Plaça de les Glòries Catalanes
Architectural armageddon, and a Happy Ending
Once this was the city's greatest architectural shame and embarassment. Right now, they're spending a billion or so making it pretty again. When they're finished, it will be the centrepiece of the new Barcelona that has been slowly taking shape since the 1980s.
When designing the Eixample, Ildefons Cerdà intended the Plaça de les Glòries Catalanes—the plaza where the Diagonal, Meridiana and Gran Vía de les Corts Catalanes meet—as the new center of the city. Unfortunately for the plan, fashion and development never stretched as far eastwards as Cerdà thought they would, and the area around the Glòries turned into a half-built, rather down-at-heel afterthought. The northern edge became the home of Barcelona's gigantic, hallucinatory flea market, the Mercat dels Encants.
In the big wave of building leading up to the 1992 Olympics, Barcelona decided to reclaim the Glòries and make it into something really special. They gave the job to Andrieu Arriola Madorell (who, inexplicably, is still allowed to practice architecture), and he covered the vast square with a freeway interchange in the sky. All those surrounding roads poured into a gargantuan traffic circle on concrete stilts.
A park was laid out underneath, where people were supposed to cheerfully congregate. Instead it almost immediately turned into an eerie, crime-plagued wasteland. Only a few years after the Glòries was completed, Barcelonans were calling for its demolition.
They got their wish. The horror is now gone, and a new layout for the Glòries, ambitious even by Barcelona standards, is well underway. The new Glòries will be a huge park, 400m long. All the roads will be buried underneath it, along with the metro and train lines. After long discussions, a French team, Agence Ter and Gironese architect Ana Coello de Llobet won the competition in 2014 for the new garden design, slated to cost €30 million and take until 2018 to complete.
When it's finished, the Glòries will unite the Eixample to the developing Poble Nou district (just as Plaça de Catalunya connects the Eixample and Barri Gòtic). New development around it has been gathering steam for years including the new kid on the block, the Museu del Disseny; just below it in the square, you may well hear people making strange noises and howling after dark, but don't be alarmed: they are playing on BruumRuum! David Torrents + Artec3's interactive LED installation embedded in the pavement that reacts to sound in sinuous columns of changing coloured lights.
Already, architect Jean Nouvel's pickle-shaped Torre Agbar has taken the role of the Glòries' landmark. Across the street from it is a massive shopping centre, the Centre Comercial Glòries. Government buildings and residential blocks are planned on other blocks currently empty.
West of the Glòries at 150 C/ de Lepant is the Auditori, a block-long complex of four different concert halls for every kind of music. Architect Rafael Moneo made it the antithesis of its Palau de la Música Catalana: a visually null building with an acoustically flawless main auditorium clad in Canadian maple. Across the C/de Padilla, Ricardo Bofill contributed an up-to-date version of the Parthenon for the Teatre Nacional de Catalunya.