13 December 2011

Destructing Value in Vall d’Hebron


Activism ∕ Architects ∕ Damage fetishism

Last week I took a cheap flight down to Barcelona and visited an old friend there. I arrived in an overtired and generally run down state; I’d only slept three hours the night before and had woken up from an inflight nap with the beginnings of the cold that’s been going around. My body was additionally confused by the drastic shift in climate, by the mild air and the glare coming off the sun-drenched C-31 highway leading into town. It felt to me like a trip to California, but with a splash of airport cologne having been substituted for disinfectant air freshener.

I was only really there to spend time with Ankur and his family, and beyond that didn’t really have a plan. On the second day, the two of us followed the lead of his four year old son, who for obvious reasons wanted to take a tour of the city on an open-top bus. Finding the stop proved difficult. As we shlepped it a half a mile or so to the next one, I was taken by the sight of this mirrored glass office building:

The image speaks for itself, especially to covert fans of glassy corporate architecture like me. I suppose it was the craggy tessellated underside of the one chunk sandwiched between two others, and its reflection, that really turned me on.

That evening I learned more about the building using the Google search website. I found out that it was the Gas Natural tower, the last built work of Enric Miralles, actually completed by his partner and wife Benedetta Tagliabue some five years after his premature death from a brain tumor in 2000. Although I’ve forgotten about a lot of the work that I used to look at while studying architecture in the ’90s, reading that name immediately coaxed distant memories of a certain issue of El Croquis that had really turned me on. From that moment I knew what my plan would be for the next sinus-congested days.

Ankur, Claudia and their son Vivek seemed totally fine with my idea to hunt down ’90s architecture, and the next day we drove their Seat minivan out to the work that was way way at the top of my list. But what I found in the Vall d’Hebron was a total buzz kill. Miralles and Pinós’s Archery Range for the 1992 Barcelona Olympics was there, but not in the state I’d thought I would find it in. I suppose I could have managed my expectations much better if I’d first stumbled upon this blog entry from 2006.

These neatly arranged concrete elements are all that I saw of the former archery range, though I later discovered that the roof structure dug into the hill is still there a couple hundred yards away (see the link above). I think I was too fazed, too disbelieving, to have gone any further with this particular chapter of our treasure hunt. A billboard from the construction company carrying out the park renovations, still in progress, read: “Construïm Valor”, meaning “Constructing Value” in the Catalan. Pfff… the motto made me wince, especially when I thought about all the vacant real estate that companies like this had speculatively built down by the water in the last decade or so.

At least I knew I had a good scoop for Slab, but the consolation was a weak one. Despondent, I felt that there had to be something more to be done. To put it in the clearest terms, I felt like I simply had to see this work with my own eyes, some how.

The next day I went and checked out Mies van der Rohe’s famous pavilion for the 1930 Barcelona Expo, and it was there that an idea came to me. Perhaps it was the peace and clarity of that architecture, so different from Miralles and Pinós’s exhuberant techno-organicism. The atmosphere helped, but it was really the quite literal facts on the ground that said something to me; the fact that this pavilion wasn’t the one that Mies has built – that edifice had been dismantled along with the rest of the expo in 1930. The Mies pavilion the we all know and love, so totally useless, is in truth a reproduction, completed in 1986 by a group of high profile architects and archi-fanatics.

So that’s my idea now, to do the same thing with the old archery range. Be a part of it. Sign

here !

Pulling this off will make last year’s successful coup with Hejduk’s tower look like a walk in the park. But it’s our only chance. Like Miralles’s architecture, this dream is erratic, maybe even absurd, but still makes sense.