From the history of world expo: Barcelona -1929

January 14. Kazpravda

By foreign media

From the history of world expo: Barcelona -1929The 1929 Exposition of Barcelona was the motor for modernization of Barcelona, because it opened the road towards the conceptualization of the metropolitan city, as well as that of the city of spectacles with offers to attract its visitors.

The gestation of the International Exposition of Barcelona took place during the first decade of the twentieth century, when Josep Puig Cadafalch promoted the realization of an international competition in the Catalan capital. Soon the possibilities would be seen for the success of an exposition dedicated to the electric industries, and it would start to take form with the support of various agents, from industrialists and politicians to businessmen and institutions like ‘Foment del Treball’ (Promotion of Work). The outbreak of the First World War stopped the celebration by impeding an International participation. In spite of this situation, the architects Puig Cadafalch and Guillem Busquets were assigned with the town planning of the precinct that, after various proposals, would be Montjuïc Mountain. The decision of this location brought with it the definitive abandonment of the idea to turn the Glòries square into the active centre of the city. Furthermore, the opportunity to create a great park on the side of the Besòs River, which had been foreseen in Ildefons Cerdà’s proposal in the redacting of the Plan of the Eixample, was also lost. In compensation, Barcelona gained two of the three rings under the military control of Montjuïc which became new urban spaces belonging to the public, at the same time that it pursued its growth towards the south.

The Town Planning Plan designed new roads of communication, as well as the routes that linked to the city. Busquets and Puig gathered up the proposal of Josep Amargós to construct a central promenade half way up the mountain, to which they would now give way from the streets of the Poble Sec and by lengthening some of those of the Eixample. However the most important was the definition of the principal route of access to the precinct from the Gran Via de les Corts Catalanes. The next step was the division of the precinct into three great zones: the National, International, and that of Miramar. The respective urbanizations were assigned to Guillem Busquets and Josep Puig, Lluís Domènech and Alexandre Soler, and August Font and Enric Sagnier, who designed the link with the city in expansion, the fringe next to the military facilities and the maritime facade of the mountain facing the port.

The scene of the future exposition was taking shape with the construction of the first palaces, which would start to function in 1922. The arrival of the dictatorship in Spain the following year signified a new adjournment together with a change of directives, because the works continued once the exposition turned into a reason of State, turning the competition into a referent of the progress and modernity before the rest of countries.

When, on the 19th of May 1929, the exposition was officially opened, one could appreciate the reach and the meaning. The city had lived through an urban renovation that, amongst other things, bequeathed the outlay of the Barri Gòtic, the finishing of Catalunya square and its embellishment with a group formed of large fountains and numerous sculptural collections, the placing underground of the train of Sarrià, on its route through the Eixample, metalled streets with new lighting, the first working metro lines, and the remodelling of the França Station.

The number of hotel places grew, because the existing hotels Oriente, Ritz or Colón were added-to by those built by Nicolau M. Rubió on Espanya square in front of the main access to the exposition. New leisure activities were placed within reach of the visitors: interesting theatre billboards, concerts, operas and ballets, to which the activities of an effervescent Paral•lel could be added. We must comment on the role that culture and leisure played in the precinct while the competition was held: conferences, concerts and expositions were held in palaces and pavilions, with the exhibition ‘El Art en España’ [Art in Spain] at the head, which occupied a great number of the rooms of the National Palace. The Poble Espanyol was the representation of Spanish architecture which homogeneously coexisted with the others, reproduced in a new scale. Some of the old quarries of Montjuïc were used to build the Teatre Grec and a small funfair park with a roller coaster which did not aim to outdo the one at the Tibidabo. The organisers of the Exposition also gave impetus to sporting events, with tennis courts, a swimming-pool and moreover a stadium that housed athletics competitions or football matches.

However, the most important role would be played by the precinct of the exposition which became an exposition in itself: to the diversity of the official palaces and pavilions and of the foreign representations that were added to those belonging to private companies and all types of entities, building up an architectural landscape dominated by the National Palace, which was the greatest exponent of the monumentality that, in general, defined the official architecture of the Exposition. Other buildings, that only caught the eye of the experts, were the show of ‘art déco’, like the ‘Pavelló dels Artistes Reunits’ (Pavilion of Gathered Artists) and those of businesses like Jorba or Uralita, the latter of which turned into an excellent advertisement lure. The other novelty, which was unexpected in this context, was the presence of the modern movement, which arrived with the Pavilion of Germany, and was a classic amongst the myths of twentieth century architecture and a lesson on composition which has brought about its reconstruction.

The landscaping was another attractive point of the precinct: between J.C.N. Forestier and N.M. Rubió new landscaped spaces, areas to sit and walk were designed, of which we must point out the park of Laribal and the gardens of Miramar, which transformed the mountain into an genuine urban park. The final touch, and probably the most praised and prized by the astonished visitors, was that created by the water and light games, especially those on the principal axis formed by the avenue of Maria Cristina and the access steps to the National Palace and the Univers square. Designed under the guidance of Carles Buigas, the monumental fountain stood out strongly, with a great jet which played the streams of water and a novelty system that illuminated them with changing colours in accordance with the differing figures the water created.

The holding of the exposition left an intense imprint on the image of Barcelona. After its end, and in spite of the foreseen demolition of most of the constructions, there still stands to this day the buildings that house museums, theatres, centres of botanical studies or nurseries, and the sports facilities that have been maintained, even though they have been remodelled and widened. What remains today of the exposition has become one of the tourist attractions of the city, because Montjuïc is the green lung that pulls together all the important cultural and sporting events.