A city famous for daring design is reinventing itself with multibillion-dollar projects
For those who miss Barcelona's Forum 2004, a five-month-long extravaganza of multicultural events ending September 26, there's still plenty to see. As it did with the 1992 Olympics, the city has used a high-profile international gathering as a pretext for radical urban renewal: In this case, the reclamation of its waterfront.
"The tourist map had been limited to modernist architecture and Barceloneta up until the Olympics, when it grew to include Montjuïc and the Vila Olímpica," says Juan Carlos Montiel, a city planner. "We want to put Besòs on that map."
Besòs, the once-blighted two-mile stretch of shoreline between the Port Olímpic section and the mouth of the Besòs River (Metro Line L4 to El Maresme-Forum), was formerly known for its crime and sewage works. The 124-acre, $2.1 billion development has added parkland, a restaurant-lined marina, and two spots for swimming in the Mediterranean: a pool-like "bathing zone" and the Northeast Park and Beach.
The centerpiece Forum building, on what's now the largest open plaza in the city (nearly 40 acres), houses the main permanent exhibition: Barcelona in Progress, featuring a model of the entire city on a 1:1000 scale. Part of the plaza is a vast esplanade, which covers the old sewage plant and culminates in breathtaking ocean views. Above it all, a roof composed of photovoltaic panels converts sunlight into a nominal amount of electricity for the city.
After Forum ends, concerts and other exhibits will begin (find schedules at bcn.es/english/ihome.htm), and over the next four years, Besòs will open sailing and diving schools, a marine zoo, and a college campus. Of the area's 2,500 newly built rooms, those of AC Front Maritim hotel, located on Nueva Mar Bella beach--a 10-minute walk from the Forum--are the most reasonable, with doubles priced from $100 (011-34/93-303-4440, achotelfrontmaritim.com).
Besòs is only one of three mammoth renewal projects now afoot in the city: By 2007, Sagrera, between the Sant Marti and Sant Andreu districts, will host the station for the new high-speed train to Madrid, as well as a Frank Gehry-designed building, combining offices and a museum of transportation.
Construction will begin by December, when work will also start on the Plaza de las Glories, an ambitious plan that calls for sinking part of La Gran Via, a major avenue, below ground. The result will be a pedestrian-only zone graced with daring architecture, including--fittingly--a new museum of design.