Night was falling. Blue turned to indigo and pink to violet. Colors that now seem like a foretaste of the nights that were to come. We were arriving in Barcelona, heading for the Magic Fountain. Our first encounter with a destination we’d longed to see. Expecting something special – what exactly, we didn’t know. The city lights were coming on. We drove along Gran Vía. Barcelona didn’t disappoint. It was as frivolous and pragmatic, as dazzling and contemporary, as unique and as far removed from the clichés as we had hoped. We wanted the city to show us its other face, the flipside of its Modernista architecture, the tribes of skateboarders, the multi-colored Tower of Babel on the Ramblas. It did. It revealed sophisticated interiors with mirrored ceilings, laminated walls, carpets in saturated colors and decorative floor tiles. It surprised us with extravagant entrance halls designed by famous architects. It led us to the haunts of the cultured, libertine gauche divine that made the city fashionable in the ‘70s. It offered up designer objects with the gift of eternal youth. It entertained us in clubs hidden behind neon windmills. But all this was yet to come when we arrived at Montjuïc, the mountain where we found the symbol of the city that was about to welcome us. When its jets fired dancing colors up towards the sky, the magic ensued. The night had just begun in Pedro García’s Barcelona
She slips off her shoes. Feels the carpet under her feet. Sprints up the stairs. Opens the closet. The music can be heard from down below. A voice, smooth as silk, among synthesizers.
Sometimes you know it will be a night to remember, before it has even begun. Future perfect.
Monsters and rockets.
one-tenth of a second
Dinner. Introductions. First impressions.
Glittering – changing - picking up reflections. Spinning. Dancing light.
Bric-à-brac, vintage finds, memorabilia. Contemporary collectables.
Made in Barcelona
El objeto me gusta. De hecho, me gusta mucho. Por la sencillez de sus líneas, por lo ingenioso de su funcionamiento, por la efectividad con la que va a mejorar mi día a día, por su comodidad, sus materiales, su color, su calidez. Por muchos motivos o por uno solo, pero no hay duda, el objeto me hace sentir bien. Es actual, me veo con él, lo quiero en casa. Decidido: lo compro. Con el entusiasmo del hallazgo, reclamo la atención del vendedor que se acerca con una sonrisa y me felicita por haber elegido… un gran clásico. Resulta que esa lámpara, esa silla, esa aceitera o esas pinzas para el hielo fueron diseñadas hace más de cincuenta años, que mis padres o incluso mis abuelos las hubieran podido tener en sus hogares. ¿Qué es lo que hace que un producto sobreviva generaciones manteniéndose tan fresco como el primer día?
1967. While San Francisco was gearing up for the Summer of Love and Carnaby Street was the main hub of Swinging London, the global epicenter of chic, in Barcelona one small street emerged as a bubble of modernity in gloomy, somber Spain. It was an explosion, more pop than psychedelic, frivolous and cultured, which sparkled like a fireworks display for a few short years, breaking all the established rules and turning Barcelona into the place to be. At least in Spain. That year, and for a brief period afterwards, Calle Tuset rechristened itself Tuset Street. The streetlights, painted green and yellow, shone down on bar terraces crowded with beautiful people drinking gin fizz. Boutiques offering extreme prêt-à-porter fashions alternated with glamorous ad agencies straight out of Mad Men. Chauffeurs double-parked limousines outside the aristocratic restaurant on one of the corners. Films were premiered and songs composed bearing its name. There were fashion shows on the sidewalks, and Salvador Dalí brought traffic to a halt to launch his book, accompanied by a giant tortoise and a panther. Tuset Street was, without a doubt, a great theater.
1970. Like any pyrotechnic show, the dazzling explosion of Tuset Street did not last long. Luckily, the year when it began to fade away also saw the opening of a restaurant that has preserved all its energy down to the present day: the omelette house Flash Flash, brainchild of photographer and adman Leopoldo Pomés and architect Alfons Milà. The white on white interior of Flash Flash, designed by Milà and his business partner Federico Correa, was so groundbreaking that it retains its ability to surprise even today. Tables and seating are distributed in a way that makes it almost impossible not to strike up a conversation with your neighbors. Along with Il Giardinetto, another of Pomés’s restaurants, located just across the street, its interior evoking a forest of chestnut trees, it would soon become a meeting place for a movement of Barcelona’s artists and intellectuals with a cosmopolitan, unconventional, nocturnal spirit, as enthusiastic about consuming and spreading culture as about shocking the bourgeoisie and having a good time. A movement known as the gauche divine. A group of writers, editors, architects, designers, filmmakers, singers, actors, models and painters that found in Tuset Street, Flash Flash, Il Giardinetto and, most of all, the nightclub Bocaccio, the boîte divine, their oasis of frivolous intellectuality.
Made in Barcelona
I like the object. In fact, I like it a lot. Because of the simplicity of its lines, the ingenious way it works, the efficiency with which it’s going to improve my daily existence, its convenience, the materials it’s made of, its color, its warmth. For many reasons, or only one, but there’s no doubt about it, the object makes me feel good. It’s contemporary, I see it for myself, I want it in my home. Decision made: I’ll buy it. Enthusiastic about my find, I catch the attention of the sales assistant, who approaches with a smile, congratulating me for having chosen… a timeless classic. It turns out that this lamp, this chair, this cruet or these ice tongs were designed over fifty years ago, that my parents or even grandparents might have had them in their homes. What enables a product to survive for generations, remaining as fresh as it was the first day?
There are few design disciplines in which an element can withstand the passage of time without any kind of revision. The most famous logos are subject to periodic face-lifts, which often go unnoticed. Fashion swings like a pendulum, trends make comebacks, although never exactly the same way; something the mirror makes plain when you rescue an outfit from the attic. But in industrial design, the design of products, there are some special cases of objects whose aesthetics, ergonomics, functionality or usability were so innovative when they were first designed that they have become almost immortal. This feature will look at just a few of them.
These designs have something in common, apart, of course, from obvious considerations such as their beautiful shapes, or the meticulous attention to detail; leaving aside the self-evident facts that their creators are considered geniuses, and that all these objects are prize-winning icons. They have a restraint that makes them different than objects made elsewhere. Their materials are not luxurious, although they may be noble ones. The execution is simple, but the effect can be sophisticated. They are unassuming and honest. They are designs made in Barcelona.
Ice tongs, 1964 – André Ricard
A testament to an era. Pure ingenuity. Without mechanical parts, the shape of the object generates the movement required to pick up an ice cube. Pressing the curved edge of the tongs makes them open like a forefinger and thumb. Made of plastic for reduced production costs and ease of manufacture. Elementary.
Copenhagen ashtray, 1965 – André Ricard
Functionality applied to the habit of smoking. At a time when the risks of inhaling smoke were not taken very seriously, Ricard studied the smoker’s needs and designed probably the most practical ashtray ever known. With a slot facing a central cylinder on which to rest and stub out the cigarette, it is capacious and yet compact, stackable and easy to clean. Mass produced. Simplicity itself.
Moragas lamp, 1957 – Antoni de Moragas
A contemporary aesthetic. A central column of sapele, an exotic, but not rare, wood, constitutes the solid base that supports a wide shade – 45cm or 17 3/4” – made from the silk tape used in bookbinding. The effect is cozy and welcoming: a warm glow that projects linear chiaroscuros, like the pleats of a dress. Considered a symbol of the modern movement in Barcelona, this is the work of a philosopher of form.
Torres Clavé chair, 1934 – Josep Torres Clavé.
Traditional comfort. The architect was inspired by ‘cadirats,’ traditional seats from Ibiza, when he designed this easy chair for the Pavilion of the Spanish Republic at the 1937 Paris International Exhibition. From this chair, visitors could admire Picasso’s Guernica or Miró’s painting The Reaper. The materials: oak and a woven seat of handmade esparto grass cord. Wide and comfortable.
Disa lamp, 1957 – José Antonio Coderch
The warmth of simple materials. Twelve slats of Oregon pine, arranged in two layers around the light source, take on yellow and reddish tones and create an interplay of foreshortened shapes that expand into the room. A light as intimate as that of a fireplace. The architect sent the disassembled lamp to colleagues and artists he admired. When they put it together, they understood the logic of the design – and when they switched it on, they saw its magic. Picasso called it the most beautiful modern lamp he had ever seen, and as a token of gratitude, drew it on a postcard, which he sent to Coderch. The birth of an icon.
Oil-vinegar cruet, 1961 – Rafael Marquina
Strict pragmatism. A piece that reinvents an object in daily use in Mediterranean culture, solving the problem of drips and stains, which were previously inevitable. A conical crystal container, similar to a laboratory flask, ends in a funnel to collect excess drips, which surrounds a stopper of the same material through which the oil is poured. Recognized as the definitive design. An emblematic product.
They have a very Mediterranean feel, somewhere between a Turkish carpet and a Roman mosaic. In fact, in early twentieth century Barcelona, most architects installed them to simulate carpets, with borders that covered a room’s entire floor area. They are hydraulic mosaics, profusely decorated tiles, manufactured one by one from pigmented cement, compressed in a hydraulic press without firing. Their richly-colored, geometric and botanical designs made them the ideal covering for Catalan art nouveau floors. The tile patterns were custom designed, and since the final image could be a combination of two to six different pieces, making and installing them was a complex process. But the results have a magic that can still surprise today.
Thigh-high. Boots suggest hot dates on cold days. Softly enveloping. Attractively tactile. They make a statement without dominating. Style savvy.
Defined lines. Simplicity and character. The interplay of geometric forms. Ornamentation and texture. Opposites attract.
Silhouette, material, color. The hallmarks of a classic. Retro nod. Tastemaker’s pick.
Texture: The tactile quality of a material's surface.
brogue ‘n’ Roll
Stylized, refined rock and roll. Pointy brogues, as sharp as a Brit’s sense of humor. Street style goes sartorial.
lights, music, action!
Spectacular. That’s the adjective that describes it best. As impressive as it is dramatic. Picture a large elliptical fountain, set between four cascades that tumble from a Renaissance-style palace on one of the hills that surround Barcelona, the National Palace on Montjuïc. As dusk falls, the enormous fountain awakes. Like a living being, it never behaves the same way twice. Sometimes it stretches sleepily, sometimes it leaps up energetically. Accompanied by light and music, the groundwater that supplies it begins to dance. Soft hues and mist, towering jet streams and bright colors. The combinations are almost infinite, and always majestic. That’s why they call it the Magic Fountain, and since the engineer Carles Buïgas designed it for the Universal Exhibition at the beginning of the last century, it has become a charming symbol of the city. Perhaps the most vivacious of all.
There’s an avenue in Barcelona that follows the line of a geographical parallel, and for years it was the heart of the city’s nightlife: a broad street of cabarets and showgirls, illuminated by colored neon lights. Halfway down El Paralelo – the avenue’s name – stands a small theater that was always more popular than the rest, not only because of the windmill on its facade, but because it was always the most risqué, and by a wide margin: El Molino. Years went by, times changed and El Molino had to move forward. From transgression to innovation. After a thorough revamp, including the creation of a terrace behind the illuminated rotating neon sails of the windmill, and a restaurant, today El Molino is a multi-purpose venue – a theater that also puts on parties everyone wants to be at, and concerts no one wants to miss. El Molino will always be El Molino.