Barcelona is a Mecca for built environment professionals, and it’s not hard to see why. From its carefully planned geometric expansion around the medieval centre, to the grandiose 1992 Olympic sites; from Gaudi’s organically mosaiced Parcs, buildings and rooftops, to Miles Van de Roe’s strictly rectilinear Barcelona Pavillion...
Design seem to permeate the place, to the extent that it is no longer necessary to justify its importance. It is simply the bedrock upon which the city is built.
When 2B became aware of a Landscape Institute North-East (LINE) Branch proposed study tour, complete with a native Barca guide (Montse Ferres), we quickly asked if we could come along too, and with true geordie hospitality, they welcomed us into their group. Montse proved to be a proud, informed and articulate guide to the city, and we got so much more insight, by being with her, than we would have done if we had toured the city alone.
When looking down each avenue, or into developments old or new, coming upon another public artwork, or just a beautiful paving detail, the impression is that ordinary or poor design would be simply unthinkable. Great design is inherently understood as being economically life-giving and a spiritually life-affirming.
The contrast with the UK’s under-developed sense of design could not have been more stark than when arriving back at Leeds-Bradford airport, to the poorly-signed, inappropriately surfaced exit and barely functional bus stops. (The freezing wind didn’t help either ;-)
So what do we conclude of the difference between Barcelona and so many UK places? We know that some cities have “got it”: many parts of London, central Manchester, Liverpool, Newcastle, Birmingham, Bristol and others. But outside of regenerated town centres, so much of our built environment is mundane, even mean.
How, therefore, can we expect our UK population to be anything more than mundane, even mean? Until we build our society, from primary school, to social housing, to city centre, upon a bedrock of life-affirming, economically-uplifting, great design, we can’t expect to see the realisation of the true potential - the Great - in Britain.