World Arch Fest: Hola Barcelona!

Barceloneta: It sure beats Grand Rapids.

The Diagonal Mar: It sure beats Grand Rapids.

This week, the second World Architecture Festival is taking place in one of the most design-conscious cities in the world: Barcelona. Sadly, the festival is located in the Diagonal Mar district on the city’s waterfront, along with the hotel that WAF sponsor emap provided to jurors (I am here serving on the jury for the festival’s Civic and Community award). At first glance, this entirely new district of the city seems to have more in common with Grand Rapids than the Catalonian capital. I mentioned this to a British colleague, who replied, “Are American cities this nice?” He’s right: We can’t even do modern urbanism better than the Europeans.

The event started with a quick drinks reception and then dinner with WAF director extraordinaire Paul Finch and the dapper British architects Simon Allford and Paul Monaghan of Allford Hall Monaghan Morris. Paul suggested we eat at Els Pescadors in Placa Prim, an ancient plaza that has somehow escaped the modernization of this area of the city. An elegantly understated traditional eatery, with its salt cod in chili peppers, sliced ham from black-acorn-eating pigs, and squid noodles, it was a perfect place for conversation. Paul talked about his successful campaign to become head of Britain’s Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment, and we chatted about the rumor that the next director of the Venice Biennale will be a woman—and that the two names most often mentioned in the running are the leading female architects in New York and Tokyo.

Getting back to American urbanism, Paul and Simon told of the shock of having to incorporate, in their first American project in Oklahoma, two parking spaces for every one-bedroom apartment, whereas in the U.K. requirements call for one space for every two flats. After multiple bottles of cava, vino tinto, and dessert wine (I was with three Brits, after all), I struggled back to my hotel to spend an hour drying out in the 13th-floor sauna with its extraordinary view of the Sagrada Familia.

Tomorrow’s lineup: I judge my section of the festival, then have dinner with other jurors at the Barcelona Pavilion, then more drinks with the Brits. Oh, and celebrate the festival’s many other winners, of course!

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