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Spain 14: Reinventing Gothic

Mar 28th, 2010 Posted in Spain Trip | No Comments »

modern gothic

I’m typically not much of an architecture guy, but in both Valencia and Barcelona, there were a couple of buildings with which I fell in love. The common theme was that the buildings seemed to re-imagine gothic architecture in graceful modern forms.

First up was the Ciutat de les Artes. It’s a series of buildings at the end of what used to be the river Turia. In the ’80 the Turia was diverted to prevent flooding, and the riverbed became a massive park running through the whole city. The 8 buildings they put up at the end of the park make you wonder what other cities would do if they suddenly discovered a massive stretch of public land in the middle of the town. I didn’t find the rest of Valencia that impressive, but these buildings alone make the city a reasonable tourist destination. We spent a whole day wandering through them and then exploring Oceanografic, the largest aquarium in Europe which is at the end of the Ciutat de les Artes.

The picture above is the back side of the Science Museum. Meant to evoke a whale skeleton, it was the building that most invoked gothic style to me, just a long series of flying buttresses propping up a large lofty ceiling. Below on the left, you see the same building at night from the other direction with El Puente de l’Assut de l’Or (bridge and tallest structure int he city) and L’Ă€gora (covered plaza for things like tennis tournaments). To the right is the Hemispheric, which houses a wicked wrap around IMAX screen with headsets that cater to almost any language preference.

moon1 Hemisphere

Further up the coast in Barcelona the great architecture continued at the Sagrada Familia, the second place site that claimed to be the most visited destination in Spain. This cathedral, which is very much still a building site, is the final masterpiece of the blindingly brilliant Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi. Gaudi died while construction was slowing and the building was only a fraction complete. Then shortly after his death all the plans and models were destroyed in the Spanish Civil War. Construction is now back on pace, and thanks in no small part to healthy tourist revenues, the building is back on track to be finished sometime in the next half century or so. You can see in the pictures below (which are both rather poor, apologies) that the style is imagining gothic cathedral styles in natural forms. So the pillars become trees, and the vaulted ceilings are a bed of flowers. It’s an impressive place, and I hope to be able to go back and see it when it’s finished. In the meantime it’s well worth the long queue and high price to wander around. Make sure to get the audio guide and take the lift to the top of the spires.

So in the end, many thanks to Spain and your beautiful public architecture. I know I missed some of the great ones, like the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, but glad for the splendors I was able to enjoy.

canopy ceiling unfinished stairway

Fidel’s in Barcelona

Jul 18th, 2009 Posted in U2 Tour | No Comments »

IMG00033

Before I headed out on the U2 tour, I was trying to figure out some fun activity that I could repeat in each stop along the road. It wasn’t until I was actually on the trip that I settled on what I wanted to do: have a meal with at least one local at a restaurant of their choosing. I settled on this activity after an interesting evening with a flamboyant cast of characters at Fidel’s sandwich shop in the El Raval area of Barcelona.

I had met one of the group working on the show, and she invited me to get a taste of Barcelona in an evening out with her group of friends. The varied and humorous cast shone through the language barrier. There was the large jovial story teller who wore his double chin like a crown (right in the picture). The quick witted joker who compensated for his small stature by working out a bit too much. The dark haired bearded IT expert. The shy girl, who was clearly sweet, but was slow to engage in the conversation (center). The good looking couple who laughed loud, but made few jokes of their own (she’s left in the picture – the one who invited me to come along). And finally the power blond who was building a successful career in business.

The evening was a study in group dynamics and how much fun people can have together just sharing sandwiches for an hour. There was a magnetism in the group dynamic that had brought them together, and made me yearn to better understand the conversation. If I ever write a novel, some of the characters present at the table are sure to make an appearance in some manifestation or another.