reaction". The second effort twelve years later succeeded however, and on Saint James' Day of 1835, the 16th century building was burnt in a disturbance and was later confiscated and demolished.

This was the beginning of the Boqueria Market as we know it today. (…)

There are many possible explanations for its name: a boquer is a net or chord used to trap rabbits; a boquera is a head of the furrow where irrigation waters enter a vegetable plot; boqueres are coloured formations found on the bills of young birds; Caseria la Boquera is an area within the municipality of Romana de Tarafa, and is located just right of the town rambla.

Whatever the origin of the name, on 28 March 1836, with the convent demolished and the site cleared, the sellers began to take possession of the area. As the stalls began to occupy the new market place, the City Hall granted permits for work on the site. "Having overcome the obstacles" Barcelona achieved "a market place which was equipped for the sale of consumer goods and worthy of the good taste of the Barcelonans", similar to the other Catalan cities at that time. (…)

Once free of the 340 stalls and the dung heap which developed around them, the face of the Rambla changed dramatically. For this reason, it is not surprising that such happiness greeted the placing of the first stone of the new market building on 19 March 1840 "with all the due pomp and glory" in a ceremony which "will go down in the annals of Barcelona" and which, with the hindsight of history, we can consider to be the opening ceremony which the market place never received. (…)

Ramon Grau tells us that the initial design of the municipal Master Builder, Josep Mas i Vila, included permanent shops with an upper floor serving as housing for the sellers. However, the definitive design employed was that of Josep Oriol Mestres, who unlike Mas was in possession of the required academic qualification. In the following years, Mestres built up a name for himself as a city architect. He won a prize in the competition for a design for renovation of the Plaça Reial (1848), he directed building work on the Gran Teatre del Liceu (1847) and he was the author of the first building in the Eixample (1861) and of the monument to Antoni López (1883), among others. The main distinctive feature of the market place was the arcade delimiting its outer perimeter. However, in 1850 just when three of the planned four rows of columns had been completed, the first criticisms appeared; both sellers and buyers demanded a covered enclosure like the Santa Caterina market, which had opened in 1842.

With this adjustment, the market acquired its present-day dimensions. Ever since its birth, the market had never ceased growing, although this growth was at a pace which was slower than what the city demanded. As best as it could, the Boqueria had clawed out small scale patches of land from its surroundings. However, at the close of the 19th century, this growth had reached its limits.

Apart from small, isolated renovation jobs, improvements and work on upgrading services, the 1914 market is the one we see today with all its limitations and shortcomings.