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Opening up Barcelona to Nature: Transitions on the City's Edge

Tuesday 10 March 2015
Catalan Observatory Seminar
Opening up Barcelona to Nature: Transitions on the City’s Edge
Speakers: Antoni Vives (Deputy Mayor for Urban Habitat, Barcelona City Council) and Dr. Adolf Sotoca (Univ. Politècnica de Catalunya)
Presented by Dr. Josep Maria Garcia Fuentes (Univ. Newcastle)
Chair: Prof. Paul Preston
Time: 18 h.
Place: LSE, Houghton Street, Old Building, 5th floor, Graham Wallas Room 5.25

PowerPoint presentations by Antoni Vives and Adolf Sotoca

This event marked the UK launch of the volume NATURBAN: Barcelona’s natural park. A rediscovered relation, edited by Adolf Sotoca and Oscar Carracedo.


Twenty years after recovering its seafront, Barcelona is taking on a challenge that is comparable in its impact and its ambition: reconnecting the city with its mountains. The launch of the “Ideas Competition for the Gates to Collserola Natural Park” marked the beginning of an unprecedented reflection in our city, focused on the transition between natural spaces and the urban fabric. NATURBAN compiles the collective efforts that resulted from the ideas competition and presents the key questions for the future of the city’s re-naturalisation. The 112 proposals contained in this volume, in addition to the input from experts regarding ten key concepts, are Barcelona’s contribution to the debate on the relationship between the urban milieu and the natural environment in the contemporary metropolis.

Left to right: Paul Preston, Adolf Sotoca, Josep Maria Garcia-Fuentes, and Antoni Vives

The seminar ‘Opening up Barcelona to Nature: Transitions on the City's Edge’ was presented by Josep Maria Garcia-Fuentes, architect and lecturer at Newcastle University. In his introduction, Garcia-Fuentes highlighted that the planned reintegration into the city of Collserola Natural Park was the most important urban project designed for Barcelona since the Olympic Games of 1992. 

The main speakers were Antoni Vives, Deputy Mayor of the Barcelona City Council, and Adolf Sotoca, architect, urban planner and lecturer at Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya. Vives is a strong political supporter of the redevelopment project around Collserola and insisted that it resonated with a local sensibility and tradition in urban development associated with nineteenth-century planners like Ildefons Cerdà (1815-1876). In this connection, Vives stressed the necessity of making urban planning a tool of social well-being as well as economic growth, as Cerdà did in 1865 when he designed the expansion of the city. The Deputy Mayor then elaborated further on the historical development of Barcelona and the determination of its current government to maintain the city’s unique identity. He also talked about the need to reincorporate industrial activity, guided by a new environmental conscience. Vives referred to plans, forming part of this ambition, for the city to be entirely self-sufficient in energy by 2050. But to improve the life in the city it is also crucial to find new points of contact with nature, which is precisely what the reintegration of the Collserola park aims to do. Unfortunately, the project has yet to get final approval, as the plans have been rejected by the current opposition in Barcelona’s City Council.

In his talk, Adolf Sotoca drew attention to the poor attention that the city paid until 2011 to the mountains of Collserola, its biggest natural park. He observed that Barcelona did not open its seafront for public enjoyment until the 1980s, and that the project presented in the NATURBAN volume represents the first time similar attention is paid to its mountains. While describing different aspects of the project in more detail, Sotoca suggested that the 112 specific proposals included the book point towards the future of urban planning, which should involve a more human tone, interdisciplinary design and significant citizen involvement.

Adolf Sotoca
Adolf Sotoca

In the end there was a general agreement that Barcelona is a city that keeps rethinking itself, and that plans such as those discussed during the evening demonstrate the vitality of the Catalan capital. 

Antoni Vives is a writer and politician. He has been Secretary of the Cabinet Office of the Catalan government and currently holds the post of Deputy Mayor for Urban Habitat, Barcelona City Council. He has published various award-winning essays and novels, and his writing appears regularly in the Barcelona press. He has collaborated with the Catalan Observatory as an external advisor for a number of years.

Adolf Sotoca is PhD. Architect and Urbanist. He currently teaches at UPC_BarcelonaTECH and, until very recently, at the University of Illinois. He has been Guest Professor in several universities, such as National University of Singapore, ETH Zürich, Berlage Institute Rotterdam or the IUA di Venezia, among others. He is also an active member of several international institutions on Urbanism, such as the European Postgraduate Master of Urbanism, the International Forum of Urbanism and UN-Habitat. His main research focus is the regeneration of deprived areas based on distributive design of resources. He leads several EU and American research programs and he is author of a vast number of publications. Professor Sotoca is also co-principal of CSArchitects, an urban design & planning firm based in Barcelona.

Josep-Maria Garcia-Fuentes is an architect and Lecturer in Architecture at the School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape of Newcastle University (UK). He was previously Assistant Professor, Vice-Dean, International Coordinator and Assistant Professor of the Escola Tècnica Superior d’Arquitectura del Vallès-Barcelona in the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya-BarcelonaTECH (2010-2013) and he is also Adjunct Professor at the Department of Architectural Composition at same university. He has been Visiting Professor at Tongji University (2013) in China, and at Universidad de Concepción (2014) in Chile, and has been invited to a number of European and international universities to lecture and teach seminars and workshops.