B720 Corners the Flea Market

Barcelona flea market by B720. Photo courtesy Iñigo Bujedo Aguirre.

With its beginnings dating back to the 14th century, Barcelona’s flea market La Fira de Bellcaire (also known as Els Encants) is one of the oldest and tradition-steeped of the 43 markets in that city. Recently, this institution moved from a collection of ramshackle sheds it occupied over several decades into a flamboyantly expressive piece of purpose-built infrastructure. In fact, La Fira de Bellcaire’s new accommodation is the result of an architectural competition, possibly the first in history to be held for a flea market.

The challenge faced by B720 was to design a facility double the area of the old market, but on a sloping site only half its size. The outcome is a ramp gently spiraling upward around a sunken courtyard. “The best way to address a slope is with a ramp. But we had to convince the city that a ramp would not pose a functional problem, which we did by measuring the gradient of street markets all over Europe” explains Fermín Vázquez, principal of B720.

Every morning, trucks crammed with surplus merchandise and castoffs pull into the central courtyard, where their loads are auctioned off — a ritual that is as old as the market itself. On the street-like ramp, vendors hawk their wares to throngs of shoppers. Highly reflective stainless steel panels cladding the underside of a spacious canopy create a kaleidoscopic mirrored ceiling that, says Vázquez, “reflects the city in the market and the market in the city”.

[Originally published in Mark Magazine #48]

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.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s