I was in Barcelona with my family for Easter. Of course, there are numerous architectural landmarks throughout the city, especially the Gaudi’s masterpieces. But this time I’m going to talk about a more modern one, the Torre Agbar designed by Jean Nouvel.
I remember seeing it for the first time in 2006 during my first stay in Barcelona and thinking that it must have been designed by the same architect as the Gherkin in London. There’s a striking resemblance in the original building’s shape: a round tower with a curved tip. They’re both examples of high-tech architecture. And they both look like bullets (although in my opinion, the Gherkin looks more like a missile or a shell).
But when you take a closer look, the two towers are very different.
The Torre Agbar was designed by French architect Jean Nouvel* in association with the Spanish firm b720 Fermín Vázquez Arquitectos. It is a relatively small 38-storey skyscraper (144m high); although it is the third highest building in Barcelona.
Its name comes from the Barcelona water company Aigües de Barcelona, which commissioned the construction of the tower and still have their headquarters in the building. It cost EUR 130 million and took about 6 years to build the tower, which opened in 2005.
In terms of inspiration, the Torre Agbar, being for a water company, represents a metaphor of a geyser that bursts through the ground with a constant and perfectly stable pressure. However, its distinctive shape did not always lead to very complimentary nicknames such as “the suppository” and other more phallic or scatological ones. Despite criticism, it is now a landmark in Barcelona.
The tower is located in a quieter and opened neighbourhood of Barcelona. This means that the building stands out and can easily be seen from nearly anywhere in the city; especially at night with its full illumination. The use of more than 4,500 LED devices produces striking and bold colours on the outside of the tower.
On our way to the Museu del Disseny (which opened in 2014 in Plaça de les Glòries Catalanes), we passed by the Torre Agbar. This gave us the opportunity to see the details and materials used.
The outside of the concrete walls are covered with aluminium plate lacquered in 25 colors, from earthy shades in the base to blue shades in the upper levels. The windows are cut-out of the concrete structure and have a Tetris shape, which was defined to accommodate the natural light and release some structural tension. The overall building is covered with a facade of glass panels, which automatically open and close to regulate the building’s temperature. One peculiarity, which can’t be seen from outside is that the tower is made up of two encased oval cylinders. The inner cylinder accommodates the lifts and other structural components.
*Jean Nouvel was born in 1945, in the Lot-et-Garonne (south west of France). He graduated from Les Beaux-Arts in Paris in 1972 and opened his first architectural firm whilst studying. The Institut du Monde Arabe and the Musee du Quai Branly (both in Paris) are other examples of his best architectural achievements.
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