Author: Rafael Gomez-Moriana

Is Tourism the Only Thing Killing Barcelona?

La Rambla on a warm summer night: tourists, tat, prostitutes, and more tourists. A few days ago, The Guardian published a piece titled “Why Tourism is Killing Barcelona” that describes the damage that “overtourism” is causing in this city. However, to complete the picture (and since the comments section of the Guardian article is closed), I would like to point out some other things killing the city as well. Drugs. Heroin is back, and Barcelona’s heroin is among the cheapest in Europe. Sometimes it sells for as little as 5€ a fix. How do I know? I live in El Raval, where there are dozens of “narcopisos” (drug dens), which are mostly bank-repossessed flats squatted by drug traffickers. The junkies, many of them homeless, are from all over Europe and elsewhere; speaking English, Italian, German, and Dutch, among other languages. Now I suppose we could say that they are “narcotourists,” but what is certain is that they are attracted to the city not by its sights, but by the apparent leniency of local law enforcement, which is concentrating its efforts on jihadist terrorism ever since the attacks of one year ago. Dirt. In my 17 years of living in Barcelona, I have never seen so much trash in the streets. The city’s cleaning crews can’t keep up. Is it all tourists’ garbage? A good part of it is, yes, but much of...

Read More

Overarching Craft

[Originally published in The Architectural Review July/August 2018] Frontal view of Casa IV. Matola, a hamlet in the semi-desert of the southeastern Spanish province of Alicante, Valencia, is a tiny crossroads that sports a community centre, health club, hardware store, supermarket, bakery, and several bar-restaurants specialising in local rice dishes. Beyond this loose concentration of roadside businesses, however, lies a sprawl of large residential lots tightly enclosed by fences, gates and hedges that shield every style of house, from modest vernacular constructions to neo-neo-classicism or the latest in narco-Minimalist neo-Modernism, a style loosely inspired by Le Corbusier’s white period that seems to appear in Spanish news media whenever a drug lord or political leader is arrested. The guest suite and patio-garden Matola’s semi-rural residential fabric exemplifies a kind of exurban sprawl found throughout Europe. What makes Spanish exurbia unique, however, is that much of it consists of second homes. It is not unusual, especially in Valencia, for a family to live in a flat in town during the week, and to spend weekends and Spain’s long summer holiday period just outside town —sometimes only minutes away— in a rural retreat. For wealthier families, a third property on the coast, or even a fourth at a Pyrenees ski resort is not unheard of; real estate comprising one of Spain’s largest economic sectors, not to mention one of its cesspools of financial...

Read More

Knock on Stone: A Brief, Informal Acoustic Experiment at the Barcelona Pavilion

The original Barcelona Pavilion is believed to be the first time that stone was “hung” in the form of thin panels from an internal structure, with an airspace separation instead of mortar. In other words, it is the first case of a non-monolithic stone wall, as opposed to the solid, load-bearing masonry walls of time immemorial. The reason for using thin panels was probably to save money, as well as to be able to reuse the precious stone after the pavilion had served its purpose. Yet, the pavilion walls also contains segments of traditional solid stone, namely at the ends of its characteristic “free” walls. This was presumably done to avoid having to expose an edge of a stone panel when turning a corner, which would reveal its thinness. It’s a simple detail, but it shows how important it was for this building to convey a desirable appearance over and above its constructional reality; in essence, to establish a certain decorum. It was built for an international exposition, after all, a type of event which is entirely scenographic. In fact, it’s known that the back-sides of the pavilion had stuccoed brick walls painted to look like stone. I have visited this building on countless occasions, and never actually noticed that it contains both monolithic as well as superficial stone, and that the only way to distinguish these is by knocking on them...

Read More


Barcelona’s biggest market, Mercat Sant Antoni, has finally opened its doors after a renovation process lasting nearly a decade. The original market, by architect Antoni Rovira i Trias, was completed in 1882 inside the then-new Eixample district, occupying an entire city block with a diagonal cruciform configuration that intelligently places entrances at every street-intersection. With its multiple access-points (there are also four mid-block entrances) and its seamless integration with the urban infrastructure, Mercat Sant Antoni was effectively a megastructure nearly a century before these became an architectural thing. A “mini-megastructure”, perhaps, but prototypical nevertheless. First of four underground levels, with a fragment of a rampart unearthed on the site. Now, with the addition of four new levels underground –one level contains a supermarket as well as a multi-use space with archaeological ruins uncovered during the big dig, another underground level is an unloading area for dozens of delivery trucks, and two more levels contain underground parking– this is even more of a megastructure. To boot, the block that the market occupies now forms part of a “superilla“, or a superbock within which streets have been converted into greenways, intersections into public squares, and motor-traffic has been reduced and calmed beyond recognition. A superilla-mini-megastructure? This was previously a busy traffic intersection, now it’s a small square within a “Superilla” The renovation of Mercat Sant Antoni by GINA Architects has all the characteristics...

Read More

Housing Thinking

[Originally published in House US, eds. Jae Sung Chon and Kent Mundle (Winnipeg: OCDI Press, 2018)] “Les 5 étages du monde parisien”, Edmond Texier, Tableau de Paris (courtesy In comparison to the design of a single (-family) house, or indeed any singular architectural object, housing involves a different way of thinking. The architecture of housing has more to do with systems, economies of scale and multiplicity. It forces us, more than with any other kind of architectural design project, to consider space in terms of public versus private use (and the various shades of grey in-between), spatial appropriation, flexibility, efficiency, and yes, practicality. It requires us to think about the spaces between buildings as much as those inside, and to think about landscape in much more subtle terms than merely “green space”. Housing is architecture at its most humanitarian, social, and ecological, and as such at its most political, urban and complex. It is where architecture comes closest to confronting the ecological and therefore ethical question of how we should live; of how we should construct our habitat so that it is fair, just, and sustainable. Housing thinking addresses the very form of everyday human life itself. After all, housing is what mostly makes up the built environment. Other types of buildings might be accorded more monumentality and prestige, along with bigger budgets, but the mere bulk of housing...

Read More