The construction of Nou Barris Park is the central intervention in the complete renewal of Barcelona’s eastern periphery. It was begun under the leadership of the politician Antoni Santiburcio, who died a year ago after a long struggle to transform the dismal periphery into a self-respecting area. With the new international Forum organized by Barcelona on the maritime front in 2004, the decision to finish the park is quite an achievement.
The Nou Barris district is a part of Barcelona with no identity of its own. A vast conglomeration of different neighbourhoods with different urban histories and weak connectivity, it extends over eight square kilometers. Only after the 1992 Olympics, when the Ronda de Dalt ring road was finally built, was it connected to the rest of the city. Its potential was greatly increased, for the well-to-do areas in the west and the District of Nou Barris around Karl Marx Plaza are now only ten minutes apart.
When we were first asked to think about the transformation of the area, we were invited to the municipal center of the district, a huge flat building hidden within a crown of tall residential blocks. Santiburcio, recently elected mayor of Nou Barris, enthusiastically told us about his renewal plans for the area. After the first step of moving the district’s town hall into the building, he envisaged creating a plaza and eliminating obsolete structures occupying the open space.
Looking at plans and other documentation, we discovered that the big building was what was left of the Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau, the former Mental Institute, planned by Léon Jaussely in 1905. The master plan called for a green area and some amenity zones to satisfy the requirements of the sector. Instead, we were faced with a request to transform the site into a central park, to underline the administrative centre of the newly created town hall, and to organize the new public buildings and street network according to the new objectives.The Institute had been like a walled city or a monastery, with the patients working in the surrounding fields. Its borders were old Roman routes to the other side of the mountains. The building’s front and back entrances were enclosed by exedras, one with symmetrical pavilions to screen arrivals from town, the other housing the chapel. What we encountered, however, was completely different. The void around the building had disappeared. Towers and slabs protruded into the deconstructed court. On the east side, a new municipal building in a neo-Corbusier style, the Forum of Technology, had been placed on the same elongated axis with an unresolved setting. On the West was a kind of lake surrounded by an artificial promontory as a screen to disguise the derelict suburban houses in the background. To the north, a series of walls retained the upper level of housing units aligned with the main street in the back, Carrer Valldaura. A market building, a community centre in a converted rural house, and a public primary school were the major amenities. To the south, the magnificient axis of Pi I Molist with centennial maple trees had collapsed into the wall of the exedra and hundreds of cars occupied the triangular leftover spaces. Only the central inner court, like a square two-storey cloister planted with palm trees, was an enhancing place of silence. The open space was useless, neighbors were afraid to stroll and children could not play safely. Our intuitive thought was that it had to be opened up. We knew that some radical changes were needed. We certainly needed to increase accessibility in all it forms. We decided to expand the flat areas around the building, to connect streets, paths and transverse itineraries, to diminish the omnipresence of the surrounding housing blocks by screens of columnar trees, to break walls and create ramps. We wanted to draw in people where there was absence.
Besides these intentions, something objective was challenging us strongly. How to relate the urban fabric to the empty open spaces? How to link them intrinsically? How to work with solid and void, with figure and ground, while giving value to both? After seeing Picasso’s colorful paintings of Horta de Sant Joan of 1909, where the houses on the hill disintegrate into landscape through the different planes and perspectives, a possible answer came to us. Why not apply Cubism, which used multiple perspectives to form volumetric space bursting with energy on the canvas, to the city of Barcelona? It was a matter of creating a new reality with the urban material we had on hand. Of creating a new story from pieces of land, from fragmented buildings, from different levels, with different landlords, all of which would also allow different phases of implementation. Fragmentation would be used as a means of fluid communication between parts. Fragmentation within a fractal framework would create a geometric landscape.The first objective was therefore to destroy the remains of the neo-classical hospital. That meant eliminating the wings that obstructed itineraries. Instead of a single umbilical link to the city we created multiple axial links to the surrounding streets. Instead of platforms separated by walls, we distributed multiple and varied wide ramps that connected them. Instead of a fluid green space, we produced a series of sizable outdoor rooms for the residential units and bigger scenarios for the whole community. The main axis of Pi I Molist was transformed into a series of plazas leading to the district centre. The building’s central inner court was opened on the ground level at the front and back. Several sparkling fountains and a series of pergolas with lightning rods were placed at intervals along pathways according topographic levels. Several car parks for residents were built under the park and adjacent main streets, thus supporting the new open space. The old building is being restored and a new public library has already opened it doors. The Forum of Technology was fit into the new topography, and the pool enlarged and adapted to a new entrance for the floating restaurant. Children’s playgrounds were added as well as picnic and games areas. Multifarious uses and itineraries overlap during the day. Activity is greatest on weekends.
The second construction phase of the park has begun. With 16 hectares it will be the second largest park in Barcelona after the historical La Ciutadella Park. The park jumps on the main transverse road and arrives at the traffic roundabout at the top, where the foothills begin and the main traffic thoroughfare of the city crosses. New residential buildings are built. An old brick aqueduct is adapted to the new landscape. Progressing upwards, the sloped boundaries curve and colorful pavements melt into the greenery. From the core of the district a continuous green space waves towards the hills. From the upper plaza the sea can be seen down below.
Architects: A. Arriola, C. Fiol, E. Amat, X. Arriola, V. Bagnato, M. Boutin, A. Carreras, L. Dazio, D. Dethlefsen, M. Fiore, U. Huber, C. Kolar, I. Kuhn, M. Marugg, R. Nana, S. Rux, A. Soler
Structure: A. Obiol
Consultants: A. Guinjaume, CEA
Quantity Surveyor: Ll. Roig, Ll.Fontanet