Rafael Moneo: La obra de Andreu Arriola y Carmen Fiol

Post Excerpt When, in a perhaps not too distant future, historians set out to explain the architecture of Barcelona in the last years of the 20th and the early part of the 21st century, they could hardly find a body of work that offers a more faithful representation of this period than the work of the practice formed by Andreu Arriola and Carme Fiol, who qualified as architects at the ETSAB in 1981. 

The COAC (Architects’ Institute of Catalonia), the ETSAB (Barcelona School of Architecture), magazines and professional associations all played an important role in the life of the city in the eventful 1970s. The reflection on Barcelona called for by its architects permeated other political and professional fields. The 1980s reaped the benefits of these efforts when the new democratic government carried out a whole range of urbanistic interventions, both in the city centre and on the periphery, producing noticeable improvements to the residential context. Andreu Arriola and Carme Fiol embarked on their career with the design of some of these interventions. Plazas such as Sóller, Tetuán and Fossar de les Moreres, and the Jardí del carrer Madrid, are examples of the good work of their practice. The architectural language of the so-called Barcelona School, which stressed the importance of reality and everyday construction practice, started to give way to more radical proposals in which the rationality that accompanied the School’s pragmatism materialized in a form of architecture which could be described as minimalist. The above projects respond to this tendency and demonstrate Arriola/Fiol’s skill in designing the elements that accompany public space. 

The success shortly afterwards of Barcelona’s 1992 Olympic bid led to discussion of the larger scale urban remodelling that was soon to make itself felt in the city, applying the set of principles generated by the body of reflection on the city developed in the 1980s. The architects then had the opportunity to see the impact that their activity as professionals had on the city. Arriola/Fiol were involved in the urbanistic management of the remodelling work undertaken and contributed various proposals, perhaps the most outstanding being the solution given to the ongoing difficulty of resolving the Plaça de les Glòries. 

The calm that followed the Olympics did not forget previous experience. Public space continued to predominate the work of Arriola/Fiol. It was manifested in projects such as El Mercadal de Girona, Plaça de Islàndia and the Museu de les Termes Romanes, and in their proposals for Thames Barrier Park in London and Expo 2000 in Hanover. With these designs, Arriola/Fiol achieved a maturity that was later reflected in their residential projects. Clarity, simplicity, the judicious use of materials and respect for traditional typologies are all evident in works such as Torre Urrutia, where the precise use of language confers dignity on a large volume, making this tower block a landmark in the neighbourhood. The versatility and quality of Arriola/Fiol is also evident in such varied projects as the Parc de Bombers in Montblanc and the projects for the Escola Superior de Música de Catalunya and the Museu de la Música de Barcelona.

Histories of architecture, in their desire to highlight the most singular works, may pay more attention to the latter. But anyone studying the architecture of Barcelona in the latter years of the 20th and the early years of the 21st century, focusing on the society that produced it, anyone concerned with the social history of the city, could hardly find a more useful, balanced architectural testimonial for their purposes than the work of Arriola/Fiol. It serves to remind us that the architecture of the city is not defined exclusively by its monumental interventions, and that the architecture that is least obliged to represent supposedly symbolic values offers us a better understanding of the life of a city during a given period. Bearing witness to the past of a city is one of the most valued objectives that a forward-looking architecture practice can aspire to, and this is precisely what Arriola/Fiol have achieved. 

Rafael Moneo, May 2012