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The smokestack in the plaza: Industrial monumentalization and gentrification in Barcelona

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11:00 AM, Thursday 1 Sep 2022 (20 minutes)
Though Barcelona has become a center for cultural tourism since the 1992 Olympic Games, the city has historically had an economy and identity shaped by its port and manufacturing. To make way the development of the Olympic Village, the entire district of Icària was demolished, leaving only the chimney of the Folch distillery and a beach bearing the name of the former working-class neighborhood. In the following years, the adjoining Poblenou area—known as “the Catalan Manchester”—has been transformed into a self-consciously postindustrial landscape driven by the creative and knowledge economies. This has been part of the creation of 22@-one of the largest new technological districts in Europe-expanding eastward from the Olympic VIllage. Poblenou remains the focus of contestation around widespread demolition, industrial displacement, and gentrification, and 22@ is entering its newest, highly contested phase of the redevelopment. This is further complicated by the fact that Poblenou has not fully deindustrialized, and there is a strong collective identity regarding the area’s industrial and working-class past. Postindustrial aspirations are not particular to Barcelona, but there has been a consistent and notable element to the city’s approach to heritage and urbanism. Transformation since the 1980s has been much more about erasure than preservation, with Poblenou being characterized as obsolete. While in some cases former industrial buildings have been converted to public facilities, housing, or offices, the most conspicuous references to the industrial past are the brick chimneys that punctuate former manufacturing areas. Throughout the city, one may find new public plazas within the footprints of demolished factories, with lone chimneys standing as decontextualized monuments. There are over twenty solitary chimneys in the cities, located in newly-created public spaces and in the interior courtyards of newly-constructed residential and office developments. In this paper, I reflect on the relationship between industrial heritage, monumentalization, urban design, and gentrification in Barcelona, while questioning whether Barcelona's approach can actually be considered one that is driven by any notions of preservation.

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