In November, our students got to spent time with our professor Dr Kathrin Golda-Pongratz to look at ad-hoc processes that take place in the public sphere, appropriate and reclaim public space and eventually change societal organizations. In the workshop (re)member, (be)long. Strategies of appropriation, participation and manifestation of urban memory in public space they explored the questions: What remains of such activations and temporary appropriations in the memory of a city? To whom belongs the urban space? And who finally decides which memories and traces are manifested or inscribed in it and in which sense? How is urban identity created or (re)activated in the contemporary city?

As part of the workshop, they discussed concepts of participation, civic rights, forms of micro politics and strategies of appropriation of urban spaces. The focus was set on ad-hoc actions, community network organizations, informal and subversive strategies of civic involvement, as well as institutional and architectural approaches to both oppress or enhance participative initiatives. Questions about identity, identification, authenticity, representation and memory also formed part of the discourse, which led to an attempt to create new frameworks of analysis and forms of (re)construction, (re)creation, narration and interpretation of memory in public spaces.

Specific urban spaces in the city of Barcelona served as points of reference and departure for the discussion and possible redefinition of participative practices and urban memory. We will take you along a tour of the ten spaces of appropriation and urban memory in Barcelona that our students visited.


In her publication Palimpsests, inscriptions, inlays: sketching urban identities, Kathrin Golda-Pongratz describes the city as a palimpsest – an old Greek term for a manuscript whose inscriptions have been removed to accommodate new ones. Thinking of public space as a palimpsest which under its surface hides successive layers of human use, she explains, is a way to better and more deeply understand what we perceive whenever we stroll, walk or rush our way through the streets of Barcelona. This concept is specifically relevant to the public spaces of Ciutat Vella, the old city centre, with its multiple layers of human use and traces of collective and individual uses that have been superimposed, removed, re-inscribed and transformed. However, she stresses, it is important to remember that the interpretations of these layers are never neutral: the actions of removing, eliminating, highlighting and commemorating are subject to ideological circumstances as well as to the political and urban planning policies of each period.

Here are some of the spaces in the old city centre, where these superimpositions and erasures, but also the persisting urban memory can be felt:

1 – CCCB (Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona)

CCCB, Image: Generalitat de Catalunya / Autor: Norto Méndez, Creative Commons Licensed

The site of the CCCB looks back at a long history. A 12th century church, it later served as a monastery, a Jesuit seminary, military baracks and charitable establishment, the Casa de Caritat, which ceased its function in 1957. The creation of the CCCB took place within the context of the Raval neighbourhood rehabilitation efforts that followed closely after the urban transformation of the 1992 Olympics and has generated criticism and anti-gentrification protests. Yet, the CCCB has also been hailed as the first centre in Europe to address the urban culture as a driving force behind change and a generator of social, urban planning and cultural developments, demonstrated, amongst others, through the initiative European Prize for Urban Public Space.


2 – MACBA (Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art)

MACBA, Image: Maciek Lulko, Creative Commons Licensed

Closeby in Raval is the MACBA – part of the same neighbourhood rehabilitation process. It has recently been in the news for a two-year dispute with the Raval neighbours about the use of the adjacent Chapel of Mercy. The museum wanted to expand, whilst the neighbours were fighting to have the building converted to host much needed medical facilities. Also located on the site was the project BioBui(L)t Txema, a self-built construction using natural biodegradable or re-used materials – an example of collective and participatory design that explores other ways of building and experiencing public space. The project was brought to life with help of the City of Barcelona’s strategy Pla Buits (Empty Urban Spaces with Territorial and Social Involvement) to provide a temporary social and community use for some of the municipally owned land sites that are currently in disuse. Though no longer in existence, the initiative nevertheless put the focus on this corner of the Raval and the neighbours’ struggle for a new healthcare centre, which they ultimately won. Furthermore, the chapel was the protagonist of UIC Barcelona School of Architecture’s last edition of the Vertical Workshop, titled Silent walls. Reusing the Capella de Misericòrdia.


3 – Las Ramblas

Memorial for la Rambla 17A, Image: City of Barcelona

Our students then visited the commemorative inscription of the August 17th 2017 terrorist attack in Las Ramblas.


4 – Ignacio Puig Gardens

Ignacio Puig Gardens

Barcelona has a lot of secret spots hidden from the public view. It is surprising to find out that the Ignacio Puig gardens, which can be accessed through the hotel lobby of Hotel Petit Palace Opera, is in fact a public space and was appropriated by the hotel.


5 – Plaça Felip Neri

Plaça Felip Neri, Image: José Luis Filpo Cabana, Wikimedia Commons

Traces of Barcelona’s darkest hours, the Civil War, can be found at the Plaça Felip Neri. The battle scarred walls of the church serve as a memory of the fascist bombardment during the war.


6 – Plaça George Orwell

Plaça George Orwell, Image: Fred Romero, Wikimedia Commons

Just one of the many examples for eviction struggle and urban pressure in the heart of the old city centre is the Plaça George Orwell. Previously an integral and vibrant part of Barcelona’s urban life, homeless people, drug dealers and young people hanging out at night were pushed out to accommodate the city council’s strategy to turn Barcelona into a tourism hotspot.


7 – APROP close proximity temporary housing

APROP project, Image: Ajuntament de Barcelona

APROP – short for “Alojamientos de Proximidad Provisionales” – is a close proximity temporary housing project by architecture collective straddle 3. Located between Nou de Sant Francesc and Calle Josep Pijoan, the project was created as a response to emergency situations due to gentrification and lack of housing. The housing model made of shipping containers – a collaboration with the Barcelona City Council – offers sustainable quick-build quality accommodation.


8 – Forat de la Vergonya

Forat de la Vergonya, Image: Gerard Gribes Berges, Creative Commons Licensed

The Pou de la Figuera is more commonly known under the name Forat de la vergonya (Hole of Shame). This unique square with its children’s play and community garden between the Sant Pere and Santa Caterina districts is a symbol for the neighbourhood’s struggle for public space, and a counter-model against commodification and gentrification in Ciutat Vella.



We move outside the city centre to the Turó de la Rovira hill in the neighbourhood of El Carmel, the site of a recent architectural intervention that transformed the landscape and improved its accessibility. This site was chosen, Kathrin Golda-Pongratz points out, because its open layers manifest all phases of its occupation, especially during the Civil War and the subsequent barraquismo (shantytown) period. A previously abandoned space has been transformed into a tourist magnet. This type of monumentalisation, however, carries the danger of a new form of supplanting memory, when it leads to other urbanistic interventions and possible eviction of the area’s residents.

Turó de la Rovira with traces of former barracas

Our students looked at two specific sites in the area, our two last stops.

9 – Carrer de l’Alguer

The former interventions of escalators (within Pla de Barris) and current improval of the funicular in Carrer de l’Alguer financed by the Park Güell tourist income retribution, and the last remaining settlement of barracks in

10 – Passatge Morató on top of Parc Creueta del Coll.

If you would like to find out more about the seminar, and the must-reads about urban memory and participation Kathrin Golda-Pongratz recommends, check out this post.


Top Image: Forat de la Vergonya, Enric Bach, Creative Commons Licensed.

Feature Image: @vale.carrion

Leave a Reply