menu

PSFK Talks to Viviana Narotzky, Author of “La Barcelona del Diseño”

PSFK Talks to Viviana Narotzky, Author of “La Barcelona del Diseño”
culture
Christine Huang
  • 20 october 2008

We recently spent some time in Cadaqués, Spain, a fishing village a few hours north of Barcelona renowned for its vibrant creative community (Salvador Dali was known to spend much of his time there). While we were there, we had the pleasure of meeting Viviana Narotzky, author of La Barcelona del Diseño (Santa & Cole, 2007). The book is a superb account of the ‘Barcelona design boom’ of late 1970s-80s, a period in history that helped define the Spanish transition to democracy during that time.

As the publisher notes:

That collective outburst of design-led passion, that had started quietly in the midst of political turmoil in the late 1970s and peaked a decade later, left a profound mark on the city’s morphology and self-perception. For a few years and in sharp contrast to the preceding decades, design became one of the main cultural frameworks of Barcelona’s identity, both locally and abroad. Paired with architecture in a seemingly unavoidable partnership, it provided the seeds from which ultimately emerged the narrative of the city as it is seen today: that of a decaying post-industrial provincial capital miraculously transformed into a sophisticated European metropolis.

Narotzky took some time to answer our questions about Spanish design and its role in the nation’s recent history.

Your book looks at the impact that cultural and political change in late 20th century Barcelona had on design. What happened during that time and how did it affect the world aesthetically?

Spanish design first emerged into the international scene with great energy in the 1980s. A fascist dictatorship, that had taken power in 1939, had finally ended in 1975 and the country was going through a political transition. For Spain, that was a time of huge changes and transformation at all levels – social, cultural, political and economic. In Barcelona, design became the way to express that change formally, the excitement of a whole society engaging with the outside world after 40 years in limbo.

Throughout the 20th century design has been deeply linked to ideas of progress, modernity, innovation and technological change, and all those concepts became very important at that time in Spain, as they represented the move away from decades of deadening stagnation. The formal qualities of contemporary design symbolised modernity and the hope for change. That was true not just at the level of individual tastes and domestic spaces, but also in terms of the urban environment itself – Barcelona, as is well known, changed dramatically during those years, becoming a paradigm of architectural regeneration and cosmopolitan urban culture.

Maybe you could exemplify by giving us an example of a design piece from the start of that period and an example of a design piece from the end. How are these items connected – how are they different?

It’s difficult to assign clear boundaries as historical processes are very fluid and there are always continuities through change. But let’s say that in design terms, that period could be defined as going from the mid-seventies to the early nineties. Throughout those two decades, design in Barcelona was still mostly low-tech, as it had been, out of necessity, throughout the 20th century. It was also quite formalistic, in the sense that it defined itself through the exploration of new shapes and styles, in particular as it engaged with postmodernism in the eighties, with a great flourish of formal exuberance but without a real self-reflexive process that might have engaged with postmodernism’s more serious conceptual drive. The work of the Transatlantic group for instance, or even to an extent that of Xavier Mariscal, would be an example of that.

In a way, the greater changes have come from the mid-nineties onwards, as a new generation of designers have had increasingly easy access to the international design networks. That is particularly crucial in the field of design education. Most of the Spanish design schools now have well-established exchange programmes, with Italy and the UK especially. Many young designers spend a period studying abroad, both at BA and MA level. They become part of an international scene that brings together education institutions, manufacturers and media, and they have developed a keen sense of the current debates and issues that affect design practice. Their work engages comfortably with the latest technologies, is becoming increasingly multidisciplinary and it is also very often driven by strong conceptual approaches and combines commercial work with experimental design research projects. Marti Guixe is a good example of that, although I’m not sure he likes to think of himself as a designer! Azuamoline, Hector Serrano and CulDeSac are also doing great work along those lines.

Is there a designer who’s work characterizes that period? Can you give us an example of a classic piece of design of his/hers?

That would be Xavier Mariscal. His work encapsulated all the energy and deep transformations of 1980s Barcelona. It was full of humour and joie de vivre, it mixed in popular culture in a very playful, postmodern way. He was also the first local designer to really break the geographical barriers and become internationally famous, initially through his 1981 collaboration with Ettore Sottsass and the Memphis group in Italy, for whom he created the Milan Trolley. Then came his design of the dog Cobi, the official mascot of the 1992 Barcelona Summer Olympics, which broke the mould of Disney-like Olympic mascots for the first time and became a world-wide icon of the freshness of the Barcelona style.

When do you hope the book will be available in English?

Soon, I hope! There’s been talks with Thames and Hudson, and the English text is ready, but I haven’t signed a contract yet… I’d like to see the book come out in English before the end of 2009.

Where is it available online?

Through my blog BCNDesign, on Design and Barcelona.

Thanks, Viviana!

La Barcelona del Diseño

Trending

Modular System Lets Musicians Create Their Own MIDI Controllers

Arts & Culture
Travel Yesterday

Mercedes Reveals Dazzle-Free LED Headlights

Digital Light offers great precision with a resolution of over two million pixels

Product Launch Yesterday

Nissan Is Testing A Digital Car Sharing Program In Europe

Nissan plans to launch their new service in Paris sometime this year to trial the profile-matching service

Trending

Get PSFK's Related Report: Future of Work

See All
Social Media Yesterday

Your Favorite Tweets Are Now Wearable

This temporary tattoo allows fans to wear their most favorite moments from the social platform

Health Yesterday

This Mirror Tracks Your Dark Circles And Fine Lines

HiMirror is a device snaps a photo of your face every day to provide feedback on how to care for your skin

Related Expert

Joshua Green

Digital Strategist

Sustainability Yesterday

Biodegradable Furniture Made From Pine Needles Could Be The Next Phase Of Sustainable Living

Premiering at Dutch Design Week 2016, the collection fully utilizes an often wasted material

Retail Yesterday

Creative Director: Navigating The New World Of Founder-Brands

Richard Smith, Creative Director at Sullivan, explains how visionaries like Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg approach their branding and why it’s important to apply brand thinking to founders’ products

Syndicated Yesterday

Madrid's 'Robin Hood' Cafe Charge The Rich To Feed The Poor

The charity restaurant makes money from customers by day to offer homeless people meals at night

PSFK LABS REPORT

Future Of Retail 2017
Transformation Strategies For Customer-First Business
NEW

PSFK Op-Ed december 5, 2016

Store Technology Expert: Why Retailers Must Invest In Store Associates

Jan Kotowski, Head of Product at Tulip Retail, shares his thoughts on how retailers should be preparing for the future

PSFK Labs december 1, 2016

Retail Spotlight: Home Depot Reimagines How Employees Conduct Tasks

The home improvement retailer puts the customer first by initiating local fulfillment centers and simplifying freight-to-shelf inventory management

USA Yesterday

Amazon Launches Cashier-Free Store For Ultimate Efficiency

The retailer is looking to make shopping even faster by letting customers instantly pay as they walk out the door

Augmented & Virtual Reality Yesterday

Marble-Like Mini-Worlds Invade Miami Art Week And Your Mobile Screen

The gallery world's sphere of influence seems to be expanding into the realm of Pokémon Go—why that's a good thing

Technology Yesterday

A 'USB Stick' That Can Detect HIV Levels

The simple device developed at Imperial College London measures viral load in less than 30 minutes

Customer Retention Yesterday

Crafting The Personalized Retail Experience

Marriott International's Christopher Baer shares insights into how the hospitality company is strategizing customer service

Retail Yesterday

Zagat's Cafe Offers Tiny Replicas Of Classic NYC Dishes

The restaurant rating service created buzz for its new guide and app by opening a tiny food cafe

PSFK EVENT

FUTURE OF RETAIL 2017:
Conference Built Around Report Launch
BUY TICKETS

Children Yesterday

Experience The White House In Augmented Reality Using A $1 Bill

1600 Pennsylvania Ave. is an AR app designed to help people learn about the history and significance of the United State's capital building

Travel Yesterday

Portable Computer Monitor Opens Up Like An Umbrella For Travelers

This mobile screen and projector means work can go anywhere and still feel like working from home

Food Yesterday

Starbucks Is Selling An Automated Temperature-Setting Mug

For those looking to keep their coffee hot on their winter commutes, the coffee chain has created a device that keeps beverages exactly at their desire temperature

No search results found.