Sunday, September 11, 2011

Barcelona: Day 17 : Squeezing the beach .

The only class we had this morning was European Cities, although unfortunately unbeknownst to most of us, this was going to be a serious walking day. The temperature was supposed to be mid 80's, aka a perfect beach day. The plan was to get out of class by 130, grab a pizza and head straight to the beach from class. Things didn't exactly go according to plan... they were seriously delayed by Kathrin, who turned our 4 hour class into a serious 6 hour class. Yikes... Anyways, here are the stories from the day's travels.

We hopped on the metro at the Jaume I station, changing at Passeig de GrĂ¡cia. From there we rode the tram. A few things about the public transportation system here -- it's incredible. The taxis are there, there are also numerous bus routes, but most of all is the trains. The metro is the underground subway, which connects literally everywhere. Compared to New York, where all trains go either uptown or downtown and then out to each borough, (with the exception of the east-west L-train that connects Times Square and Grand Central) these trains go all over the place. I swear you can't go 5 blocks without seeing another station, and that's a good thing. Then there's the tram, which rides above ground in between the streets. Then you also have the regular trains that come into the two large train stations in Barcelona. There are also the Renfe high speed trains (similar to France's TGV) that connect to other countries. I mean, I don't think it could get any better. On top of all of that, if you buy a T-10 public transport pass it works for any of those things! And if you use it again within an hour and 15 minutes it doesn't count as a separate swipe.

This is the tram to the left, which we road to get down to the Forum area. I suppose I should say up, because it's up the coast quite a bit. The Forum area was one of those places that got seriously developed just because of the coming of the Olympics. One of the most major roads in Barcelona, El Diagonal, leads right down to this road. Originally, this Forum area was all industrial and had no connection to the city. Bringing El Diagonal to this area now connects it to the rest of Barcelona.

There is a massive convention center with several auditoriums and conference rooms that is shaped like a giant black triangle. It's an absolutely massive building, and was hard to even get a full picture of. It was designed by a team of a Swiss and a French architect, whose names are Herzog and De Meuron respectively. This center was designed to replace an old convention center in Barcelona, but it ended up not being as well received as had been hoped. In my opinion, it is a really cool building, but there are indeed flaws with the design. Some aspects of it seem rushed.

The ceiling was meant to inspire the ripples of water in a person's mind, as if you were walking through a huge ocean to get to the doors. It achieves the desired effect well, but then the ground is just this giant slab of drab concrete. The reflection might have been much more successful had the surrounding ground area been designed a bit as well. Apparently it looked a lot better when the building was just finished, and in only 5 years it has sort of fallen into a state of decay, which is a shame really. I have a lot of cool pictures of this effect, but I'll just show one so you get a sort of idea of what it's supposed to look like.

The building right next to this massive black triangle is a stark white tower with some sort of crossing almost truss-like system. It is in the finishing stages of construction, but is already very beautiful. Something they did with the glass on the side makes it look like the building has giant curtains that drape down the side of it. This is the Telefonica Headquarters. Combined with the Forum building, the Forum area is supposed to create tons of public space. Unfortunately it looks a bit rushed, in that everything is just completely paved over.

Apologies on the picture, I had to do a vertical panoramic in order to fit the whole building into the shot. Regardless, it looks pretty cool. I'm pretty sure it is also in a triangular shape.

We talked about this idea of "proximity architecture" where the designs bring people together and make it feel home-like. This is not a good example... Instead these designs feel like a sharp imposition. It will just take time for people to get used to the fact that they are there.

While we were there, it didn't seem that the area was really well used at all. There was barely anyone walking around, and I can't decide if that was from the heat or what. There really were no trees around at all, because it was all paved over, so it's very possible that it could be from the heat.

The next area that we went to was a sort of a part of the whole Forum area, except it was a lot more open and with a lot more open paved space. There was a neat walkway bridge that had been done by local architects. There was also a huge open area that is used often in the summer for large concerts. There were a few other things, like places to skate (not that they were intended for that) and a couple of playgrounds, along with a rope course also.

Upon seeing a huge solar panel, I asked Kathrin if solar energy is at the same sort of stage as in the US. It seems to, with some people using it, but not really being a primary source of energy. You can also sell back to the power company if you don't use all of it, just as it is in the States.

Going back to this area, the designers and builders spent a huge amount of money on it, but once the Olympics were over it didn't really seem like the place had a purpose. Plus, there was just a ton of concrete paved over space. If they had better thought out the design, perhaps they could have integrated some actual green areas. Everything was built between 2002 and 2004, which would have been an incredible amount of work even for modern technology. But to get everything done in just two years seems almost too fast, almost rushed.

The next few places was a walk through a sort of gypsy ghetto, and then into some really old style neighborhoods. We were across the river now, the one that acts as the northern boundary of Barcelona. Upon seeing the river I was surprised at how small it was. The area was wide and there was a bike path that goes along it and some green space as well. But they must control the river flow or something because it seemed like it was only about 6" deep and slowly trickling down. I'm wondering if maybe they take city water from these rivers, which would greatly reduce the flow. Anyways, it didn't seem like it really acted as much of a boundary anymore.

a street of demolished lots, with new apartments behind it
In Spain, the desire is to own a house, and this is the largest desire of life. Most people own their flats and homes, as opposed to the majority renting from landlords like in the States. Government also seems to usually be on the side of the residents, and not so much the landlords. Now though, the government in Spain is demolishing neighborhoods and making people move into apartment buildings. I wasn't sure what the problem is until I heard more about it. In these little one story neighborhoods, people can leave their doors open, and always socialize and talk with each other. Once they are in a flat their porches are not exposed, that same social feeling is no longer there. Even worse, the government is evicting them and moving them into apartment buildings right nearby -- where they have a bird's eye view of the demolition of their own homes. It's like a front seat suicide.

There are petitions to change the plans, and many neighborhoods are fighting to stay alive and together. However there is one upside to this -- the people in the flats will eventually be able to sell their flats, whereas with their homes, they didn't own them (the government did) so at least financially they might come out on top. Though I'm not sure if that will suffice to put to rest the emotional grievances that exist. As of now the city council keeps going steadily with the demolition plan, slowly decreasing the number of these homes that were originally built in old Barcelona in the 1920's and 30's. If they continue, all the history will eventually disappear.

After class we were able to grab a pizza and get to the beach for a bit. Gotta live sittin' on the beach in a speedo! Good stuff.

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