From Poblenou's urban lighthouse to the colossal empty husk of a thermo-nuclear plant and a medieval palace containing an astonishing 2000-year old pagan secret, here are five architectural icons which capture the spirit of the cuidad condal. First up is Fundació Tàpies, a 19th Century industrial icon with a modern twist...
Fundació Tàpies, Carrer Aragon
A wire sculpture by Antoni Tàpies brings a dash of punky bravado to this Domenech I Montaner-designed edifice, just a block away from Passeig de Gràcia's famous Manzana de la discordia. The essence of the building is in the iron and brick of Domenech I Montaner’s original 1880s publishing house. In the late 1980s, when the building was earmarked as an exhibition centre and a display house for the work of Antoni Tapies, architects Roser Amadó and Luis Domenech Girbau set to work on an ambitious up-vamp, crowning the roof in the aluminium tubes and stainless steel mesh of a Tàpies sculpture called Nùvol I Cadira (Cloud and Chair). If you squint hard enough you can see the chair itself, floating above the wire clouds. A recurring Tàpies theme, it ponders the relationship between aesthetics and meditation.
Casa Antònia Serra i Mas, Poblenou
On the corner of Pere IV and Pallars is one of the most eye-catching houses left over from the old, pre-cool Poblenou. An example of the noucentrist style, the six-storey apartment block was designed by the architect Gairalt. Erected in 1926 and restored recently after years of dilapidation, it has a series of magnificent curving balustrades rising to a tiled cupola. Its location on the corner of a narrowing triangular block between two streets simply adds to an aura of Gothic detachment from its surroundings. At night it can have a lighthouse quality, which has led to a local cultural organization installing a roving light in its tower.
Centre Excursionista de Catalunya, Barri Gòtic
Tucked away on Carrer Paradis between the Cathedral and Plaça Jaume, this renaissance palace hides an astonishing glimpse of Barcelona's bimilennial history. In the basement, just off the main staircase, light filters through stained glass windows onto four soaring Corinthian pillars which once formed part of Roman Barcelona’s Temple of Augustus. Built on this spot during the reign of Tiberius, when Barcelona was Barcino, a little colony stinking of fishy garum paste (its primary industry), the columns were only only rediscovered when the building was being remodelled in the late 19th Century.
Tres Xemeneies, Sant Adrià
The 200-metre-high towers of this thermal plant have provided an imposing and controversial silhouette on the Barcelona shore since the early 1970s. Rising into the sky over the flat wastelands of the Bésos delta, the plant is simultaneously awesome and disturbing - a monument to engineering and a tombstone to environmental indifference. All the machinery of the thermal plant was stripped away when a replacement station was built across the river - following years of claims that the plant was causing horrendous contamination - but the husk of the building has been saved by the local council, and could be set for a future as a cultural centre.
Walden 7, Sant Just Desvern
Inspired by a science fiction novel by behavioral psychologist Burrhus Frederic Skinner - and the spirit of the 1960s Parisian social revolution - Walden 7 is not just a building but a radical social experiment. It takes brutalism's modular forms as a guideline, and then gleefully deforms them out of all proportion. In contrast to the grim exposed concrete of most brutalist projects, it's cladded in terracotta and its inner corridors are a bright turquoise, while windows, instead of forming rigid lines, peak out of curving turrets. Walden 7 has often been mocked for its eccentric idealism and ongoing structural problems, but, seeing it rise out of the Sant Just skyline leaves no observor indifferent.