Magazine article UNESCO Courier

Modernist Barcelona

Magazine article UNESCO Courier

Modernist Barcelona

Article excerpt

Modernist Barcelona

WHEN Barcelona's ancient fortifications were torn down in the late nineteenth century to provide much-needed room for the city to expand, the vast open spaces around the old city became the site for development that made a major contribution to the history of modern town planning.

In the 1870s the new Barcelona began to take shape with the construction of a middle-class residential area around the famous Paseo de Gracia thoroughfare. The transformation and development of this part of the city mark the emergence of Modernism (Modernismo), the Catalan version of Art Nouveau.

By 1990, the high-water mark of Modernism, the new city had already been mapped out. Around the centre known as the Eixample (the Paseo de Gracia and the streets nearby) with its prestige buildings, were a numbe of cheaper housing schemes, large buildings such as hospitals, prisons, and abattoirs, and an industrial estate.

In this area, Modernism found full expression in major urban complexes such as the Sant Pau hospital on the outskirts, and, in the centre, in the development of the elegant area around the Paseo de Gracia which came to be known as the "Quadrat d'Or" ("Golden Rectangle"). Much private housing was built. Some apartment blocks, such as Gaudi's Casa Mila (1905-1910), popularly known as La Pedrera ("The Quarry") replaced earlier buildings.

But as well as designing new apartment blocks, Modernist architects transformed, imporved and embellished existing buildings. The famous Modernist residences in the Paseo de Gracia such as the Casa Lleo Morera, the Casa Amatller and the Casa Batllo, designed by the architects Lluis Demenech i Montaner, Josep Puig i Cadafalch and Antoni Gaudi respectively, were conversions of earlier buildings. Luxury shops built on the ground floors of older houses were another expression of this trend.

One striking feature of the new style was its propensity to invade all forms of aesthetic expression. At the turn of the century, the exuberant inventions of Modernism formed the setting of middle-class life in Barcelona, and fine Modernist paintings, drawings and sculptures by Catalan artists such as Ramon Casas, Santiago Rusinol and Juan Llimona can still be admired in the city's museums today.

The ornate interiors created by Modernist architects gave the impression that the refined and ornamental treatment of the facades had spilled over into interior walls and ceilings. …

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