Nobody can resist the charm of Barcelona.
Especially us architects.
In Barcelona, the cradle of contemporary urbanism, the landscape is enriched with endless layers of history. Since its first settlers, Roman colonists, generation after generation built here, one on top of another. Romans, Visigoths and a brief Islamic period are still embedded within the city’s prettiest streets. These old architectural stories are delightfully present nowadays. At first glimpse, the traveler can spot a 14th century stone cathedral coexisting with a computer-generated undulating structure – in harmony. Not many cities manage the temporary tension as good as Barcelona.
This city has much to offer to the refined traveller, besides its superb built environment. The roads lined with leafy trees (more than 150 different species across the city), the perfumed gardens, its exciting culinary scene and a mild climate that always leaves a sun-kissed glow. Not to mention the seaside. Those of us who live far from the sea find this a treat.
After your first acquaintance with Barcelona, you’ll take a decided vow to visit again, as nobody can resists its charm.
If you are looking for inspiration for your next trip to Barcelona and love architecture, dear friend, look no further. The following is a list of some of my favourite places.
My favourite is #23, yours? Let me know in the comments.
1. Barcelona Pavilion
Architect: Ludwig Mies van der Rohe
Location: Av. Francesc Ferrer i Guàrdia, 7 (Google)
Description: This simple yet effective piece of sculptural architecture was the German Pavilion in Barcelona’s 1929 International Exposition. This small work by Mies van der Rohe is key to understanding the architect’s trajectory as it is one of his most distinguished and the precedent to other obsessively simple structures such as the Farnsworth House (1951). Straight lines both in plan and section, water and solemn materials such as travertine were the ingredients for its elegant and sleek design. Read more here.
2. Dipòsit de les Aigües
Architect: Josep Fontserè / Lluís Clotet and Ignacio Paricio
Location: Carrer de Ramon Trias Fargas, 25, 27 (Google)
Year: 1874 / 1999
Description: The master builder Josep Fontserè was in charge of designing this massive water tank that would regulate the water flow from the nearby waterfall at the Ciutadella Park and watering their gardens. Since its construction in 1874 the program has kept evolving – a fire department store, archive of justice and municipal waste plant were amongst its uses. In 1999 a new exciting program for the building emerged: a library. The interior space is one of a kind. Read more here.
3. Natural History Museum
Architect: Herzog & de Meuron
Location: Plaza Leonardo da Vinci, 4, 6 (Google)
Year: 2004 / 2012
Description: When Herzog & de Meuron were commissioned this museum in Barcelona, they had a long successful history in transforming exhibition spaces – Museum Küppersmühle (1999), Tate Modern (2000) and CaixaForum (2007) among others. This one was a special commission because it was a newly built construction and it wasn’t originally intended as a museum. It was designed as an event space for the Fórum and was later refurbished for its current program as a Natural History Museum. Read more here.
4. Santa Caterina Market
Architect: Enric Miralles and Benedetta Tagliabue
Location: Av. de Francesc Cambó, 16 (Google)
Description: Santa Caterina Market, located on the former site of Santa Caterina convent, was an ambitious project. Officially inaugurated in 1848, this market by Josep Mas Vila surpassed the functions of the existing markets in the Plaza del Born and in Sant Josep, where sales would be exclusively made to Wholesale, including the sale of meat. By the early 2000’s, it was in need of much refurbishment and EMBT won the commission. The spectacular cover of colourful mosaics was designed by the artist Toni Comella. Read more here.
5. Suites Avenue
Architect: Toyo Ito
Location: Passeig de Gràcia, 83 (Google)
Description: Directly opposite of Gaudí’s La Pedrera (also in this list), this iconic building has become a landmark in its own right. Suites Avenue is composed of small independent apartments of 45 to 86 m2, with one or two luxury bedrooms, independent kitchen, sitting-dining room and shared services like an outdoor swimming pool. What’s perhaps most impressive of this private building is the spectacular stainless steel façade. Read more here.
6. Sagrada Família
Architect: Antoni Gaudí
Location: Carrer de Mallorca, 401 (Google)
Year: 1882-not completed
Description: Gaudí’s biggest and most famous commission, a church that after more than a century of its beginning is still unfinished. This revolutionary religious building – of unprecedented scale – combines Gothic and curvilinear Art Nouveau forms. Relying solely on private donations, Sagrada Familia’s construction progresses slowly. Would it be completed by 2026, the centenary of Gaudí’s death? We can’t be sure but in the meantime you can visit it. Read more here.
7. Barcelona Cathedral and Gothic Quarter
Location: Pla de la Seu, s/n (Google)
Description: Barcelona Cathedral and the surrounding Gothic Quarter are a delightfully preserved Medieval part of Barcelona. The cathedral, constructed between the 13th and 15th centuries, took about 150 years to finish. The cathedral is dedicated to Eulalia of Barcelona, co-patron saint of Barcelona. Don’t miss the Insta-famous Carrer del Bisbe and remains of the squared Roman Wall. Read more here.
8. Casa Milà
Architect: Antoni Gaudí
Location: Provença, 261-265 (Google)
Description: Casa Milà, popularly known as ‘La Pedrera’ (the stone quarry), an ironic allusion to the resemblance of its façade to an open quarry, was constructed between 1906 and 1912 as Gaudí’s last private residence. This innovative house was were the architect put together most of his theories. Several structural innovations include a self-supporting stone façade, a free-plan floor, underground garage and the spectacular terrace on the roof. Read more here.
9. Palace of Catalan Music
Architect: Lluís Domènech i Montaner
Location: Palau de la Música, 4-6 (Google)
Description: The Palau, a unique concert hall in the Modernista style, was financed primarily by the society, but important financial contributions also were made by Barcelona’s wealthy industrialists and bourgeoisie. The money was well invested as it is one of the most detailed and beautiful buildings of Barcelona. At the time of its construction, many of Gaudí’s work were being built too, and one can see the influence. The insane amount of features made necessary an extensive restoration between 1982 and 1989. Read more here.
10. Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art
Architect: Richard Meier
Location: Plaça dels Àngels, 1 (Google)
Description: In 1959 art critic Alexandre Cirici Pellicer formed a group of contemporary artists showing work in a series of 23 exhibitions with the hopes of beginning a collection for a new contemporary art museum in Barcelona. Richard Meier was appointed as the architect to create this exhibition space. The successful building led the architect to be soon commissioned the Ara Pacis Museum in Rome, where one can see the similar features. Read more here.
11. Casa Batlló
Architect: Antoni Gaudí
Location: Passeig de Gràcia, 43 (Google)
Description: Along with Casa Milà and Casa Vicens (the first home by the great architect), Casa Batlló is one of the most important masterpieces by Gaudí. This example is especially interesting because it is a remodel of a previously built house that bears no resemblance with. There are few straight lines – irregular oval windows and even an arched roof – and much of the façade is decorated with a colourful mosaic made of broken ceramic tiles (trencadís). Read more here.
12. Fira Barcelona Gran Via
Architect: Toyo Ito
Location: Av. Joan Carles I, 64 (Google)
Description: Fira de Barcelona, constituted in 1932, is Barcelona’s trade fair institution and one of the most important in Europe. Every year, it organises numerous trade shows and congresses, which bring together leading companies from different economic sectors to showcase their new products, exchange experiences and promote business. In 2009, their new shiny convention centre was completed. Read more here.
13. Las Arenas
Architect: Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners
Location: Gran Via de les Corts Catalanes, 373 – 385 (Google)
Description: This exciting conversion transforms a historic 19th bullring into a civic and cultural venue. Due to the building’s strong cultural role for the citizens – during nearly a century – the façade was preserved. The approach involved the most advanced architectural and engineering technologies to re-establish the original building as a visually striking landmark for the city. Don’t miss the amazing rooftop. Read more here.
14. Mercat Fira de Bellcaire Els Encants
Architect: b720 Arquitectos
Location: Carrer de los Castillejos, 158 (Google)
Description: Els Encants, also called Mercat de Bellcaire, is one of the oldest flea markets in Europe and dates back to the 14th Century. This centenarian marketplace, which has traditionally been set outdoors in an informal way, relocated in 2013 to a stunning new purpose built 3 story structure opposite the Agbar Tower (Jean Nouvel, 2005). What’s really interesting about this project is that it’s designed rejecting the model of a commercial centre, thus avoiding multiple rigid floors. Read more here.
15. CaixaForum Barcelona Entrance
Architect: Josep Puig i Cadafalch / Arata Isozaki
Location: Av. Francesc Ferrer i Guàrdia, 6-8 (Google)
Description: CaixaForum Barcelona, the art gallery sponsored by La Caixa bank, was relocated in 2002 to this wonderful building. It was originally commissioned as a textile factory and designed by Josep Puig i Cadafalch. Called the “Casaramona factory”, it was completed in 1911. The new entrance, designed by Japanese architect and 2019 Pritzker Prize laureate Arata Isozaki, is most impressive. Read more here.
16. Botanical Gardens
Architect: Carlos Ferrater and Josep Lluís Canosa
Location: Carrer Doctor i Font Quer, s/n (Google)
Description: The Botanical Gardens have a historical tradition in Barcelona: The first botanical garden in the city goes back to the late XVI century. The current Botanical Gardens were the result of a competition won by an interdisciplinary team of architects Carles Ferrater and Josep Lluís Canosa, the landscape architect Bet Figueras, the horticulturalist Artur Bossy and biologist Joan Pedrola. The intelligent infrastructure of the complex was inspired by fractal geometry, which allows the project to grow in a very flexible and creative way, keeping in line as a whole to establish a strong tension with the vegetation growing. Read more here.
17. Torre de Comunicacions de Montjuïc
Architect: Santiago Calatrava
Location: 08038 Barcelona (Google)
Description: This massive 136-metre (446 ft) tower located in the Olympic park was commissioned by Telefónica to transmit television coverage of the 1992 Summer Olympic Games. Inspired by an athlete holding the Olympic Flame, the tower has not only became a symbolic representation of the Olympics but also a landmark for the city. Because of the tower’s orientation, it works also as a giant sundial, which uses the Europa square to indicate the hour. Read more here.
18. Park Güell
Architect: Antoni Gaudí
Location: 08024 Barcelona (Google)
Description: Eusebi Güell, an important entrepreneur of Barcelona, commissioned the design of the park to Gaudí on the site of a commercially unsuccessful housing complex. The site was a rocky hill with little vegetation and few trees but Eusebi Güell saw a lot of potential to exploit the fresh air (well away from smoky factories) and beautiful views from the site. He also commissioned sixty triangular lots being provided for luxury houses. Only two houses were built in the end (neither by Gaudí) but the original idea of the park was fulfilled. Park Güell is also the reflection of Gaudí’s artistic plenitude. Read more here.
19. Hotel Porta Fira
Architect: Toyo Ito / b720 Arquitectos
Location: Plaça d’Europa, 45 (Google)
Description: Toyo Ito (also Suites Avenue and Fira Barcelona) and b720 Arquitectos (also Mercat Fira de Bellcaire Els Encants) have completed two adjacent towers in Barcelona containing a hotel and offices. Despite the clear contrast between the buildings in terms of form, the relationship they establish is harmonious and complementary. The buildings (each 110 m high) are connected by a common atrium. Read more here.
20. Temple of the Sacred Heart of Jesus
Architect: Enric Sagnier i Villavecchia
Location: Cumbre del Tibidabo (Google)
Description: This surprisingly contemporary religious building has some interesting influences that might not be obvious at first glance: the Sacré-Cœur Basilica in Paris and Rio de Janeiro’s Christ statue of Corcovado. This Roman Catholic church started in 1902 and wasn’t completed until 1961. The building is a mixture of Romanesque and Neo-Gothic styles, but you can also spot some decorations influenced by Modernism in the crypt. As the church is located at the highest peak of the mountain of Tibidabo, it offers its visitors marvellous views of Barcelona as well. Read more here.
21. Renaissance Barcelona Fira Hotel
Architect: Jean Nouvel and Ribas&Ribas
Location: Plaça d’Europa, 50, 52 (Google)
Description: Jean Nouvel is best known for its Agbar Tower in Barcelona, but it’s this hotel, which resembles a vertical jungle, that I find more interesting and representative of the architect. This 110 m high tower emerges from a garden of palm trees that continues vertically in a consistent vegetable canopy. On all the height, two outside loggias unite both buildings. They welcome a luxuriant vertical landscape, lined with the passageways of bedrooms and crossed by a “piranesian” game constituted by the terraces and the staircases. Read more here.
22. Walden 7
Architect: Ricardo Bofill
Location: Ctra. Reial, 106 (Google)
Description: Walden 7 is an urban and mixed-use development on the site of a former concrete factory. Three large blocks make up the complex which interestingly is modulated after a very specific “individual cell” of only 30m2. It’s as if the architect had taken wooden construction blocks and assembled them on top of and beside one another to obtain an organised, yet organic, unit, while still maintaining their independence. Brilliant. Read more here.
23. La Fábrica
Architect: Ricardo Bofill
Location: Av. de la Indústria, 14 (Google)
Description: Last but not least, my favourite building of the list: the wonderful and inimitable house of Ricardo Bofill. The architect envisioned a house within this abandoned concrete factory, of which he partially destructed and refurbished (some areas are still unfinished). Once the spaces were defined and cleaned of cement, eucalyptus, palms, olive and prune trees, mimosas, and climbing plants were set to wrap the architecture, giving the building this mysterious aspect of romantic ruin that makes it unique and unrepeatable. Read more here.