Barcelonans call it the 'torpedo', the 'suppository' and any number of less polite names. At 466 ft in height, it certainly makes a statement in this mostly low-rise city. And since its opening in 2004 the Barcelonans have grown quite fond of it. The Torre Agbar has become the place where they gather for New Year's Eve celebrations.
Already, this work of French architect Jean Nouvel has become another internationally-known symbol for Barcelona. As in all Nouvel's work's, there is plenty of sophisticated technology under the skin—and on it. As in his celebrated Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris, the tower is surrounded by a latticework of louvres that operate automatically, controlling the amount of sunlight entering the offices
Among the influences for the work, Nouvel cites Gaudí's spires on the Sagrada Familia, and also the peaks of Montserrat. Another influence, naturally, is the fact that this building is the home of the multinational utility company that pumps Barcelona's water. The smooth, shimmering, ever-changing surface of the building is meant to evoke water; Nouvel likens it to a geyser.
The further away you get from the Torre Agbar, the better it looks. It's a shame Nouvel's treatment of the entrances and public spaces around the building was so careless. From street level it seems like nothing more than an overgrown air-conditioning unit, a not especially pleasant neighbour for the new district growing up around the Glòries.
But from everywhere else in Barcelona the Big Suppository pops out at you winsomely when you least expect it. From the Passeig de Gracia, Carrer de Casp (one street south of the Gran Via) frames it perfectly, like some alien visitation among the elegant blocks of the Eixample. And what could be more Barcelona than an alien visitation?
Torre Agbar's most novel feature contributes much to its iconic presence—4,500 LED lights that cover the buildings surface. They can be programmed in infinitely various colours and patterns, which can be changed instantaneously, a startling effect if you happen to be looking when it happens.
Plaça de les Glòries Catalanes
Image by paulgalbraith