Modern presses, industrial landscapes
Joan Roca i Albert
Director of the MUHBA (Barcelona History Museum)
When industrialisation spread throughout Europe in the 19th century, transforming both country-sides and cities, concern grew over the blurring of our most deeply-rooted identities. This apprehension was spawned by the Romantics and served to nourish an interest in preserving the very elements which were thought to identify collective groups. This is how the historic heritage concept began to progressively expand. The cultural landscape notion would later be incorporated into the operational framework of conservationism, introducing an additional degree of complexity by changing from a focus on isolated elements to the relation between these elements.
A century and a half later, the question today is how to incorporate the most important vestiges of the Classic Industrial Era. This topic is not alien to formerly rural areas and dense peripheries. The latter were formed during periods of rapid growth in the cities when the landscape question was inseparable from public policies regarding the use of space. Even still, heritage policies had specific traits in the case of concentrated industrial areas and their related settings, as Bernd and Hilla Becher began portraying through their photos in the 1960s.
How, then, should we address this industrial heritage and these landscapes? We should note that these manufacturing centres have traditionally been valued more positively in rural settings than in urban ones. Catalonia is an example of this, as if Barcelona hadn't been its manufacturing and modernising centre. When, finally, the Catalan capital began to value its own industrial heritage, it also began to consider the landscape question. This raises two fundamental concerns: the risk of thematisation –landscape zoning– and the challenge of achieving the most satisfactory balance possible between conservation and renovation.
The risk of thematisation can be seen from two different perspectives, something which Barcelona's old quarter and Poblenou exemplify quite well. In the case of Ciutat Vella (the old quarter), we often forget that it was not only once Roman and Medieval, but that it also had the greatest concentration of factories in the western Mediterranean as of the 18th century with the manufacture of indianas (printed cotton fabric) and well into the 19th century when the factories extended beyond the old city's walls. Increasingly recognising and valuing the heritage of this manufacturing activity in Ciutat Vella would, without doubt, enrich a landscape which already consists of numerous relics from the days when the city was called Barcino, then Barchinona, and now Barcelona. Contrarily, we should also avoid seeing Poblenou as a monoculture, focusing only on its industrial legacy as if it was simply the manufacturing reserve of the metropolis in terms of patrimony and cultural landscape.
The second issue raised is how to intervene in these industrial landscapes to balance conservation and urban transformation. If clearly differentiated manufacturing areas can be managed relatively easily in rural areas –the case with colonies, for example–, the question is much more complicated in zones that have been dislocated from the peripheries or are in consolidated urban areas. For example, what should be done with the landscape on Carrer Pere IV street in Barcelona's Poblenou district without fossilising it –this would contradict the palimpsest nature the area has always had– or diluting it into isolated and hardly significant elements if they're considered separately? Here, then, is a fundamental question regarding landscape methodology.
Thus, we should once more encourage work on the heritage and landscape of the Industrial Age and clearly situate the identifying traits of a manufacturing Barcelona, traits without which the city would not have become the metropolis it is today or without which Catalonia would not have the importance it has in the globalised world of our time. Our aim at the Barcelona History Museum (MUHBA) is to contribute to reflections on this topic, placing the industrial city's trajectory into a long-term perspective and within the framework of Europe's industrial legacy as a whole.