Welcome to the Hotel Barcelona

In case anyone hasn’t noticed, Barcelona is in the tail-end of a hotel construction boom. And Barcelona being “Barceloooooonaaaaaa” means, of course, that these have to be designer hotels. Designery types such as Richard Rogers, Dominique Perrault, Carlos Ferrater, Oriol Bohigas, Juli Capella, Enric Ruiz Geli, Oscar Tusquets, and Ricardo Bofill (to name only some) all have a four- or five-star hotel in the works if not recently completed.

Interestingly, a number of new hotels are high-rise point-towers à la Benidorm, which is not in itself a bad thing since the city has nowhere to grow except in height. But others are being built in some rather questionable areas. One new hotel has recently been built on the side of Montjuïc hill, a public park of historical importance in which the construction of new buildings is strictly prohibited. It is painted dark green in a pathetic attempt to blend the building with the hill’s vegetation; an example of what I have termed “everyday camouflage“. Another hotel—an embarrassingly awful clone of the Burj al Arab Hotel in Dubai—is going up right at the edge of the sea, another non-buildable zone. One can’t help but wonder if the city isn’t making some very special concessions to hotel developers. Perhaps that is why the Ajuntament (City Hall) launched the advertisement campaign “Visc(a) Barcelona”, some months ago; a wordplay that in Catalan that means both “I live in Barcelona” and “long live Barcelona!” This latest campaign is obviously aimed at making residents proud to be living in a city well on its way to having the most hotel rooms per capita next only to Las Vegas.

Now I’m thinking to myself: this could be heaven or this could be hell.

Fine, but what does this mean for architecture? Well, for one thing it means that the hotel is possibly eclipsing the museum as architecture’s favorite building type. When designing a hotel, an architect can show off their talent much more than with a museum, since one can design a whole way of life from the building itself down to the toilet paper dispenser. When designing a museum, an architect must restrain herself from upstaging the art, but a hotel is an architect’s wet dream: a chance to do a work of “total design”; to control absolutely every aspect of the life lived inside. The fact that people usually only inhabit hotels for a relatively short period of time makes total design tolerable, even attractive. Hey, it might even be fun to try out a totally designed lifestyle for a holiday experience. Architecture, once the stuff of Grand Tours and now that of global media events, has always been better suited to tourism, travel and temporary inhabitation than to dwelling, Being, or everyday life. Perhaps we can say that architecture has finally found its true “home”.

Hal Foster, in his incisive book Design and Crime (and other diatribes), argues that, not unlike the turn of the last century, around the time that Adolf Loos published “Ornament and Crime”, we have once again entered an era of total design, one that he terms “Style 2000.” Perhaps Foster was responding to Mark Wigley, who asks in Harvard Design Magazine #5 “Whatever Happened to Total Design?” In any case, the hotel has eclipsed the home as the locus of total design today. Loos’s “poor little rich man’s home” is today the poor little rich man’s home away from home.

They’re living it up at the Hotel Barcelona. Such a nice surprise. Bring your alibis.

About Rafael Gomez-Moriana

I am an architect, writer and educator. rafagomo.com chronicles my architectural making, writing, teaching and curating activity, while criticalista.com is an archive of my writings as well as a platform for venting personal rants and observations. I studied architecture at the University of Waterloo (Canada) and at the Berlage Institute (the Netherlands). I direct the University of Calgary’s architecture term-abroad program in Barcelona and teach at CIEE, and have previously taught in the Metropolis Masters Program in Architecture and Urban Culture as well as at Carleton University and the University of Manitoba.

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