When saying Barcelona, people think of Antoni Gaudí. Nearly all tourist guides, promotional pictures and tours are dedicated solely to his work. Notwithstanding the value of this patrimonium, one could easily get the impression Gaudí is the only noteworthy architect the city ever knew and el Modernismo Catalan (the Catalan equivalent of Art Nouveau) the only style of interest.
However, while walking the streets of Barcelona for over a month, our attention was caught by a different story. We came across the architecture of Josep Lluís Sert (1902-83), one of the pioneers who introduced modernism in Spain.
In 1930, after working at the office of Le Corbusier for a year, Josep Lluís Sert brought to his hometown the concepts of the new style. At that time, Barcelona was confronted with high social needs, particularly in working class areas. Modernism attempted to formulate an answer to this by putting emphasis on hygiene, public health, functionalism and the introduction of new building materials (iron, concrete, glass), with respect to local building traditions.
A few years later, Lluís Sert co-founded GATCPAC (Grup d'Artistes i Tècnics Catalans per al Progrés de l'Arquitectura Contemporània, i.e. Group of Catalan Artists and Technicians for the Progress of Contemporary Architecture), a group of young architects and technicians who pursued the implementation of modernism and which was the Spanish counterpart of CIAM. During the 1930s, Lluís Sert and other members of GATCPAC built a considerable number of buildings in and around Barcelona, providing the city with some outstanding examples of modernist architecture. However, after the Spanish Civil War broke out and the fascists victory was a fact, most GATCPAC members were prohibited to work in Spain which meant a huge drawback for the group, driving many architects into exile. Lluís Sert went to the United States where he continued his architectural practice and eventually became dean at Harvard University.
In the 1970s he built a few more buildings in Barcelona such as the Fundació Joan Miró, today his most known work in the city.
By looking at Sert’s buildings it became clear to us that, apart from the Fundació Joan Miró, the patrimony of Josep Lluís Sert is no real part of the collective memory of Barcelona. Tourist guides make no mention of his work, most inhabitants never heard of him and little attention (hence: funds) is granted by the Heritage Department to properly maintain his buildings. Being one of the most prominent representatives of early modernism in Spain, the indifference towards Lluís Sert and his oeuvre seems like a missed opportunity.
Fortunately, since a few years some organisations are striving to get people more familiar with this heritage. Nonetheless, it is our perception that these initiatives currently still operate in the margin and fail to catch the public’s attention.
Buildings we captured:
Casa Bloc, 1933-1939
Tuberculosis Hospital, 1933-1937
Pavilion of the Republic, 1937
Les Escales Park, 1975
Fundació Joan Miró, 1975