Friday, September 16, 2011

Barcelona: Day 23 : Montjuic .

Today we had studio which was pretty slow, but the real highlight of the day was the materials class. We went up to Montjuic, which is a place that we had already been. But today we got to see a brand new part of everything. We began by taking the subway and the funicular train up into the Montjuic area, and then got up and began the trek up the side of the mountain. We walked alongside the castle in the shade and really got a chance to enjoy once again the sea breeze and the glorious views.

Looking out over the industrial area, we learned that the Chinese really have a huge impact on the industry here. The Llobregat river was actually changed to help to connect things better and allow for the port to really be opened up. This area will continue to grow. Barcelona is a huge port for Europe, and also opens up Europe to the rest of anything that comes into the Mediterranean. It's a huge importer of gas and petrol. You can literally smell the industry from the walls of Montjuic.

The next part that we went to was the area up near the Olympic Stadium which was part of all of the things put in for the 1992 Olympics. The roof is actually made out of shale (which comes from the Pyrenees), with a steel structure. Now the stadium is used for everything from sporting events to exhibitions. The airport is connected to this park like green area, which is home to many animals and important species. This green corridor is called the Zona Franca, which acts as a tax-free zone right near the airport. This provides fast connections to the city and once the port and airport infrastructures are connected by metro and train, the city will really be able to do well in terms of providing a cheap way to get back to El Prat de Llobregat. In addition, in that general vicinity is also a famous Toyo Ito building, which holds many conventions and exhibitions and things like that. The train and metro is expected to expand to reach the airport and industrial areas by 2012 or 2013.

Next we walked through these gorgeous parks that were all the way down the side of Montjuic. These gardens were finished around 1929, and this was a large part of the general transformation of Montjuic. There is a gorgeous landscape to work with and lots of vegetation around. One interesting thing is that a part of these gardens contains the only natural source of water on the whole mountain! The fountain is called Cat Fountain and is pictured at left.

There is a Greek theater in the gardens area, though despite its named (The Greek Theatre) it is not actually Greek. Montjuic used to have a large quarry, and much of the stone used in buildings in Barcelona comes from this quarry. It's only used in the summer, and is the only place that you can see the original rock cuts from the quarry. In addition the place has fantastic acoustics.

The next thing I want to talk about is the 1929 exhibition buildings. They are in a sort of Italian style, and have a tan sort of coating and use lots of ceramic (this is, after all, materials class so we quite often mention the use of materials). This Italian-ish style comes after the time of Gaudí and modernism. In a way, a decline of advanced ideas begins, and so eclectic arches begin to return and the use of all kinds of brick with some ceramic. Since the exhibition, the buildings have been turned into museums and theatres.

On our walk towards the Mies van der Rohe Pavilion, we walked past the national palace, which now contains tons of fancy and expensive art. It's right near Plaça de España and the main bullfighting ring of Barcelona, which now has been turned into a shopping mall. There are 2 pavilions on each side of the road leading to the national palace (which naturally has a huge water feature going down a boulevard in between the 2 directions on the road). It was so massive, it's really difficult to even fit into the camera. But it's definitely huge. Fun fact about those 4 columns; there used to be 8 of them and some were torn down. You also used to be able to see through the trees to the right to a small Spanish village, but the trees have since grown and now block all views of the little old style village.

Next we moved on to the Mies van der Rohe Pavilion which is a really interesting piece. It happens to be right near the palace. It has several walls that dictate the way that you move through the space, but it also has  some really expensive types of marble and travestine. Van der Rohe had a very specific way that you would move and a very specific experience that he wanted you to have when moving through his pavilion. The different materials helped to guide that. One of the materials is travestine, which is a very expensive type of rock. It often has gas pockets in it, which leave holes after awhile. The more expensive travestine was used on the floor, where he didn't want any holes. But for the walls he used the cheaper travestine that would create a different viewing experience. This way the brightness of the stone would be contrasted with the darkness of the shadows from the holes. None of the walls themselves are load-bearing, so all of the metal pillars are actually the real way it stands. They were very picky about things, especially when recreating the pavilion to its original state, because they originally used flathead screws, whereas the ones used currently are for a philips head.

From the Pavilion we moved on to our final destination, the Caixa Forum. This is an interesting spot because there is a Forum similar to it in Madrid that we are going to see on the upcoming trip this weekend. The building that the Caixa Forum is in used to be an old textile factory, and thus has 2 big towers which were originally water towers for fire safety. After its construction finished in 1909 it was used as a factory, then was abandoned, then used by the police, and then abandoned, and then used by the Caixa bank, as it is now. Caixa Bank, one of the larger banks in Barcelona and I would assume Spain, hired a Japanese architect to create an underground space that had a very defined entryway that would eventually lead you into a cultural/social center. There is no direct entryway from the street; you actually have to go down escalators to get to the huge revolving door that you enter in. One issue with this entryway is that the floor is limestone from Italy. Limestone decays quite easily because it is soft, and also gets dirty extremely easily. Generally it would not be used for a floor. Lesson learned; it pays to know your rocks!

Inside the walls there is the appearance of a small village, almost its own self-contained city, which looks really sweet. We went up to the roof level, and had a chance to look out over the narrow 'streets' that existed. There was also a sort of undulation on the top of the ceiling, which would direct water into what seemed like olden-day gutters.

The story behind Caixa always having these social/cultural centers was because there was some financial advantage of getting tax breaks or something. However, our teacher speculated that since the economy is not so good right now, they will be turned into banks soon and the social centers will no longer exist, which is really a shame.

From then on we were done for the day, and headed back to get some dinner and be ready for Madrid early the next morning! More stories to come!

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