Summary of the Spring 2016 Conference, Barcelona: The Compact City

The urban architecture in Barcelona beckoned over eighty architects to descend upon this Catalan city April 14 – 17, 2016.  The three-day conference was distinguished by lectures by leading architects, including Fermin Vasquez and Benedetta Tagliabue, and visits to inspiring sites such as the newly completed Mercat dels Encants and the yet-to-be-completed Mercat Sant Antoni, led by Architect Pere Joan Ravetllat.  Dining in both classic and unusual venues, usually not open to the public, such as Mies van der Rohe’s Barcelona pavilion, provided a special enjoyment.  

Nora Demeter Int'l Assoc. AIA opened the conference at Thursday’s reception at the Collegi d’Arquitectes de Catalunya.  On Friday, the theme of “Compact City” was introduced by Josep Pique, the mastermind behind the re-tooling of a former industrial area, now known as District 22@, followed by presentations of the new public space of Placa de les Glories, by Architects Ana Coello, Jordi Mansilla and Jorge Perea.  The afternoon included an analysis of the Maritime development of the city in the 14th c, by Dean Robert Terrades, and a visit to the re-branded Roca family business, in a spectacular new building designed by OAB Arquitectes, with Borja Ferrater, which was also the site of a stylish cocktail gathering hosted by Laufen.

On Saturday, the newly renovated and under-the-radar Recinte Hospital Sant Pau provided the elegant setting for the morning presentations, opened by Robert Ivy FAIA.  A discussion of the architectural possibilities of Barcelona’s geographic features followed:  Barcelona’s horizontal surfaces and public spaces, by Architect Mariona Benain Aguilera of ESCOFET, and its vertical and layered development, by Architect Roger Paez I Blanch.

Of note was the lively participation by younger architects:  organizers, presenters and attendees.  Katerina Cechova, a PhD candidate from the Czech Technical University of Prague, was selected from the Eastern Sector to attend the conference.  In Barcelona, Tom Groner, a graduate from Carnegie Mellon University, teaching and living in Barcelona, assisted in the planning of the conference and lent a youthful energy to the meeting.  A team of four students from the School of Architecture at LaSalle Ramon Llull University, under the direction of Architect Adria Sanchez Llorens, provided insights into the city’s lesser-known architecture. Other architects, living in Spain, were made aware of the AIA Europe chapter:  Guillem Gascon, a U.S. born architect working with Architect Imma Jansana, conducted Sunday’s presentation of that office’s work.

On Sunday, Architect Pere Buil presented the award-winning public space surrounding the Mercat del Born, with Architect Enric Soria, who led the tour of the renovated market building, explaining his personal fourteen-year long preoccupation with its design.   Lunch in a beautifully renovated 19th century waterside warehouse overlooking Barcelona’s harbor followed.  

Monday’s extension included a visit to Architect Ricardo Bofill’s office and the fascinating and unusual housing project, Walden 7, conducted by Architect Pedro Hernandez Garcia, PhD.

Our AIA Europe chapter sponsors contributed interesting lessons:  Radim Kostial, of Sipral, presented the stunning Diamond building for the University of Sheffield and DipTech’s fascinating backlit glass portrait of Mies van der Rohe, exhibiting the company’s material innovations, graced Saturday night’s Gala Dinner at the Barcelona Pavilion.

It was an exhausting but rewarding four days, and one got the sense that all left with a new an increased awareness of today’s Barcelona.

Sophia Gruzdys AIA

2016 Barcelona Conference Chair, AIA Europe