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  • Writer's pictureLucy Walker

A Brief History of the Torre Glòries in Barcelona

What is the Torre Glòries?

The Torre Glòries is a 38-storey skyscraper in Barcelona that was designed by French architect Jean Nouvel and was completed in 2004.

Barcelona cityscape showing the Torre Agbar

Torre Glòries History

Despite its unusual shape, the Torre Glòries (commonly known as the Torre Agbar or Agbar Tower) has become one of the Catalan capital's most emblematic landmarks. Often compared to Norman Foster’s ‘Gherkin’ in London (officially ’30 St Mary Axe’), the tower epitomises Barcelona's new projected character and the widespread urban renewal that ensued after the city hosted the 1992 Olympics. Located at the heart of the Poblenou neighbourhood, Barcelona's old industrial centre, the Torre Glòries attracts thousands of visitors every year for its bold architectural design and nocturnal light displays.

The 38-storey skyscraper was designed by French architect Jean Nouvel in the late 1990s. It was commissioned by local water company Aigües de Barcelona – shortened to ‘Agbar’ – to become its headquarters. Despite the structure’s spherical, apparently ahistorical smooth exterior, the tower was inspired by Barcelona’s past, as well as some famous work by the city’s Modernist architects, especially Antoni Gaudí. With its form, the Torre Glòries clearly strikes up conversation with Gaudí’s Sagrada Família, visible from the western side of the tower. Nouvel also drew inspiration from the nearby mountain of Montserrat and claimed the building’s shape represented a geyser exploding into the sky.

The façade is decked with an impressive 4,500 LED lights. Every night they flicker into life, capable of producing over 16 million different colours, programmed to follow animated sequences, across the entire surface of the building. Since the early 2010s, the Torre Glòries has become a gathering place for Barcelonans on New Year's Eve, who come to enjoy the spectacular light displays.

Aside from its remarkable exterior, another noteworthy feature of the tower is its intelligent temperature control system. Exemplifying the innovative savvy and ambition of High-tech architecture, the tower relies on a network of temperature sensors placed on its outside surface to regulate the opening and closing of window blinds, increasing energy efficiency by saving on air conditioning. This revolutionary design has earned the Torre Gloriès a number of sustainability awards.

Yet for all the innovation in its design, the building has failed successfully to maintain its tenants over the years. Businesses previously based here have described the structure as impractical: tenants complained that the tower's doughnut-shaped floorplan is awkward and the central lift shaft blocks communication between co-workers. They also took issue with the glazed façades, which are too small to allow refreshing views out but just large enough, and lacking manual blinds, to admit blinding sunlight.

The tower’s design is also often mocked for its phallic shape (although were they to consult architectural history, they might be pressed to find public buildings without phallic elements). Over the years, citizens of Barcelona have festooned the building with a handful of playful nicknames: el supositori, or ‘the suppository’, as well as more sexually explicit and less printable names. Despite (and perhaps because of) its visual and practical awkwardness, the Torre Gloriès has rapidly succeeded in establishing itself as a defining feature of Barcelona’s iconic skyline.

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