White people need to change, by several accounts this is the demographic that voted by a majority for Trump. White people and the racism, sexism and xenophobia we bring to our spaces are, and always have been, a problem in the US. When people say ‘the system’ needs to change, it’s a ‘system’ that was built to favor white people; so white people need to change. As a white person this saddens me, but this fact is not supposed to feel good. I know that there is a whole lot more I could be doing personally to be a more empathetic, compassionate, and supportive individual.
I am deeply saddened by the US election, I started crying when a store clerk said ‘I’m sorry’ today. The outcome of this election is not what I had anticipated or hoped for; and with the exception of this blog, I think I need to stay away from social media for a while to avoid being triggered by these events. I have the privilege of being in Europe, and therefore somewhat removed, but the shocks have been felt here as well.
I hope that some images from my travels can help you escape our collective nightmare reality.
I took a few days to visit a childhood friend that was working a conference in Barcelona. I had been to Spain and Barcelona as a teenager, and definitely did not have the same perspective on environmental design as I do now. I was really blown away by the cycling infrastructure in Barcelona, once I rented a bike I was jamming all over town! The waterfront multi-use path was also an impressive piece of public infrastructure that I was lucky enough to enjoy a few times. Pro tip: If you want to hang out at the beach, get away from the Barceloneta! It’s so crowded, and it’s not that hard to find some more tranquility on a little further down the waterfront.
The first stop was, of course, La Sagrada Familia. It was spectacular, blah blah blah, I won’t bore you with much about this because so much has been written about it already. However, I did not really anticipate just how unique and unprecedented this work is. Literally nothing in the historical or contemporary architectural canon really comes close to designing with light, spirituality, and innovative structure in the way that this cathedral does. I was not expecting to be so profoundly humbled and awestruck by Gaudí’s genius.
On my second day I set out to find a bike, and while the first place I went to did not have the type of rental I was looking for, I happily stumbled upon the newly-developed Mercat Nou metro station and the Jardins de la Rambla de Sants. The neighborhood was formerly developed in an ‘anarchic way’, and this new development serves as a new continuous element, as well as a seemingly well-loved linear open space.
The tile and detailing that I saw coming out of the station are echoed in the park, which is on top of the formerly ugly concrete block that supported the above-ground rail line. I thought this park had some really amazing detailing, and the tiles that they chose were gorgeous! I also appreciated that while Corten steel was in use throughout the park, it never dominated other materials, and wasn’t present in gigantic sheets as planters or retaining walls.
In Spain I noticed that on the street and in parks there were far more elderly people walking to do errands, walking with their children or aides, and hanging out together in parks — even more so than in Sweden. It was also apparent that the elderly were considered in the design of parks in Barcelona from accessible stairs, such as in this development, to outdoor strength and flexibility stations, and lots and lots of benches. Most of the parks I bumped into had a number of elderly folks hanging out in them, but this park was especially popular!
Nearby Carrer de Sant Jordi had been redeveloped in conjunction with Jardins de la Rambla de Sants, but it appeared that the concept for the street was ‘big Corten stuff’… The whole street was just lined with these gigantic Corten-clad lights and bollards, and a handful of palm trees. Not my taste, but certainly memorable.
For lunch I stopped at this lovely place called The Juice House, and I could not recommend it more for a healthy respite from serrano ham and paella. I am a self-defined yuppie, so of course I found the place with an allergen-conscious menu…. I had a really lovely gluten-free meal of seabass and black rice, but the most awesome part was my lovely carrot cake dessert that was low-glycemic, gluten and dairy free, DELICIOUS, only 4 euros, and they presented it so beautifully!
On my third day, I spent most of the day tooling around the Sants-Montjuïc hillside, touring the numerous parks, castles, and the Montjuïc cemetery.
I spent the most time wandering around the Montjuïc cemetery, which was opened in 1883 as Barcelona’s municipal cemetery. Driving between the airport and downtown, you cannot miss it, and the dramatic way that its mausoleums and monuments stand off the hillside, staring nobly into the sea. The design reminded me vaguely of the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin in the way that the mausoleums rise above the visitor, commanding attention, surrounding and dwarfing the human body. However, I could not feel as solemn in this place as one does when they are enveloped by the memorial in Berlin. Firstly, because I do not think that was the intent of this project, and secondly because of the texture and color of the rock facing.
I could not help thinking that if the design of this cemetery had been a contemporary competition, that the mausoleums would likely have been smooth stone in a consistent color, stark and shining under the Spanish sun. I was not initially attracted to the rock facing — it is the same material that covered our 1980s fireplace in my childhood home, and I thought it was so ugly then. However, I can appreciate that the texture of the rock in this application subdues the harsh light — which a smooth stone would only reflect, creating a harsh environment in which to pray or meditate, and the colors and texture of the rock are also playful and warm. While death is certainly sad, there is no reason that the space in which we contemplate the phenomenon has to be austere.
The rock also made me feel like the strong geometry of the mausoleums could come tumbling down at any moment. The stacks of rock seeming so organic and unwieldy in comparison to a common image of perfectly-aligned brick, wood planks, or concrete slabs. Tumbling rocks conjure the inertia or inevitability of life as it goes on, and death as a transition into its next phase.
After coming down off the hillside, I rode along the waterfront to find lunch, and after relaxing with that view and a glass of wine, ventured back into the city where I bumped into a part of the Gothic Quarter that was all kinds of artisan shops and makerspaces. Fashion ateliers, woodworking shops, jewelry shops, and shoemakers were all working in these spaces and selling their wares in the front. It is such a wonderful concept to have this kind of district. The narrow alleyways were beautiful, if hard to navigate, and most were decorated with garlands, banners, and lights.
Lastly, I was very impressed with Barcelona’s cycling infrastructure, but also little moments like this were incredible — helpful little signs pointed transit users in the direction of their bus. Why can’t we have more of these in the States?!