Torre Agbar – The Newest Barcelona Architectural Icon
I know if I were an architect given the honor to construct a building in Barcelona I would feel a bit of pressure considering the city’s architectural past. Gaudi is a hard act to follow and many architects from all over Europe have come here to forge their careers inspired by the amazing Modernist-styled structures that blanket the city.
Many do a variety of local residential and corporate jobs however in recent history very few have been presented with the chance to make their lasting mark in stone, steel and lights on a city let alone a city that is known for its builders and designers except for Jean Nouvel and Santiago Calatrava.
Mr. Calatrava is responsible for ‘’La Vela’’ as it is called in Barcelona, which is actually the newest W Hotel property that juts out into the sea resembling a behemoth glistening sail of a ship. It’s a sight to see although many detractors complained that it would ruin the skyline. However I don’t want to waste more lines on The W since this article is dedicated to French architect, Jean Nouvel’s design of the Torre Agbar, which has been given the title as the new modern architectural symbol of Barcelona.
The word ‘’modern’’ is used so as not to obviously compete with the numero uno icon, La Sagrada Familia, although Nouvel states there is a strong reference in the design to the bell towers of Gaudi’s sacred cathedral. Additionally from the north side of building, it is said the unobstructed view of the Sagrada Familia was also a design feature of the architectural plan.
The Torre Agbar is 34-story domed skyscraper that stands guard over the gateway of Barcelona’s new technological and business district known as 22@. Subsequently it has become a symbol of the new progressive Barcelona and an emblem of the neighborhood as well as the city.
It stands at 142m coming in as the third tallest building after Hotel Arts and the Mapfre Tower in Port Olympico. But what it may lose in scale to these rascacielos (skyscrapers) it makes up in design.
It consists of: two concentric cylinder forms made of reinforced concrete, covered with a layer of polished aluminum and a second layer of glass giving it a shimmery affect. 4,349 window openings are cut into the structural concrete and the whole structure is topped off with a dome construction of glass and steel.
There are no inner structural columns but instead a central emergency stairwell and elevator shaft that runs vertically in the central core of the building. And by the way, the windows have cantilevered blinds that open and close by a regulator that is directly connected to temperature sensors on the outside of the building resulting in a more economical usage of energy for air conditioning.
Strangely this futuristic structure that has obvious phallic overtones is the headquarters of Aguas Barcelona, the municipal water company and not some cutting edge software or IT company. But as Nouvel explains again he wasn’t going after your typical skyscraper and wanted to give an impression of a landmass emerging from the earth like the mountains of the nearby Montserrat. For him, its also metaphor of a geyser shooting up from the earth as he was keeping in mind that the tower was to be the future home of city’s water company.
Beyond the metaphors and perhaps the rather vague inspirations Nouvel had when developing the design, the tower is an impressive sight and its structural details are one to marvel at, especially at night when its façade is aglow with 4,500 LED lights in yellow, blue, pink and red. The high-tech lighting system has the ability to create over 16 million colors. At sunset from just about anywhere in Barcelona the Torre Agbar with its glowing psychedelic outer shell looks like an alien space ship landing in the surrounding dark nightscape. Because it is so easily seen, I have often used it as a directional landmark.
But more than a landmark, it has become a universally used symbol indentifying the city by locals and by those from outside the region and even outside of Spain. It’s become so popular that it’s now a regular stop on the tour bus route and in 2008 various Catalan public institutions voted to have it included in the production of iconic souvenirs of the city. It is also said that with its internationally notoriety, the Torre Agbar has started to appear on televised New Year celebrations along with other famous destinations like the Opera House in Sydney, The Eiffel Tower in Paris and Times Square in New York.
Fun facts about the Torre Agbar
-250,000 kg of steel were used in the construction of the tower
-25,000 m3 of concrete were used to build the two cylindrical forms
-59,619 sheets of glass cover the entire outer façade of the tower
- The very top floor in the tower’s dome allows visitors a panoramic view of the city
-1170 workers were responsible for the design and construction of the Torre Agbar
-The construction took 6 years to complete starting in 1999 and ending in 2005
-The King of Spain flew to Barcelona to officially inaugurate the opening of the building
-The whole project to build the Torre Agbar totaled 130 million Euros