Street furniture and democracy
Political change began in Spain in 1975, when the death of the dictator put an end to 40 years of dictatorship. As the country emerged from the process of reshaping its constitution and legislation, in 1979 Barcelona was finally able to hold its first municipal elections and form a new democratic local government. It set a new trend in urban planning, which fostered integration and social structure. The main aim was to strike a balance between the city centre and its outskirts, which had been sorely neglected to low quality, anarchic growth. This would bring together all of Barcelona´s neighbourhoods on one city map, defining new centres to redistribute existing public services and urban development, whilst also substantially improving infrastructure.
The first stage comprised: the squares of Gràcia; projects in Nou Barris; the Moll de la Fusta wharf (first section of the future ring roads), and Avenguda Gaudí, which ran between two icons of Catalan modernism – Antoni Gaudí´s Sagrada Familia and Lluis Domenech i Muntaner´s Sant Pau Hospital. Work continued on Passeig de Lluís Companys; Rambla de Prim; the connection between La Rambla and Rambla de Catalunya in Plaça Catalunya; Diagonal-Sur; the waterfront down to Barceloneta; the Port Vell operation… By 1987, over a hundred projects had been finalised as part of the city´s makeover.
One of the new concerns of this initial phase was to provide the city with better citizen services and enhance the urban space, defining the common features of the city planning that would be the basis of all projects – the basic features of the language used in all works that define the cultural landscape of the public space. Many of the new projects produced common features in the city planning (pavements, kerbs, bollards, tree grates, benches, street lamps, litter bins, railings, etc.)
To understand the scope of this transformation, we need only compare the amount of public space created during Franco´s forty years of rule – 70 hectares of parks – to the 200-plus hectares created in Barcelona from 1982-1992.
The projects and work undertaken from 1981 onwards, under Barcelona City Council´s new urban planning policy, saw an increase in the level of design and a commitment to modernity and innovation in public spaces and street furniture.
The reason for urban design is the city, so it has an impact on the idea of order, comfort and quality of life that public space should offer. Consistency in the design of the urban features creates the concept of a territory, a city.
After many years devoid of urban design and innovation, the new projects were the test bed for interesting ideas. It was essential to select those that could be more widely used because they afforded greater resistance to urban use and lower maintenance, the best value for money, and a more valuable cultural contribution.
In 1988, a Street Furniture Unit was created within the Barcelona City Council Projects and Works Department to undertake the selection process, set location criteria, and address the continuous demand for new initiatives. The unit came up with new designs and developed criteria for selection, placement, standardisation and renovation, together with architects Rafael de Cáceres and Màrius Quintana.
A budget to remove architectural barriers from the public highway was also vital. This work did not only encompass putting in place no parking signs, audible signals and paving for the blind. Public services were also put in order and obstacles removed, enabling the space to be read clearly.
In 1986, Barcelona´s winning bid to host the Olympics provided an excellent opportunity to carry out projects that had been in the pipeline for years. The most emblematic were the ring roads and regeneration of the sea front, which completely changed the way traffic circulated and opened the city up to the sea, improving the beaches and enabling public use of many previously closed port areas. Furthermore, the Olympic Zones such as the Montjuic hill (Olympic Ring) and the Olympic Village in the Poble Nou neighbourhood were regenerated, creating large reclaimed areas in the city. Many public spaces were designed in all of these projects, with new street furniture that was listed in the Street Furniture Unit catalogue and has been used to furnish much of the city to date.
It was not until several years after the Olympics that the city´s major uncompleted work was undertaken – opening up the Diagonal thoroughfare to the sea. This neglected and underutilized district was the city´s last great transformation of the early 21st century, made possible by another large event, this time cultural – the 2004 Forum of Cultures. At last the Diagonal could be completed according to Cerdà´s plan of 150 years earlier, thereby reclaiming a large swathe of the north-west end of the city.
The transformation years following Barcelona hosting the 1992 Olympic Games saw myriad urban projects come to light and with them the design of much street furniture for the city. The regeneration of urban spaces during this time reflects a concerted effort to link design culture to the architectural and urban planning project culture, as well as the definition of a new concept of street furniture as integrating and innovative.
Santa & Cole, which had started out editing indoor lamps, decided to go for this transformation along with prominent architects and designers. It created an Urban Collection and edited several of the pieces that were installed in the city and would later become icons of this exemplary transformation. They are rational, cultured and efficient urban pieces that seek to boost the quality of public spaces. These objects bring harmony and fit seamlessly into their surroundings, with a suitability and beauty that have made them recognisable and useful 25 years on.
Among the Collection´s original pieces that were used in many projects, in the category of resting places we would highlight the NU bench by architects Jordi Henrich and Olga Tarrasó, which is naked (nu means naked in Catalan), with sober shape simplicity and resistance, light on the eye, and essential. Another is architects Enric Batlle and Joan Roig´s MOON bench, which in the words of its own creators is a simple and common wooden bench that can be likened to certain traditional models. It is a young bench that can be used in many ways.
When it comes to lighting, we would mention architects Beth Galí and Màrius Quintana´s Lamparaalta street lamp, designed to give off indirect, nuanced light with a diaphanous formal subtlety, a tribute to Finnish architect Alvar Aalto. The large Lampelunas street lamp by architects Elías Torres and José Antonio Martínez Lapeña is evocative of moonlight but is more intense, and fits in beautifully among trees, expressing the structure as an ornament. Also worthy of mention is the Macaya wall lamp, by architects Mª Luisa Aguado and Josep Ma Julià – a flat disc for extreme situations, with a discreet presence. Last but not least is the Vía Láctea street lamp by architects Enric Batlle and Joan Roig, a lamp that draws lines of light in the sky.
Words by Mia Serra, architect from Santa & Cole