Landscape architects discuss influential Catalan Landscapes

Adventures in the Catalan landscape

Think of Barcelona and the image that springs to mind is one of Antonio Gaudí’s idiosyncratic architecture, with its bright colours and organic shapes. Yet from a landscape perspective, this is far from all that the city has to offer, as a group of 12 landscape architects found when they spent three days on a study trip in and around Barcelona. With the guidance of local Catalan architect and urban designer Montse Ferres, the Landscape Institute North East branch visited some of the city’s architectural and landscape highlights – some better known than others – with interesting lessons about how to cope with urban expansion, regeneration and the sustainable legacy of a successful Olympics. Here are some of the most memorable locations they visited. Here they talk through their six top projects:

Parc Güell
Dating from the early 20th century and originally intended to form a focal point for residential development, Gaudí’s idiosyncratic style informed every aspect of the design of Parc Güell. Especially noteworthy are the dramatic pavilions that frame the park entrance and the iconic upper terrace, with its undulating perimeter-seating wall finished in broken glazed tiles. From here, there are panoramic views over the city. The terrace is supported on a vast Hall of Columns, a matrix of closely spaced columns complete with lotus flower capitals that are reminiscent of a Greek Hypostyle Hall.

Port Vell and La Barceloneta
Among the highlights of Barcelona’s seafront district is the dramatic Rambla de Mar, the timber-decked swing bridge that links the south-western end of Port Vell to the city. The bridge also provides a dramatic approach to the Maremagnum, a sizeable shopping and leisure centre. A timber-decked public realm enables the numerous cafés and restaurants to extend their activities out towards the water edge. Further along the Barceloneta promenade, visitors can see the dramatic outline of the Natural Gas building by EMBT Architects, whose design cleverly mediates between its residential neighbours and the nearby bypass and railway station. The entire building is enveloped in a taut glass skin, modulated by the subtly shifting geometry of the mullions.

Vila Casas Foundation
Located in an area in which all of Barcelona’s major avenues converge, the restrained style of the Vila Casas Foundation provides important lessons about how architecture and landscape architecture can work together. Surrounded by a simple screen of birch trees and set back from the street frontage, the project demonstrates how intelligent conservation can successfully marry contemporary forms with the historic fabric of the former cotton factory that previously occupied the site. The result is a wonderful new museum that is greater than the sum of its parts.

Gran Via Sector Llevant
At the Gran Via Sector Llevant, architects Arriola and Fiol have created a multi-level infrastructure over the 19th-century avenue. At the lower level, there is an arterial highway, while at higher levels, local roads and inclined parks incorporate playgrounds, fountains, open spaces, trees and street furniture, all bordered by carefully designed visual and acoustic screens. Beneath these inclined parks, public transport and car parking are carefully accommodated. A series of connecting routes links each side of these inclined parks, as well as their associated communities.

Estadi Olimpic
The centrepiece of the Olympic Ring is the Estadi Olimpic. Architectural design firm Gregotti Associates created a new facility that increased the stadium’s capacity from 20,000 to 65,000, while retaining the integrity of the existing fabric from 1929. Although the Italian practice won the international competition to masterplan the entire site, only the stadium was completed to their original designs. The nearby indoor sports facility, Palau Sant Jordi, was designed by Arata Isozaki & Associates and the dramatic telecommunications tower by Santiago Calatrava. The public realm is heroic in its scale, with plazas, changes of level, built elements and planting all contributing to an appropriate context for the various sporting venues. Some 19 years have passed since the summer Olympics were held in Barcelona; the stadium is now home to the football club Espanyol, while the Palau Sant Jordi provides the city with a flexible sporting and cultural venue. There are, perhaps, lessons here that could inform the legacy of the Olympics Park in London.

Barcelona Botanical Gardens
The Barcelona Botanical Gardens are located on the steep south-eastern slopes of Montjuïc. A triangular grid provides the ideal means of displaying vegetation from countries with Mediterranean climates. The Gardens’ framework includes buildings and a circulation system incorporating Corten-clad retaining walls. Planting helps to soften the somewhat hard geometric pattern of the original scheme.

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