All of this is noth­ing new

Friday - - Leisure -

bul­lets, bravely writ­ing brave prose about brave men and women who were fight­ing dur­ing the 1936 Rev­o­lu­tion that turned into Spain’s bloody civil war.

Lat­terly, Barca’s in­dig­na­dos have gath­ered here and squat­ters oc­cu­pied build­ings last time I vis­ited, though they seem to have ei­ther left or been forced out. Nearly a quar­ter of Spain’s young are with­out work and you feel for them. You can’t just come to Spain for a hol­i­day any more with­out rec­on­cil­ing the fact that it can of­ten be pretty mis­er­able for the lo­cals.

Be­yond this tourist Barcelona a flurry of de­vel­op­ments sprouted up when times were good. You can find them in the east­ern, for­mer in­dus­trial, parts of the city. Now, many of th­ese projects lie halffin­ished or de­serted.

From my lux­u­ri­ous suite at the top of the Melia Sky Ho­tel on Avenida Di­ag­o­nal I get a breath­tak­ing view of the city. But right in front of the win­dow – a half-fin­ished sky­scraper. The walls are there but noth­ing else. No builders come to work on it, noth­ing seems planned for it at all. A crane sways in the wind – lost and with­out much hope.

I re­mem­ber back to the open­ing bash of this ho­tel in Oc­to­ber 2008. Back then Spain was perched on a sort of a precipice, but no-one seemed to care. Turn left out of the ho­tel and you get to the new Torre Ag­bar, the head­quar­ters of Barcelona’s wa­ter com­pany. It’s a thrilling – and ex­pen­sive – build­ing. It’s well used and well loved. Yet its size and its cost seem out of place. Turn right out of the ho­tel and you get to the Parc del Fo­rum – a waste­land of con­crete built for the sail­ing events in the 1992 Olympics. It’s like a hu­mon­gous skate park, with sloped pavil­ions, steep steps and huge pave­ments. It’s de­serted ex­cept for one weekend a year in May when it comes alive with the Pri­mav­era Sound mu­sic fes­ti­val. It’s im­por­tant to see all this in con­text, to see th­ese ghost projects as part of a wider Span­ish his­tory. Prop­erty spec­u­la­tion, duff judg­ment and build­ing for the ego rather than for any spe­cific need is noth­ing new. Barcelona’s most fa­mous ar­chi­tect was guilty of it all a cen­tury ago. Park Guell looks as stun­ning as ever but it’s ac­tu­ally an un­fin­ished ghost project, too. A hun­dred years ago, An­toni Gaudi thought he was build­ing a hous­ing de­vel­op­ment. But – like so many hous­ing de­vel­op­ments in to­day’s Spain – it never worked out that way. The houses didn’t get built and the Park to­day is just one of the most beau­ti­ful pieces of land­scape art on earth. With its mo­saics, its stun­ning en­trance lodge and its lizard foun­tain, it’s like a fairy­tale.

The view from the wind­ing bench at the peak of the park, down to­wards the sea never fails to amaze me. It is one of the most per­fect ur­ban frames you could wish for.

And what’s that in the dis­tance? Another un­fin­ished build­ing at Barcelona’s heart. The Sagrada Fa­milia, that huge cathe­dral, is per­haps the great­est of Spain’s cock-eyed su­per build­ing projects be­cause it’s the one that might never be fin­ished at all. A cen­tury in the mak­ing, it could eas­ily be a cen­tury more be­fore it even nears com­ple­tion.

Per­haps as a trib­ute to the Span­ish build­ings that ei­ther never worked, never got used, never got fin­ished, or never be­came loved, should work on the Sagrada Fa­milia just stop al­to­gether? That way it be­comes a mon­u­ment to the weird way that Spa­niards – whether for money, gran­deur or just through not think­ing things through – al­ways seem to end up with half-fin­ished or half-de­serted mon­u­ments.

They may be strange but th­ese odd build­ings stop you in your tracks and make you think.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UAE

© PressReader. All rights reserved.