Barcelona is known for its iconic landmarks, but Roc Isern turns his camera to buildings others may tend to look past.
Isern is a technical architect and photographer based in the Catalan capital. Since 2014, he has been capturing the facades of Barcelona’s buildings for tens of thousands of followers on Instagram at @barcelonafacades.
Cropped to exclude context, the minimalist imagery presents the different textures and patterns of the city’s architecture.
“I’m interested in geometrical shapes, patterns, colours and shadows, and obsessed with symmetries and perspective,” he says.
He believes Barcelona’s different districts offer a varied urban style and an “inexhaustible source of possibilities”, allowing him to discover new areas through photography.
Isern is a self-taught photographer and says there has been a learning curve in creating a visual style. “I’ve always loved the straight facade shots, but when I started on Instagram I wasn’t sufficiently dominating the technique to take and edit good photos.”
The trick lies in taking the photo as perpendicular as possible to the building’s facade, and making sure the frame is free of obstacles such as cables, trees and street lights.
“The most visible and accessible part of the architecture are the facades, and if they are shown through photography with sensitivity and good taste, they offer a great reward,” he says.
A selection of our favourite images are below.
Guardian Cities brings together the best in urban photography on Instagram at @guardiancities. Tag your best shots with #guardiancities and we’ll feature our favourites on the account.
Far from the madding crowds of Valencia in eastern Spain, Fernando Abellanas is enjoying the solitude of his unique new studio. But it’s not the airy, light-filled glass and white walls affair you might expect for an architect: it’s a purpose-built desk space that hangs in the underbelly of a major city overpass.
On one “wall” – the concrete pillar that supports the highway above – a detachable structure of plywood boards and metal tubes serve as a desk, chair and shelves. Using the bridge’s beams as rails, Abellanas’ structure can slide on rollers from one side to the other.
It’s an example of what is becoming known as parasite architecture – buildings that cling, perch or sprout from others. The studio took Abellanas, a furniture designer and plumber, just two weeks to build after he discovered the space. He was drawn to its strange mix of materials and location. “Despite being next to trains and with traffic above, it’s a place no one stops to look up at,” he says.
Parasite architecture is a growing trend and ranges from planned projects, such as residential wooden pots installed on Toronto’s CN tower, to makeshift structures – such as Tadashi Kawamata’s artistic tree houses, which he scatters everywhere from New York parks to the Paris Pompidou centre, or the entire illegal “villa” one man built on top of a Beijing condo over the course of six years.
Abellanas says he wasn’t looking for “a feeling of total silence or peace, but rather that sensation you get as a kid of being able to sit and peek at what’s happening around you without being seen – be it in a cabin or a cardboard box in your own house”.
The new phenomenon is partly due to how difficult it has become for many architects to realise their designs for public buildings, explains Ellis Woodman, director of the Architecture Foundation. This has lead to a rise in low-cost, short-term projects, many of which seek to engage local communities in new ways. Woodman gives the example of the boat above the Hayward Gallery on London’s South Bank, and the Blue House Yard in north London’s Wood Green, a work and community space on the site of a car park and defunct council building.
The foundation has created its own parasite, the Antepavillion, a rooftop project above an east London building for which it plans to commission a young architect each year. For 2017, an air duct-shaped structure has been built by PUP Architects as a provocation for local councils to re-think urban planning in the area.
In many cases, pop-ups – such as restaurants, temporary stores and artistic projects – and parasites are much the same thing, but while a pop-up might be a temporary standalone structure, a parasite is often a longer-term intervention in the urban landscape.
Meanwhile, Abellanas says he is self-taught and favours a DIY approach to urban intervention. One of his previous projects involved riding train tracks that were built but never used (the recession killed the state project) in a rudimentary self-built car. In another, he climbed a €24m disused tower block in the vein of skyscraper “roofers”.
Abellanas sees his project as part of a series looking at Valencia’s disused spaces, and despite the obvious opportunity for social commentary, he says he’s not trying to make a statement about the lack of affordable space in the city.
Rents in Spain have grown by 20.9% in the last year, according to housing site Idealista, but thanks to Abellanas’ own ingenuity – and his willingness to work under a busy bridge – he has his own workspace and home.
City authorities are yet to react. “I think they haven’t discovered it yet,” Abellanas says. When they do, he assumes they’ll order him to dismantle it – or that someone will break it or steal its materials. “It’s surviving a lot longer than I thought,” he says. “It’s really well hidden.”
Two great hull-like forms stand on the seafront in Santander, northern Spain, clad in thousands of pearlescent discs, like a pair of ships encrusted with exotic barnacles.
Jacked up 6 metres (20ft) into the air on slender white pillars, allowing views through to the water, this is the new Centro Botín, an €80m (£70m) art gallery by Renzo Piano, which opened to the public on Friday.
“From the very beginning, I wanted the building to fly,” says the 79-year-old Italian architect, who has built 25 museums and galleries around the world. The levitation trick here was in part a response to local outcries that this big ark of art would block the view of the sea. In reality, it has done anything but.
Instead, the roaring coastal road, which had long severed the city from the water, has been buried, allowing the neighbouring Pereda Gardens to double in size, spreading over the sunken road to meet Piano’s shiny vessel and allow easy access to the waterfront for the first time.
The building is formed of two lobes, prised apart in the middle, where staircases and gantries zigzag to a roof terrace, designed with a nautical air familiar to much of Piano’s work.
One half houses 2,500 sq m of gallery space over two levels (compared with about 11,000 sq m in 19 galleries at Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Bilbao, with vast picture windows looking out to sea, giving the feeling of being on a ship’s bridge. The other side contains workshops and a 300-seat auditorium for concerts, festivals and classes in music, dance and cookery, in keeping with the centre’s aim for art with a social mission.
The gallery opens with an exhibition of Goya’s drawings and a crowd-pleasing show of interactive installations by Carsten Höller, while a third exhibition draws together works from the Botín collection, amassed over the past two decades, including by Mona Hatoum and Tacita Dean. An exhibition of African artist Julie Mehretu’s drawings and paintings will open in October.
The project has been privately funded by the Bótin Foundation, a charitable organisation established in 1964 by the aristocratic Bótin family, owners of Santander bank – whose name appropriately means “booty”. Former bank chair Emilio Bótin, who commissioned the building, died in 2014, the year his sparkling coffers of art were originally intended to open.
“The idea was not to create an icon like Bilbao,” says Vicente Todolí, president of foundation’s visual arts committee and former director of Tate Modern. “The building is not trying to show off or give the impression that Santander is more than it is.”
With a population of 170,000, the culturally conservative Santander is about half the size of nearby Bilbao, and Piano has created a suitably modest addition to the waterfront.
His pearly containers join a pleasingly jumbled promenade that includes the postmodern fortress of the Cantabria Festival Palace, designed by Sáenz de Oiza in 1985, and some great beaches, adding another reason to visit this charming port city – and providing a low-key foil to Gehry’s thrashing metallic fish.