Learned from Las Vegas: DHUB Design Museum, Barcelona, by MBM

DHUB: a shed with a duck stapled on top of it?

This building is important. It occupies a prominent site at the intersection of Barcelona’s three most important thoroughfares. But not only that: a chunk of it has been allowed to singularly invade public airspace over Gran Via, the longest, straightest and most important of these avenues. Just to give us an idea, La Sagrada Familia is among the few other buildings in Barcelona permitted to occupy public airspace over a major street: when completed, the Glory façade’s monumental entrance steps will arch over Carrer de Mallorca. The name of the new building, “Disseny Hub”, also exudes importance, suggesting that it is a point of network centrality, not unlike an international airport.

It turns out that this important building is a design institution, not a transportation interchange, although the jet-setting Wallpaperazzi are sure to make it a stopover on their globe-trotting itineraries. Among Barcelona’s locals, meanwhile, this building’s pronounced cantilever has already earned it the sobriquet of “la grapadora”, or the stapler; astutely reflecting today’s growing complicity between architecture, design and bureaucracy.

But this monumental stapler is in fact only a small component of a much larger building; a mere hood ornament on a sprawling, low-slung, semi-buried ‘groundscraper’. It is as if one part of the building were intended to be highly visible—an eye-catching icon or sign—and the rest much more hidden and discreet. Moreover, the conspicuous element faces the busy roadway intersection, while the discreet one opens in the other direction onto a more pedestrian-scaled public space. It is almost…almost…as if the architects, MBM, took their cue from the ducks and sheds of Las Vegas, stacking these elements vertically instead of layering them horizontally, as would make sense in a much denser urban setting. Who would have thought that an important building on Barcelona’s grand strip would one day take the form of a duck stapled onto a shed?

[Originally published in Mark Magazine #45]

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.

2 comments

  1. critically funnyenjoyed the article and yes, why are our public spaces becoming private?

  2. Thanks for your comment, Alex! To be sure, this is a *public* building, so I don't think this is so much a case of public space being “privatized” as it is a case of public space being over-monumentalized, over-done, over-cooked…

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