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Borne Cultural Centre

Barcelona's homage to 1714

By Brian Gallagher - Photos Roberto Ruiz 12.12.13

In the great tradition of 19th Century cast-iron structures the Mercado del Born is a testament to the beauty and sophistication of Victorian engineering structures like train stations, viaducts and other civic utilitarian infrastructure. Using the same construction technology as Henri Labrouste’s Sainte-Geneviève Library (Paris 1850) and Paxton’s Crystal Palace (London 1851) the Mercado del Borne was a cutting edge high-tech structure of its day. Its soaring roof supported on slender cast-iron columns visually freed from the surrounding external walls with glazed panels heightening the effect of space and light can still make an impact today nearly 150 years after its inauguration. Its form is dominated by a central octagonal drum and lantern that rises over the building serving as a beacon as well as marking the central space of the market below. The external skin is composed of glass louvers and coloured brick panels featuring a decorative staggered bond at street level set between the metal bays of the cast-iron structure. Exquisitely restored by architects Enric Soria and Rafael Cáceres, the winners of an open competition held by the Barcelona Ayuntamiento in 1998 for the restoration and design of the old market into a new library building. The building now houses a cultural centre accommodating 8,000 sq.m. featuring literature, music, marionettes, cinema and dance events and which  constitutes an important addition to Barcelona’s cultural heritage.

Originally designed by the architect Josep Fontserè i Mestre who was also responsible for the layout of the adjacent Ciutadella Park the market first opened in 1876, the building accommodated a food market serving the Born neighbourhood. Barcelona had 16 municipal markets in total at the end of the 19th Century, including the Boqueria and Sant Antoni. By 1921 the Mercado del Borne had become unprofitable and was converted into the city’s Fruit and Vegetable wholesale market which continued to operate until all these activities were centralised and removed to Mercabarna on the outskirts of the city at Zona Franca in 1971. For the subsequent three decades the city debated what to do with the building, demolition was seriously considered at one point however local opposition succeeded in achieving an initial refurbishment in 1979. Used intermittently as an exhibition venue after that an agreement with the Universidad Pompeu Fabra first mooted its conversion to an Audiovisuals faculty in the early 1990s before the Ministry of Education and Culture finally earmarked the building to house the Biblioteca Provincial de Barcelona (Provincial Library), works were halted when important archaeological remains from the medieval era were uncovered in 2002 and subsequently the decision was made to find an alternative location for the library.

  • View of the CC Born from the Passeig del Born

  • Public esplanade loctaed in front of the CC

    The current refurbishment is predicated on the archaeological remains dating from the 18th Century discovered within the market’s footprint and now on display at their original ground level some three meters below present day street level. These excavations involved significant underpinning of the market’s foundations and are clearly legible as concrete pads below the original slender iron columns. These remains coincide with a highly significant date for the Catalan national identity, September 11th 1714 which marks the date when the city fell to the Bourbon forces thus bringing to an end the Spanish War of Succession (1702-14) that would see Philip V crowned king of Spain and the loss of the Catalan constitutions.

  • Views of the permanent exhibitions on idsplay at the CC Borne

    Historical periods overlap in this area of Barcelona, a city that has been urbanised since Roman times, any archaeological excavation is bound to uncover myriad layers of former habitation. The name Borne refers to its location as the site for tournaments during the Gothic period. Choosing 1714 seems arbitrary and more to do with the direction that the current political winds are blowing nevertheless the decision to convert the building into a covered cultural space does preserve the buildings permeability. Air freely moves through the upper levels of the structure, rainwater that enters the building is also efficiently dealt with and pedestrians can move freely through the building without necessarily engaging with or paying to see the exhibitions. Laid out symmetrically the archaeological remains occupy three sunken pits along the central long axis of the former market which have surround glass balustrading and a timber handrail with metal information panels provided explaining the significance of the location. Each of the four corners are occupied by glass pavilions which are hermetically sealed with blacked out interiors and accommodate the various exhibitions and events forming the buildings cultural programme; Villarroel, Casanova, Moragues and Castellví which houses the bookshop and Born 300 (gastronomic area). While the remains are unremarkable the joy and architectural power of the building resides in the structure itself.

  • Views of the ruins that date back to 1714

  • The building performs a key urban role in the Borne neighbourhood, the plaza to the front of the market is an expansive hard landscaped surface that allows the façade to be appreciated in its entirety. A pedestrian route through the building connects the Passeig del Born with the Ciutadella park while the surrounding street scapes have been pedestrianised and provide a welcome respite from Barcelona’s intensive vehicular traffic. The building is open to the public from 10AM through to 12PM and can be freely traversed, tickets are required however to access the exhibition pavilions however.