Tourist Information Guide

A Guide to Barcelona Architecture and Most Iconic Buildings

Page Content

Gaudí's Casa Batlló
Gaudí's Casa Batlló
To Barcelona, architecture is so much more than just Gaudí. Architects from around the world flock to the city to visit much of its more modern architecture. I spoke to Sheffield based architect, Sarah Considine, for her thoughts on Barcelona's modern architecture and a list of her favourite modern buildings.

Whilst Gaudí's influence is not always visible in the style of modern architecture, it is often apparent in the use of colour and imagination. It often seems as though architects, when designing for Barcelona take more risks and use brighter colours than they would when designing for other cities. It is as though Gaudí and the other modernist architects bring out a brave streak in even the most conservative of architects. Gaudí was particularly influenced by natural forms. Most of his buildings are based on naturally occurring organic shapes. If you visit the Sagrada Familia museum you will learn more about how Gaudí used natural shapes to create the basis of his architecture.

What makes Barcelona's architecture distinctive?

Bold, brash, colourful, distinctive, harmonious,varied and unique are just a few adjectives that come to mind when describing Barcelona architecture. Barcelona has successfully blended the old and the new in a way that makes this city simply breathtakingly beautiful. There is nothing more enjoyable than strolling around the streets of Barcelona and taking in the atmosphere that radiates out from the architecture. Traditional Catalan Gothic architecture such as the Iglesia de Pi church is reserved and stoic in its design, but just a 5 minuet walk away we have the Barcelona Cathedral with is beautiful arches and facade. A short metro ride we have the famous Sagrada familia Basilica which towers into the sky and has different architectural styles on all four sides of the building.

Barcelona is often praised by architects for its town planning. You will notice as you walk around the city that buildings on corners have a flat edge - this is known as a 'chamfered corner'. It means that crossroads have a more open feel and there is room on street corners for terraces - this helps to give Barcelona its sociable and communal atmosphere.

Barcelona's Avenida Diagonal is also praised by architects and town planners. It is a large street that runs diagonally right through the centre of the city. When it was built it was a original piece of town planning.

Central Barcelona can be separated into three main areas. The old town or Barri Gòtic which was the original Barcelona. Characterised by winding old streets and tall dark ancient buildings. The Raval area which was an extension to the original old town and finally Eixample which is the large organized "grid" structure area that was appended to the old town. Each area has its own unique and distinctive character. To learn more about Barcelona's neighbourhoods see our pages on the Barcelona barrios


Could you Talk me Though Some of Your Favourite Modern Buildings in Barcelona?

Instead of covering the usual famous buildings like the Sagrada Familia, Casa Batlló and Casa Mila I'll cover some other not so famous, but equally remarkable architecture.

Jean Nouvel's Agbar Tower
Jean Nouvel's Agbar Tower

Jean Nouvel's Agbar Tower

Rumour has it that this was designed before Norman Foster's 'gherkin' in London. It is designed to give the impression of a shoot of water - a geiser. This explains the shimmering colours that run through the building. There is also a pool of water running around the bottom of the building like a moat. The building has three layers of 'skin' - one of corrugated iron, one of glass and one of coloured windows.

Metro Metro: Clot (Red Line, L1) and (Purple Line, L2)


tip If you go to visit the building it is really important that you check out the lobby. The rest of the building is private but it is free to enter the lobby. It is an impressive space - the small windows on the building allow pinholes of light to stream into the building. It gives the feeling of being in an old church with stained glass windows.


Herzog & de Meuron's Forum Building

Herzog & de Meuron's Forum Building
Herzog & de Meuron's Forum Building

Herzog and Meuron are currently considered to be the 'golden boys of architecture'. They also designed the Tate Modern in the UK and the Birds nest Stadium in Beijing.

The area that the building is in is also of architectural interest. It was designed as a sort of showcase of architecture. For this reason, it could perhaps be criticised - the area has a slight sense of being desolate. However, if you are interested in architecture, the building and the area should not be missed.

Metro Metro: El Maresme Fórum


Frank Gehry's Fish

Frank Gehry's Fish
Frank Gehry's Fish

This is what is known as a 'folly' - a structure that does not have a particular practical purpose - something between a sculpture and a building. The large fish was designed to glimmer and twinkle, like a fish moving under water. The building works well from far away - it can be seen from all of the way down the beach. Once you arrive however you discover the golden fish is hollow - a shock for some true architect lovers.

Frank Gehry also designed the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao. And for those who love their celebrity gossip, he is a close friend of Brad Pitt.

Metro Metro: Ciutadella Vila Olimpica (Yellow Line, L4)


EMBT's Santa Caterina Market

EMBT's Santa Caterina Market
EMBT's Santa Caterina Market

This is the food market building near to Barcelona's Cathedral. It is a interesting building that caused a lot of controversy when it was first constructed. However, people have grown to love it - as is often the case with architecture, the buildings that spilt opinions the most are the most successful and legendary in the long run.

One issue that I have with the building is the sense that perhaps it was designed more as a postcard photo rather than being designed to be practical. The colourful mosaic roof is the building's most distinctive feature and it cannot be witnessed from the ground. However, folds in the roof give glimpses of the distinctive pattern.

Metro Metro: Jaume I (Yellow Line, L4)


Norman Foster's Telecommunications Tower

The tower is a perfect example of Norman Foster's 'high tech' style. He is one of the pioneers of this style - the concept of exposing the parts of the building that are normally concealed - the workings of the building.

Norman Foster's Telecommunications Tower (Close Up) Norman Foster's Telecommunications Tower
Norman Foster's Telecommunications Tower (Close Up) Norman Foster's Telecommunications Tower

This may be of interest to football fans, as Norman Foster has designed the extensions to the Camp Nou stadium.

Metro Metro: Av Tibidabo (Blue Line, L5)

(if you are visiting the tower at the weekends it is easiest to take the T2 bus from Plaza Catalunya)


Richard Meier's Museum of Contemporary Art

Richard Meier's Museum of Contemporary Art
Richard Meier's Museum of Contemporary Art

This building has a compositional feel - similar to a Mondrian painting. It is often praised for the space that it has created in the area of Raval. The MACBA square at the front of the building is renowned for its energy - the building has created a communal space in the area, where people gather to spend time.

The building has also been praised for the way in which it was planned and constructed. Raval is one of the poorest areas of Barcelona - local people were trained to both construct and work in the building. This was a way in which to involve the local community in the arrival of this new entity in their area.

Metro Metro: Universitat (Red Line, L1) and (Purple Line, L2)


Santiago Calatrava's Olympic Flame
Santiago Calatrava's Olympic Flame

Santiago Calatrava's Olympic Flame

Santiago Calatrava is from Valencia and he is one of Spain's most celebrated architects. He also designed a science park in Valencia. Much of his work is said to be inspired by animal skeletons and the way in which they move.


Any Final Tips for Those Coming to Check Out Barcelona's Architecture?

Anyone interested in modern architecture should not miss the opportunity to see Mies Van de Rohe's Pavilion. This is one of the first examples of modern architecture and was ground breaking for its time. Architects and fans of modern architecture visit the Pavilion as if on pilgrimage.


Back To The Top Of The Page