Vell Poble Nou \ Tiago Lopes Dias

Tiago Lopes Dias
It was hard, for those who visited the Agbar Tower in Barcelona, a few years ago, to be indifferent towards a small settlement of constructions that surrounded it. This fragment, uncomfortable reminiscence of an obsolete city, disturbed the image of the modern Barcelona from the beginning of the century, on which the Jean Nouvel's building would be a high flag. I remembered, in one of my local wanderings, of a passage of the recently published book from the anthropologist Manuel Delgado. I remembered the meaning of the words but not with their whole accuracy, which I confirmed, as soon as it was possible: “standing at the feet of singular architectonic volumes, around them, the un-wished but real city extends” [1]. Today, standing at the feet of those singular architectonic volume there are no more graffiti’s, the churreria or the kiosk that sells lottery tickets: it all vanished to give place to one more singular architectonic volume.
It was equally hard, for those who walked through the Poblenou neighborhood in Barcelona, to be indifferent to the amount of abandoned buildings that there were. No catastrophe, natural or man-made, has had place; just that Mighty Sculptor, Time (paraphrasing Marguerite Yourcenar) was working relentlessly, transforming two hundred hectares of industrial buildings into ruins. On this scenario, suggestive as a bucolic landscape from the late-renaissance, one could wander like dandy’s, with eyes lost in the past. The cult and poetics of the ruin, legacy of European Romantism that reached its climax in the end of the 18th century, was frequently confused with simple nostalgia; yet, as Dalibor Vesely explains, the fragment, to romantics, was not a goal, but an incomplete project that was intended the conclusion at a high level of synthesis and perfection as a part of a totality and an organic system [2]. Giving as an example the rocaille, Vesely stands that unfinished nature is intentional, “because it expresses a possibility of achievement in the future, in the same way that an organism reaches plenitude, realization and perfection by growth” [3].
I believe that it is this idea of hidden signification, latent in ruin, that is behind the unload of Juan José Lahuerta in his love letter to the city of Barcelona [4]. More than a model of an already dead and ended life, ruin mostly means the possibility of an interpretation, of a definitive explanation – an interpretation of the whole by the part. It's this desire of plenitude that Lahuerta sees as the “essence of the kitsch that demands that everything must have a solution” [5]. And the solution, in this case, passed through the redefinition of what should be the new Poblenou: “a district of innovation that offers modern spaces for the strategic concentration of intensive activities around knowledge” [6].  Conservation, by the new singular architectonic volumes, of the industrial chimneys – crystallized, totemic – solved that incomplete project that was the ruin of the productive city.
Isn't this scenario (that seems to mimic a Giogio Di Chirico painting: an astronomy of anchored objects to the planet only by the fatal gravity law) [7] a result of the “essence of a policy that presents physical destruction, trivialization and selling of the city as the way without solution towards the happiness of living in a store, the showcase ecstasies’ of modernity” [8], like Lahuerta mentions?  Isn't the new Poblenou an example of the relation between destruction and disappearing of the life that lives the city and commercialization or marketing of the same?
Lahuerta's mistrust towards the “way without solution of the happiness” was possibly transmitted by the one that best expresses the hate against that (illusory) doctrine of progress: Charles Baudelaire. Who, better than the french poet, sang, in the 19th Century Paris, that future where all is past, where everything has already happened and limits to repeat itself?
Paris change! Mais rien dans ma mélancolie
N'a bougé! Palais neufs, échafaudages, blocs,
Vieux faubourgs, tout pour moi devient allégorie [9]
Baudelaire's poetry, as so well Benjamin resumed, “made appear the new in the always-the-same and the always-the-same in the new” [10]. The Baron Haussmann works will also be, one day, ruins; they won't be able to escape the inexorable cycle of destruction and construction that characterizes the great city – and life itself. It is not strange that Baudelaire, in a small exercise, wrote that it pleased him more Edgar Allan Poe drunk, poor, chased and aliened than calm and virtuous Goethe [11]. He knew that, in the thick curtain of opium and alcohol, the north-American master had seen the last ruin, the fragment with no possible reconstruction: the interior of modern man. The crack in the Uscher house façade, that announces the imminent collapse, is not more than a metaphor of its trust-less and tormented soul.
I travel back to Poblenou by a series of pictures that I lightly took in the last four years. And I remember, this time, the incisive observation of Susan Sontag about the relation between photography and destruction: “Cameras started to double the world in a moment where the human landscape started to suffer a vertiginous rhythm of transformation” [12] - the moment when Baudelaire wrote Fleurs du mal.
Someone wrote as well, this time in the walls of what was once a house, “te quiero Poblenou” (I want you, Poblenou). This urgent declaration, possibly of someone that didn't possessed any other mean than a quick graffiti, is now certainly gone as I'm writing these quick notes. As a consolation, I have left the ability of photography to record what is about to disappear.

1 Manuel Delgado, La ciudad mentirosa. Fraude y miseria del ‘Modelo Barcelona’, Madrid, Los Libros de la Catarata, 2007, p.239.
2 Dalibor Vesely, Architecture in the Age of Divided Representation, the MIT Press, 2004.
3 Dalibor Vesely, op. cit., p. 330.
4 Juan José Lahuerta, Destrucción de Barcelona, Barcelona, Mudito & Co., 2005.
5 Lahuerta, op. cit., p.14.
7 Giorgio De Chirico, On Metaphysical Art. Citado por Dalibor Vesely, op. cit.
8 Lahuerta, op. cit., p.14.
9 Charles Baudelaire, Le Cygne. In Les Fleurs du Mal. Publicado originalmente em 1857.
10 Walter Benjamin, Central Park.
11 Charles Baudelaire, Edgar Allan Poe, Coimbra, Editora Alma Azul, 2008. Entre 1852 e 1865 Baudelaire traduziu a obra de Poe para o francês.
12 Susan Sontag, Sobre la Fotografia, Barcelona, Debolsillo Contemporánea, 2010, p.25 (orig.1977).
Tiago Lopes Dias (Porto, 1978). Architect, graduated in Porto Faculty of Architecture, where was teaching de design unit. Is currently developing his PhD Thesis in Barcelona.


Álvaro Domingues