words Justin McGuirk
A sea of colour has washed over Barcelona’s old town.
The Santa Caterina market, at the heart of a network of narrow streets between two of
the city’s gothic churches, has been dramatically refurbished by Enric Miralles and Benedetta Tagliabue as part of their masterplan for the surrounding area.
In 1997, when EMBT won the masterplan, the rambling 19th-century market was decrepit architecturally and dying commercially. It has taken seven years – interrupted by delays, complications and Miralles’ premature death – for this exuberant structure to take shape. For a start, the building was a planning tangle. The fact that it includes 59 flats, a museum and underground parking meant that EMBT had five different government departments to please. Work also stopped for two years after the ruins of a Roman necropolis were uncovered; the municipality and the Catalonian government decided that these and the remnants of Santa Caterina’s 15th-century Dominican cloisters deserved their own museum, so the plans had to be rejigged.
Under one flamboyant roof, the market is a patchwork of Barcelona’s history. Along with the various ruins, three of the original building’s facades have been retained, which, says project architect Igor Peraza, “was important for the memory of the place”. From the surrounding rooftops, however, the old view has been replaced by a billowing fantasia.
The undulating structure hangs from three steel arches supported by a steel and wood framework. The roof panels were built out of laminated wood that had to be hand-cut in sections to fit the awkward curves. For all its computer-generated sophistication, the roof is highly hand-crafted. The surface is finished in hexagonal ceramic tiles that were specially made in Seville and that are apparently configured to evoke the produce below. “You can see market colours and the shapes of fruit and plants,” says Peraza. “It’s like a big, big painting.”
Work is only now beginning on the interior and the market is expected to open in November. Meanwhile, according to Peraza, locals are champing at the bit.