W stands for…

There is a new hotel in Barcelona. It´s beautifully placed, just at the side of the harbour and facing the sea. It´s beautifully curved, mirroring the slightly curved beachside. Its exterior is almost entirely made of glass, which both during the day as during the nighttime reflects the colour of the sky itself. Moreover, it´s build on a place that used to be a no-man´s land, full of litter that the sea had thrown up on the shore. It also has been cleverly placed just next to a nudist beach (mainly the homosexual one, the hetero one is a bit further away, although far be it for me to say that nudism and sexual preferences have anything to do with each other. Then again, beaches and sexual preferences might have), which promises a nice cultural cross-over between the “nouveau riche” and thenue et heureuse

It´s a marvelous thing and much more worth to see than the kitsch Sagrada Familia, the nerve wracking Ramblas crowded with drunken English hooligans or the museums of the terribly overrated Miró or Tàpies.

Still, a certain group of people, rather predictively, complain. I don´t think their complaints are esthetically based (it really looks a lot better than the two Mafre towers, a little bit further up along the coast). Rather, I think it´s just out of sheer resistance against all that is fancy and rich. It´s some left-over sentiment of old-fashioned leftwing romanticism from the seventies (the 70´s: concrete building blocks and faded brown and even more faded orange furniture). I think modern taste is better and I don´t have anything against rich people. I say: let´s enjoy the rich, after all, sooner or later we all depend on them.

Of course, the hotel won´t really work and so in a few years, everyone will wonder what to do with it. Meanwhile, come visit and marvel at the rough and tumble skyline of Barcelona.

(versión en español)


5 thoughts on “W stands for…

  1. Felip

    Some people in Barcelona (me included) hate that building because of its meaning and the memory of what was there before.
    Perhaps the main problem with it is the fact of being another luxury hotel. Local people are stuffed with that stupid craze of building more and more of them. Politicians and business men seem to think that when one luxury hotel in town is a good business, ten thousand luxury hotels in the same town will be undoubtedly ten thousand times that good business. But obviously, they aren’t.
    Another good reason to hate it is perhaps exclusively personal or perhaps shared by few people, but not less important. I’ll explain you: when you say it was a no man’s land full of rubbish, it’s just one part of the story. In fact this was so for the last few years, but not before the year 2000, when the Port Authorities decided to cut the breakwater, build an oversized and useless bascule bridge boastfully named “the Gate of Europe” and the also oversized and useless hotel we’re talking about. Before that, the place was the starting point of the longest and strangest “promenade” in Barcelona: the almost endless harbour’s breakwater (a little more than 4 kms long). You started where the hotel is now located, crossed the fantastically outdated “Porta Coeli” restaurant facing the sea, and then you walked a neglected road along the breakwater. There, you crossed few solitary anglers and even less couples of lovers (both absorbed in their particular affairs). Little by little it became a deserted wild path across a chaos of huge concrete blocks and braking waves. Finally you reached a kind of concrete Great Wall you could climb and walk along it till the tip of the breakwater. You felt at the end of the world and not just 200m distant (in straight line) from the Zona Franca as it really was. Nowadays the breakwater is inaccessible, the “Porta Coeli” doesn’t exist anymore and in its place you just see that trivial hotel that can’t bring you any memory of anything because it has no history at all.
    Speaking of more general matters, I think that the main problem when you reflect about contemporary architecture’s aesthetics is that practical and economical goals prevail in it too obviously over aesthetic ones. So you can’t sincerely claim its aesthetic values faced with ancient architecture. Of course, a contemporary building can be very beautiful, but everyone can see that being beautiful is not its real role. Let old buildings be beautiful and modern ones be useful. In fact, one of the worst vices of contemporary architecture is trying to look “different”, “surprising” or “modern” just by the mean of giving the buildings a non-completely-but-almost-square shapes. You design a cube and then, as it looks ugly, you make it a little rounded in one side, add a kind of UFO on the top, leave a hollow in its middle or put a glass pyramid in front of it. It’s so silly! Why don’t let them be just practical and square-shaped? It would be more honest at least. And please, never compare one of those ridiculous makeups with the harmony of a Palladio!
    I don’t agree with you when you say it’s more worth to see this hotel than “Sagrada Família” (I mean Gaudi’s part, not the nowadays addition). Of course it’s kitsch. It must: kitsch is a characteristic feature of modernism, art nouveau and jugendstil!
    And about Miró, I agree with you when you say his art is overrated, but the Fundació Miró building is one of the finest contemporary architecture samples in Barcelona.

  2. matxil

    Thanks for your reply. I think you make 4 good points here, and I´ll answer them one by one.

    1. “Politicians building fancy buildings and forgetting about the locals.”
    I agree that politicians in Barcelona make stupid decisions. The Forum was just one of them. Their decision to mainly attract a certain type of turism is not smart and doesn´t Barcelona a lot of good. However, I don´t know whether Barcelona needs more of these kind of expensive hotels, but I don´t think that the type of tourists that go to these kind of hotels do a lot of harm. If Barcelona (and Spain) really wants to leave its third-world status, however, it should invest more in technology, in economy and in business. I see this hotel in that light, but I might be wrong. However, obviously, the politicians certainly should face the problems of the locals as well: the huge housing problem, the safety in the streets and metros, support for small businesses, reasonable prices for public transport, good education, less traffic and more parks, etc… “El uno no quita el otro”.

    2. “The past was better.”
    I don´t know what it looked like then. I remember that before the Olympic Games, Barcelona was a great place to visit, especially areas like Raval or the Plaza Reial. However, I can imagine that for the locals it wasn´t so pleasurable. Changes are inevitable and as such, the cleanup of Barcelona did it a lot of good, I think. Of course, this was before 2000. I can imagine that deserted old industrial port areas have their charm and it´s a pity if they disappear. But a city should be dynamic and in the end it will always re-invent itself: have new areas where “subcultures” will grow, florish and then disappear again. The alternative would be to leave things as they are, which would be lethal to the city.

    3. “The aesthetics of Modern architecture.”
    The cube buildings you talk about, remind me of the seventies: socialist “functional” buildings. I think they look horrible and had often severe effects on a neighbourhood, which would end up looking decayed, decadent, poor. People living in a hostile environment, of concrete and rusted metal, feel differently and behave differently. Also, I think people never built just “functionally” and – on the other hand – never for beauty either. The nice houses in the Amsterdam canals where build by rich people showing off their riches. I´m pretty sure in ancient Rome pretty much the same thing happened. It´s hard to say what people in the future will think of what we are building today. I love these 19th century deserted fabrics, but I am sure at the time, they were symbols of repression, child labour and what not. I think the W hotel is really rather nice looking, a I for one am glad it´s not just a cube. It could be interesting to see how this will affect that area.

    4. “Comparison with “older” architecture in Barcelona.”
    I have actually come to like the Sagrada Familia quite a lot. I like the more cubist (?) back side as well, but I think the fantasmagoric, macabre front (especially at night) is rather beautiful. Still, if tourist would just come for Gaudi, Barcelona would end up as a typical “open museum” city, like Venece (or Amsterdam, actually), which is rather artificial. As for motives: the sagrada familia wasn´t build functionaly either and its builders apparantly had some strange motives (not very well known), dealing with the purification of the world, the return of christian values and the exorcism of evil, all things – as you know – I am not much in favour of. Still, I like the Sagrada Familia (although I think the christmas tree decorations on top are over the top).
    Anyway, it would be good if Barcelona has both: the old, the new and the newer. And I think it´s more interesting to live in a city that lives. The centre of London is another great example of very old next to very new, and I like that very much.

  3. Felip

    I really don’t think that the past was better: I think it was hell and it’s getting worst every year. You see: it’s not exactly the same, there’s a nuance…
    Well, seriously, everything has gone bad since the end of Paleolithic period. We could perfectly define Paleolithic as the period when things were always the same and Mesolithic as the time when things turned bad: too much people for a decreasing amount of food. And that pushed people to do terrible mistakes as parcticing agriculture, building villages, specialize, concieveing abstract and harmful nonsense as “gods”, “power” or “right”, writing laws, hierarchizing society, fighting to rule instead of doing it to survive, trying to live longer or making others live longer (especially slaves… you know, they are so expensive!), and so on.
    That change in Barcelona’s harbour is not just a result of the “life goes on” universal law. It was’nt necessary. Not even good. In fact everybody in the harbour knows (and knew then) it could’nt work. And it actualliy does’nt work at all. It was a bad decision and it had consequences. One of them (but not he worst) was the loss of a fantastic promenade that could have been developped to be more accessible and do more good for locals and tourists than that hotel.
    You now, Barcelona was a place full of strange and unique spots. Politicians have applied themselves for decades in destroying them and turning them into common places instead of boosting and improving them. Of course it is’nt about leaving ruins or forcing people to live in unhealthy environtments just for the sake of picturesque. But you can improve things and preserve the most interesting and unique features. You just need some degree of intelligence.
    The lost “Porta Coeli” restaurant could perfectly be now the coolest bar in Barcelona and the breakwater road could be a huge multifunctional place for strolling, jogging, angling, scuba-diving, bird-watching, climbing… wouldn’t it be better than another empty luxury hotel among tens of them?
    And, no matter what you say, W hotel is just another disguised cube. Take a look of it from the upper part of Muntaner and you will understand what I mean!

  4. matxil

    I agree with almost everything you say. Of course, I have never seen that promenade you mention, nor the Porta Coeli restaurant. What time was this? Before the Olympic Games, even?
    The only thing I don´t agree with is that the W hotel is a cube. Well, it is, at certain angles, but I genuinely think it´s nice. Just as I like the torre Agbar. Nevertheless, of course, I am in favour of maintaining the strange and unique spots too. That´s one of the reasons I like Poble Nou so much, because it´s such a weird combinations of abandoned factories, modern buildings, living apartments and quite streets lined with trees. I certainly hope they´ll preserve that atmosphere.

  5. Felip

    The breakwater was cut after the Olympic games, in 1999 or 2000. Then, as it was’nt accessible, the restaurant closed and its building left abandonned and doomed to collapse. I don’t know how it looks now. But it really was’nt a beautiful building. It’s not the building what I miss: it’s the place, the atmosphere, the kind of people that used to go there.
    I happen to like Agbar tower also. But on the other hand I hate skyscrapers, especially when they turn out to be as liliputian as Barcelona skyscrapers are.
    If you decide to build a skyscraper, try at least to do it taller than any other in the world!
    But why on the earth towns must have skyscrapers? It’s an obsolete model of urbanism. Manhattan was the most avant-garde urban paradigm 40 years ago. Now it’s completely outdated. The future town is, without any doubt, a town without any tall building. Let arab emirs and chinese hideous business men go on building their ugly monster towers. They are perfectly fit to their bad taste and arrogance.
    So, I like Agbar tower when I look at it as a big sculpture, not as a corporation building.

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