Obituary of Oriol Bohigas | Barcelona
Known as the mastermind behind the success of the Barcelona 1992 Olympic Games, the architect Oriol Bohigas, who died at the age of 95, was a strong advocate of town planning as a political and social act. He has played a vital role in the cultural and political life of his city, influencing generations of urban theorists and practitioners.
As head of Barcelona’s urban planning department in the mid-1980s, Bohigas conceptualized and implemented the “Barcelona model” that formed the urban backbone of the city’s Olympic Games. This event and its lasting legacy placed the gray city, weakened but fiercely independent, punished by decades of Francoism, firmly on the international map. Twenty years later, the Barcelona model inspired London’s approach of using the Olympic Games as an opportunity to create an integrated piece of city with housing and amenities for the capital’s most disadvantaged areas.
With Franco’s death in 1975, Barcelona seized the opportunity to democratize and modernize. Working closely with the first socialist mayors of the post-Franco era, Narcís Serra and Pasqual Maragall, Bohigas created the intellectual and spatial framework for his transformation. He was committed to innovating through continuity rather than aggressive disruption and restructuring, and recognized that the city’s public spaces – sidewalks, streets, squares, parks, beaches and waterways – should be at the heart of a democratic vision of the contemporary city.
Bohigas drew on the canonical works of the father of modern town planning, Idelfonso Cerda, who by the mid-19th century had created a plan for the growing city with an elegant and functional diagonal grid known as the ‘Eixample. With its tree-lined avenues and pedestrian-friendly ramblas, generous public spaces and community parks, Cerda’s Grid has served the city well. Bohigas has reinterpreted this model for the twentieth century, revaluing public space, intensifying its local neighborhoods and uniting the city with its seafront on the Mediterranean.
“Monumentalize the periphery; functionalizing the center ”was Bohigas’ linguistically obtuse slogan to revitalize Barcelona. This resulted in a targeted program of interventions that gave dignity to disadvantaged neighborhoods – such as the working-class neighborhood of Poble Nou – and made the dense inner-city neighborhoods more livable, with pocket parks, markets , playgrounds and local amenities.
In the space of two decades, much has been accomplished. In recognition of this collective effort, the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) broke with tradition in 1999 and awarded the city of Barcelona – not an individual or group of architects – the Gold Medal royal. Bohigas was one of five people named in the quote.
Equally lively in his manner of speaking and dressing – he uttered short, jerky sentences uttered with hoarse gravity and wore perfectly ironed shirts, linen jackets and colorful socks – Bohigas looked like a fin de siècle esthete but the spirit of a pragmatist. He was outspoken, often pugnacious, but always with a glint in his eyes. He was keen to get things done and resigned his post as elected councilor in charge of culture in 1991 when he felt that Maragall was too slow to implement one of his favorite projects for neighborhood libraries.
Born in Barcelona, Orilo was the son of middle-class Catalan intellectuals, María Guardiola and Pere Bohigas, professor of linguistics. His high school friend Josep Martorell convinced him to enroll in the Barcelona school of architecture, ETSAB in 1943, which he would lead as director from 1977 to 1980.
In his thirties, he formed the pro-modern militant group R and had the temerity to write to architect Mies van der Rohe to propose the reconstruction of his elegantly minimalist Barcelona pavilion, which had been designed for the International Exhibition. from 1929 and demolished the following year. Fortunately, this plan was carried out in 1986 and the reconstructed modern masterpiece can be found in Montjuïc Park.
Together with Martorell and David Mackay, Bohigas formed MBM Arquitectes, one of Spain’s most successful design practices, with a significant portfolio of public and private buildings that have adhered to the principles of understated contextual modernism. Their buildings favored the relationship with the city rather than gymnastic self-promotion. For example, their design for the 1992 Olympic Village is memorable for the way the layout of urban islets opens out to the sea, reconnecting the old town with its basin.
Bohigas provided the critical intellectual and theoretical foundation for the practice. He was a founding member of the publishing house Edicions 62, editor of the journal Arquitecturas Bis (1974-85) and president of the Fundació Joan Miró museum (1981-88). He has published more than 15 books, including Barcelona Entre el Pla Cerdà i el Barraquisme (1963, Barcelona between the Cerdà plan and the slums). He strongly advocated for the social responsibility of the architect. In a letter addressed to a member of the town planning commission of Barcelona in 1964, he explained his point of view: “To be a town planner is to start to be a socialist now.
Together with Barcelona City Hall’s Urban Projects Director, Josep Acebillo, Bohigas was in charge of selecting some of the most talented final year students – the so-called “golden crayons” – from the school of architecture. ETSAB and give them the responsibility of coming up with ideas for the different districts of the city. It has also played an important role in attracting international figures, from Arata Isozaki to Frank Gehry, to build in Barcelona and empowering young, locally trained architects to leave their mark on its urban landscape.
Bohigas believed that the cumulative effect of small ‘one-off’ projects – often referred to as urban ‘acupuncture’ – might be more effective than large-scale, complex initiatives that took years to implement and required budgets that failed. did not exist in the first fragile countries of Spain. the democracy. This approach can be seen as a precursor to the current vogue of “tactical town planning,” where small-scale improvements – pavement widening, outdoor seating, street closures, tree planting – are being made. implemented quickly and on a temporary basis in close cooperation with local authorities. communities.
In the 1960s and 1970s, Bohigas was associated with Gauche Divine, a group of left-wing intellectual bourgeois artists, filmmakers, philosophers and artists who met regularly at the Boccaccio nightclub in Barcelona. Their spirit has shaped not only his professional life but also his social life. In the late 1970s, Bohigas and his partner, landscape architect Beth Galí, transformed their apartment in Plaza Reial – in what was then a dilapidated part of the Old Town – into a fair for international cultural exchanges and heated debates on city policy. .
Bohigas, often accompanied by whiskey and a cigar, argued late into the night with professionals and politicians of different generations and faiths in one of the most beautiful squares in the very heart of his beloved city.
He is survived by Beth; by his wife, Isabel Arnau, from whom he was separated, and their five children, Josep, Gloria, María, Eulalia and Pere, nine grandchildren and a great-granddaughter.