Oh, lovely Spain! renown’d, romantic land! -Rochdale
This past month, I took a trip with the AIA Central Valley to Barcelona, Spain. On the heels of that visit, I traveled to Bilbao, San Sebastian, Toledo and Madrid. It was quite the adventure but three things about my experience in Spain resonated with me: the history, community and culture.
The Perfect Pairing
Spain is abundant with centuries-old, monumental architecture. Barcelona in particular is a beautiful example of this. The Sagrada Familia has been under construction for more than 130 years (since 1882) and is one of the most incredible buildings I have ever seen. It was an awe-inspiring moment. Inside the building, the 100-year-old construction seamlessly pairs with the more recent work, living organically right next to one another.
This microscale comparison was prevalent on the macroscale as well. The new designs stood proudly next to ancient plazas and cathedrals. In one location, a modern apartment building was built right on top of ruins. Rather than imitate its surrounding, the new building was bold and looked toward the future. While there is sense of security and wonder in the historical designs, I also felt myself embracing the more recent architectural styles. What a beautiful balance.
Familia Defined: Three Generations at the Cafe/Bar
The sense of community was palpable in Spain, especially around the local Cafes/Bars. In most cities, the more popular locations were adjacent to or in the courtyards/town squares. Watching grandparents and parents sipping Rioja (red wine) while the kids juggled a soccer ball in the courtyard was invigorating. People would sit for hours with friends/family coming and going as the day went on. These family-oriented public plazas are a reflection of the overarching culture in Spain. Unfortunately, these types of spaces are lacking here in Sacramento.
The Spanish Sacramento
While gallivanting through the country, I found myself constantly comparing our American, West Coast, Northern Californian culture with that of Spain’s. Strangely, the northern coast city of Bilbao is eerily like Sacramento.
The city is located at the common mouth of the rivers Nervion, Ibaizabal and Cadagua. There is a bridge (designed by Santiago Calatrava), as well as a museum (the Guggenheim). Sound familiar? There is also a large Jeff Koons sculpture outside the Guggenheim called “Tulips.” Sacramento will soon have it’s own “Piglet” in the Golden 1 Center courtyard.
Bilbao is experiencing an ongoing social, economic and aesthetic revitalization much like we are here. In many ways, I think this Spanish city could serve as a constructive comparison and source of inspiration for Sacramento. It certainly was for me.