Category Archives: general

Design Cities on Hong Kong TV – Barcelona

The Barcelona episode of Hong Kong TV’s Design Cities series airs on Boxing Day (Dec 26) – a rare opportunity to hear me proffer yet more words of wisdom, in Chinese! (Dubbed, of course). An English version DVD is in the works… I’ll keep you posted.

The Goods? In ‘The Work’

I’ve added a new page to this blog – it’s called ‘The work’. It lives on the right-hand sidebar, alongside ‘the author’, ‘the blog’ and ‘the book’.

It has a selection of links to some of my writing, as well as a few downloadable PDF files. There’s writing on Barcelona, including a full chapter of my book La Barcelona del diseño. Many of you have been asking if it was available in English – not as yet, but here’s a taster.

There’s also links to online excerpts of other things I’ve written about: old American cars in contemporary Cuba, TV makeover shows and domestic interiors, the challenges of historical research in archive-averse environments, or the relationship between footnotes, chairs, and cities.

Go have a look – the goods are in The Work. There are texts in English, Spanish and Catalan, so there’s something for everyone!

Summertime… vintage design auctions are in season

LUIS BARRAGAN (1902-1988) A Sabino and Leather Barcelona Chair, 1959.

LUIS BARRAGAN (1902-1988) A Sabino and Leather 'Barcelona' Chair, 1959. Estimate $20,000 - $30,000. Christie's Important 20th Century Decorative Art & Design, 2 June 2009 New York, Rockefeller Plaza.

With the month of June comes the yearly round of summer 20th Century design auctions at all the major auction houses. Sotheby’s ‘Important 20th Century Design’ of June 12 is offering lots for a total lower estimate value of $3.7 million – $5.4 at the highest estimate. This kind of money won’t save GM from bankruptcy, but it still is a hell of a lot of cash. Despite the recession, the relatively young 20C and contemporary design market has been holding its own remarkably well, even if its meteoric rise through to 2007 has been somewhat dampened in the current climate.

Christie’s and Phillips de Pury are also holding June auctions, as are Wright and  Quittenbaum, both specialist 20C Design auction houses. The latter holds a treat for all of you who are interested in Spanish 20th Century design: Andre Ricard’s rare 1973 lamp for Metalarte (pictured below), which I mentioned in an earlier post, is up for grabs at an estimate of €1200. Catch it if you can!

And if you happen to come across other pieces of Spanish design in the auction catalogues, let me know!

What does Barcelona look like? – Los Ojos del Mundo

One of the few annoying features of my iPhone is the question it asks every time I want to use its camera: “Camera would like to use your current location. ‘Don’t allow’ / ‘Ok'”. Being a bit of a surveillance paranoid I routinely ‘Don’t allow’, but thanks to the hundreds of thousands of people who do, and mostly, thanks to those who upload their pictures to Flickr and tag them, the researchers at MIT SENSEable City Lab have come up with a fantastic piece of data visualisation. In collaboration with Universitat Pompeu Fabra and the Barcelona Disseny Hub, they have developed Los Ojos del Mundo, with two projects based on pictures taken by both tourists and locals in Barcelona: Spaces of Diversity maps Britons weaving their path in Barcelona; and Spaces of Activity tracks photos from Barcelona with tags related to ‘partying’.

So, what do tourists go for? No surprises there:

Britons who visited Barcelona in Fall 2007 stayed on the beaten paths delimited by the city’s main elements such as Parc Guell and Sagrada Familia,  with Passeig de Gracia and Rambla acting as artery. The photos also confirm their pleasure for football (Camp Nou) parties (Forum) and the mediteranean sea (Barceloneta).

And what about partying?

tags related to “partying” in Summer 2007 shows that Barcelona confines its fun to the old town (Ciutat Vella) known for its high density of tourists, the bohemian distric of Gracia and the Forum area and its music festivals.

Spaces of activity (where are the parties?) from senseable on Vimeo.

A sad day for branding, a sadder day for brandy – Osborne gets a makeover.

The Osborne group has announced that it will stop using the black bull as its corporate logo. The Sevilla-based group wants to signal its shift from being mostly a brandy and sherry producer to its current emphasis on products such as water, fruit juices and Iberico ham. It has commissioned a new corporate logo from a Madrid design studio, which is still under wraps and will be launched later this year.

While the fearsome 14-meter high bulls will remain dotted around the Spanish countryside, they will be even further divested from meaning. One more nail in the coffin for this iconic piece of Spanish advertising design, created in 1956 by Manuel Prieto of the Azor agency. The first bull, 7 meters high and made of wood, went up near Madrid in November of 1957. From the early 1960s the bulls were made of metal sheet and were 14 meters high. By the 1970s there were more than 500 bulls across Spanish territories, not just on the Iberian Peninsula but also in the Canary Islands, the Balearics and North Africa.

In 1988, new national transport legislation makes publicity billboards that are visible from the roads illegal, and the word Osborne that was written in red across the existing bulls is removed. By 1994 the Spanish government wants to bring them all down, but many autonomous communities, municipalities and pressure groups fight to save them. In 1998, the Supreme Court grants them mercy, stating that the Osborne bulls have moved beyond their original advertising meaning, having become part of the landscape and a Spanish cultural icon.

The Osborne bull has also left an interesting trail of political associations. As an icon of Spanishness it has been taken over by the conservative right, and prompted the design of  an alternative animal national icon by Catalan nationalists, in the shape of the Catalan donkey. No Heritage listing in sight for that one!

It was also used by Spanish soldiers posted in Irak, both on the national flag and to decorate the barracks.

There are currently 97 bulls left. And now that they are one of the great stories of Spanish graphic design, declared objects of National Heritage, film icons (in Bigas Luna’s 1992 Jamón, Jamón, the bull shares screen time with Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz),  Osborne wants to give them up, because they link the group too closely to its past as a sherry wine producer. Would Nike give up the swoosh? Would Macintosh give up the Apple? And all for the sake of branding bottled water and fruit juice?

The everyday comes to Santa Coloma. Local things for local history.

The Museo Torre Balldovina, a local museum in Santa Coloma de Gramenet, near Barcelona, has asked the town’s citizens to contribute everyday objects from the 50s, 60s and 70s. These will be catalogued by the Museum and will be shown in an exhibition this fall. So far, about a hundred pieces have been collected over a few weeks, ranging from typewriters to sewing kits.

La Vanguardia has a nice video with interviews of some of the donors who explain their relationship to the objects they have given. But I can’t embed it so go watch it here.

Of cars, footballers, fascists and rockers

It’s Good Friday and it’s raining in Barcelona. I’ve finished re-reading Zola’s Au Bonheur des Dames, and in a vain attempt to overcome the blues that I always get when I come to the end of a great book, I briefly turned on the TV, only to be bombarded by images of all the Holy Week processions taking place around Spain – which felt as a rather creepy mix of the Spanish Inquisition and Disney World.

So I took refuge in YouTube, and I now offer you a chronological selection of idiosyncratic Barcelona goodies for your entertainment.

These first two are the earliest Barcelona films I’ve been able to find on YT – the first one is truly charming, one gets a wonderful sense of the city as a Mediterranean port, and I love the images of a deserted, brand-new Park Guell patrolled by sabre-wielding policemen.

Barcelona 1900 – La perla del mediterráneo

Barcelona 1908

The Spanish Civil War in thirteen minutes and a half:

Barcelona 19 July 1936 partA

Guerra Civil Española -Bombardeos sobre Barcelona

Entrada de los fascistas en Barcelona 1/2

The Seat 600 was the poster boy of the Spanish economic miracle of the 1960s. It was launched in 1957, manufactured in Barcelona, and easy enough for a woman to drive!

BARCELONA 1950

Lanzamiento del Seat 600

Seat 600

The 60s were the decade of massive migration into Barcelona from the South of Spain, and with the influx of immigrants came the shantytowns. And the music: la Rumba Catalana was born. Peret sang Catalan rumba in the 60s, and Manu Chao a different kind of fusion rumba many decades later.

Campo de la bota

peret – el mig amic (galas del sábado)

Manu Chao – La rumba de Barcelona

In November 1975, Franco dies. The city -the country- lived on the razor’s edge.

Barcelona. Manifestacions anifranquistes 1976

The newly democratic Barcelona of the early 80’s still carried the dusty weight of almost four decades of dictatorship on its shoulders. Loquillo, one of the best Spanish rockers of the decade, sang of his city with perfect pitch, with just enough rage and anomie to capture the spirit of a youth culture about to explode in an extasy of pre-olympic urban transformation.

Loquillo y los Trogloditas – Barcelona Ciudad

Loquillo y Los Trogloditas – Avenida de la luz

Here’s the transformation itself, in a scary stop-motion video that was produced by HOLSA, the Barcelona Olympic public-private body that coordinated the urban renovation works. And no, the disappearance of the old farmer and his artichoke fields under a sea of cement isn’t meant as an ironic twist.

Barcelona 1992 La Transformación

In 2004, the City Council tried to pull another urban regeneration coup like the one in ’92 and invented the Universal Forum of Cultures, to take over a whole new chunk of city, build it up, prettify it, redesign it and hand it over to people other than those that were there to begin with. This time round, the Barcelonese were not too happy with the process and the Council lost the popularity contest. But got away with it anyway.

FORUM Barcelona 2004

Coop City 1 – Barcelona Post Forum 2004

And then came the tourists, among them Woody, Vicky and Cristina. Watch the movie trailer first, then the Barcelona City Council’s tourism promotion video, and try to spot the differences. (Answer: it’s the dolphins).

Landing at Barcelona’s El Prat

Vicky Cristina Barcelona Trailer

Barcelona Turisme Promo Video

Some tourists actually stay on for a while and compete for jobs with the immigrants from Africa and Eastern Europe

Under the Table in Barcelona – Lonely Planet Travel Video

El Raval de Barcelona: un barrio que ya no es lo que era

And last but not least, Barça.

Barcelona: The Inside Story (Storyville BBC) part 1