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Barcelona remembered – rioting architects

The recent horrifying events in Barcelona reminded me of some very different demonstrations when the UIA (International Union of Architects) held its conference there in 1996.

The conference was the victim of its own success. On the first morning, there were speeches by internationally renowned architects in three venues, one a theatre on the Ramblas.

In total, the capacity was around 2000. The organisers had obviously assumed that most of the 10,000 odd delegates would prefer a lie-in or a little sightseeing to attending the lectures. But they had reckoned without a large contingent of very keen south American students, many of whom had been queuing since dawn.

When they couldn’t get places, they bought whistles from the stores on the Ramblas and stormed the venues. This became so dangerous that all lectures had to be abandoned. They were reconvened first in the open air (I remember Norman Foster saying ‘I did bring some slides’ and holding one up) and then in the Olympic stadium. Presentations were in series not in parallel.

The upside was that it was possible to attend everything. And the downside? Very long days, starting at 9 am and going straight through to 10 pm evening receptions, at which the food typically appeared at midnight. But it was a great experience.

There were also some fascinating exhibitions on Catalan architecture, and one got a real sense of the pride of the area. How sad that it has now led to this hideous brutality.

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