Interesting piece by Glancey in The Guardian recently on the new Santa Caterina market in central Barcelona (by Catalan practice EMBT). Where some cities - Paris with Les Halles; London with Spitalfields; Manchester with Smithfield, and so on - have often casually neglected the central role of the market in cities, Barcelona seems to be trying to nurture what markets have traditionally represented - the old public spaces, meeting places and exchanges, everyday theatres for the sensuality of experience, distinctly urban architecture - while trying to reinvent those aspects in need of upgrading in order to fend off the challenge of supermarkets and home shopping. It's an attempt to fuse best of old and new in several ways, actually, not least in the building itself:
"Although computer wizardry helped to generate the form and structure of the roof, individual laminated roof panels have been cut by hand; the sheer number of awkward curves in the design would have been, as yet, beyond the abilities of an automated, computer-linked timber mill. So, the building is both ultra-modern and very old in spirit and technique, recalling local boat-building techniques and seeming exactly right for its setting between two important medieval churches - the cathedral and the ship-like Santa Maria del Mar"
But also on the process of retail within the market:
"New technology has also entered the building in the guise of computers installed in, to date, 33 of the 100 Santa Caterina stalls. These allow stall holders to take orders by email from customers and to deliver goods to them. The system is taking some getting used to; exactly how do you instruct your favourite butcher to cut slices of meat or cheese to your, and family's and guests' satisfaction? It is much easier to shop in markets using direct eye-contact, gestures and words of encouragent than to tap away at some remote computer keyboard. Even so, the aim is laudable: to keep sensual markets competitive with senseless supermarkets."
Finally an interesting noting of Scottish umbrage being taken due to the building's surface similarity to the Scottish parliament by the same practice - almost as if architects are performers, producing an entirely new 'trick' for every job. That's a fairly simplistic notion of progress and process compared to a more iterative, refined sense of a continually evolving yet coherent set of themes from an architectural practice. Building projects vary according to situation, brief, context - but each project is an entry in an overarching, continuous understanding of what and how to build in an abstract sense, held by an architectural practice over and above the individual project. Discuss!
"The big question, rehearsed in the pages of the Scotsman, has been whether the sinfully expensive Scottish Parliament building is merely a rehash of the much cheaper Santa Caterina market. But, as (Benedetta) Tagliabue has told the paper, "a series of buildings that one architect designs is like children from the same family. To the parents they are all different but to outsiders there are lots of similarities. I don't see any direct similarities between the Scottish Parliament and the Caterina Market in Barcelona, but they do have in common the aim to break boundaries. Both buildings are trying to influence their surroundings which are both old parts of cities. They are both more than buildings, but a piece of the city. It is natural that there will be similarities, as architects are not infinite."
The Guardian: Foodie heaven
Related, in sharp contrast: The Economist on the inexorable rise of Tesco: 'The sceptered aisle' [subs. reqd.]