Barcelona is famous for is abundant Gaudí architecture, but it’s also home to impressive historical buildings and a vibrant urban fabric from other periods.
If you’ve heard one thing about architecture in Barcelona, it’s almost certainly that the city is home to Sagrada Família (above). And if you’ve heard two things, it’s probably that the city is home to Casa Milà (below).
Both Sagrada Família and Casa Milà are incredible buildings and must-sees. They were both designed by Antoni Gaudí, one of the most famous architects ever and a major influencer of Barcelona.
But there’s a lot more going on in Barcelona than these two very famous buildings. Here are some highlights:
This park, which was built in the first years of the 1900s, offers a chance to gaze at even more Gaudí. But while Sagrada Família and Casa Milà have fairly subdued exterior color palettes, Park Güell is a riot of radiant tile. This is a pretty famous site as well, so let’s move on.
Just down the street from Casa Milà, Casa Batlló is one of my favorite buildings in Barcelona — probably more so that Casa Milà. The building is also the handiwork of Gaudí, who redesigned an existing structure in 1904 to produce the famous facade.
I like how Casa Batlló feels slightly more formal and traditional, while still looking almost alive; and since it was done just before Casa Milà, it offers useful insights into its architect’s development. Here’s a look at more of the building:
Plaça de Sant Felip Neri, and the Gothic Quarter generally
Ok, enough Gaudí for now. The great thing about Barcelona is that, like many old cities, it has been adding incredible architecture for a long time, and the buildings consequently tell a wealth of stories. The photo above comes from Plaça de Sant Felip Neri, as pleasant a square as anyone ever dreamed up. It’s history, however, is not pleasant; all of those holes were caused by bombs that killed 42 in 1938 (sometimes they are incorrectly described as bullet holes.) It’s a good example of how the built environment is itself a kind of history book.
The street walls
A street wall is a continuous row of buildings that create a wall along a street. Depending on how it’s done, it can have a tremendously positive or negative impact on how a place feels.
What’s interesting about Barcelona is that there is a huge variety of architecture, but most of it exists within the constraints of the existing building patterns; the street walls continue, no matter what kind of building you come across. So Casa Milà, for example, is about the same height and shape as far more traditional buildings, but still manages to look wildly different. That’s in contrast to the buildings today’s most famous design, which often hold their surroundings at arm’s length and consequently have an antagonistic relationship with the rest of the city.
The pictures above show this dynamic at play; they show very different buildings, but they all share similar sizes and general shapes. Observing this adherence to form, and the creative tension of having wild structures in the mix, is one of the greatest architectural pleasures of Barcelona.
— Jim Dalrymple II