The lost architectural gems of Barcelona’s recent history
A look at two landmark buildings, lost architectural gems, that have been demolished through ignorance or speculative greed.
In Spain, a multitude of unique buildings of great architectural value have met the same tragic end: demolition. This has variously been due to land speculation, political motives, or because the building in question was conceived as a temporary structure; but whatever the reason for razing them, these architectural landmarks – now no more than a memory in the popular imagination – demand that their story be told and their legacy appreciated.
Canaletas Kiosk, Barcelona
Antoni Rovira i Trias’ original building was just a small wooden structure that sold refreshments, coffee and water. Built in 1877, it was located on the upper stretch of the Rambla avenue, near the fountain of Canaletas, and it was part of a series of projects entrusted to the head of Barcelona’s Buildings and Ornamentation Department to boost the development of the urban landscape and bring it in line with other European cities.
The kiosk’s first owner was Felix Pons, who had a refreshment stand near the Boquería market, further down the Rambla. But in 1901 it was taken over by Esteve Sala I Canyadell, who had a bar near the Barcelona FC soccer grounds. The kiosk prospered from 1901 to 1916 after Esteve noticed that soccer fans walking out after a game often gathered at the Canaletas section of the Rambla to discuss the match. To take advantage of this, he established communication with the bar to learn how Barça had played, and prepare his kiosk with extra food and drinks according to the mood.
Structurally, Esteve arranged for a series of extensions and redesigns to cater to his growing clientele. These included a project by architect Antonio Utrillo, who added a modernist twist that turned the kiosk into a city icon. Esteve began organizing debates at his kiosk and eventually his links with Barça were such that he became the club’s manager between 1931 and 1936.
The kiosk was torn down in 1951 on the orders of Mayor Antonio María Serrano. Some point to Esteve’s strong ties with Barça, and thus with Catalan nationalism, as the reasons behind the move, although the official line was that the authorities wanted to make the Rambla more attractive to pedestrians.
The Eucharistic Congress Altar, Barcelona
The 35th Eucharistic Congress was celebrated in Barcelona in the spring of 1952. It was the first to be held after the Second World War – the previous one had been in 1938 in Budapest amidst rising pre-war tensions. The 1952 congress was Franco’s first international event and it was publicized with the slogan “The Eucharist and Peace.”
The altar was designed by Josep Maria Soteras in collaboration with fellow architects Vilaseca and Riudor and set up on Diagonal avenue – then known as Generalísimo avenue. It was meant to be a temporary structure, but due to its unique design, it became something of an icon that should have been preserved.
The construction addressed two needs: one spiritual and the other practical regarding the distribution of facilities and space. The solution was a huge circle representing the sacrament of the Eucharist, with a canopy 25 meters in diameter held up by three supports: a 35-meter high cross and two braces representing faith, hope and charity in a bid to accentuate its spirituality.
These features used a pentagonal base rising five meters above street level, which could be entered from the back under the cross located in the last apex of the pentagon. The entrance led into the vestry as well as the area reserved for radio broadcasting, toilets, telephone booths, a storage room and an area for security forces and firefighters, all of which was hidden below the shadow of the canopy. The canopy, which resembled a vault, had a circular window that let natural light through during the day and artificial light by night.