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  • Writer's pictureFrancesca Ramsay, MA

A Brief History of CaixaForum Barcelona Cultural Center

What is CaixaForum Barcelona?

CaixaForum Barcelona is a former textile factory at the foot of Montjuïc Hill that has morphed into Barcelona’s liveliest cultural centre, with an impressive collection of modern art.

CaixaForum Brickwork

CaixaForum Barcelona History

Located at the foot of Montjuïc Hill, the sprawling complex of the CaixaForum resembles a small town rather than a building in the conventional sense. Today it hums with life, as one of the liveliest and most popular of the city’s cultural centres. With its fluid sequence of exhibition spaces, meeting rooms, offices and workshops, the centre holds a wide range of events – from exhibitions, concerts and film screenings to theatre and debate, as well as an all-encompassing educational programme. The building’s exhibition halls, connected by a series of picturesque courtyards, house the Caixa Foundation’s extensive collection of contemporary art. This collection ranks with the most important in Europe, and includes seminal works by Joseph Beuys, Anish Kapoor, Anselm Kiefer and Tacita Dean. In addition, the centre hosts a diverse programme of temporary exhibitions; previous shows have ranged from Renaissance and Baroque masters Rubens, Velázquez and Van Dyck, to modern greats such as Picasso, Mucha and Warhol.

The brick complex began life as a textile factory, known as the Fábrica Casaramona. It was built in the early 20th century by the acclaimed Catalan architect Josep Puig i Cadafalch for the industrialist Casimir Casaramona i Puigcercós, a pioneer in the use of electrically operated machinery in factories. The building’s unusual design perfectly exemplifies Catalan Modernisme – a combination of elaborate, Baroque forms with a declared emphasis on functionality. Puig i Cadafalch’s factory gained immediate recognition as a masterpiece, winning the city council’s top prize for architectural design.

When the factory closed in 1920, the building fell into dereliction. From 1940 it was used as a police barracks, but it wasn’t until 1963 that the whole complex was bought and restored by the Caixa Foundation – the charitable wing of Caixa Bank – and in 2002 it opened as a centre for arts and culture. The building in front of you isn’t the country’s only CaixaForum. In fact, there are several spread throughout Spain, each with the same purpose: to foster and encourage all things artistic and cultural.

The restoration and partial redesign of the building was headed by Japanese architect Arata Isozaki. It was an ambitious project: 100,000 bricks had to be fired to match the exact colour of the original structure. You’ll notice an intriguing visual dialogue between the old and the new parts of the building. While sympathetic to Puig i Cadafalch’s original design, Isozaki has clearly and successfully transformed the factory into a cutting-edge and contemporary space. He designed the new main entrance, adorned with a wonderful tree-like glass and steel canopy that was inspired by Mies van der Rohe's German Pavilion (built for the 1929 Barcelona International Exhibition), which stands nearby.

The first work of art you’ll notice when you enter the basement lobby is Splat, an impressive and brightly coloured abstract mural by American Minimalist Sol LeWitt. And if you look up, you’ll find Lucio Fontana’s neon scribble, originally designed for the Triennale di Milano of 1951. Climb the stairs for the best views of the building’s fascinating architectural details. From the upper roof terrace, you’ll enjoy panoramic views over the entire complex. Look out for its two iconic brick towers, as well as the superb view of the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya.

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