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

culture
Trending

Digital Design Expert: Mobile First Is Dead, Think Mobile Native

Op-Ed
Culture Today

Someone Invented A Robot Just To Serve Trays Of Beef Jerky

Boston Red Sox star David Ortiz, in partnership with Chef's Cut Real Jerky, creates an automated snack delivery system

Millennials Today

Why A Social Networking Site Decided To Rebrand

Meetup, a platform that connects like-minded individuals, has taken steps to stay relevant amongst millennials

Trending

Get PSFK's Related Report: Future of Work

See All
Work Today

Editorial Roundtable: The People-First Workplace Should Borrow From Tradition

Managed By Q, Soma, Workbar, Primary, AltSchool and thinkPARALLAX underline the old-fashioned ideas that deserve a place in the Future of Work

Fashion Today

Handbags Crafted From An Old NFL Stadium

People for Urban Progress is an up-cycling program that tackles the waste problem of big demolitions

Related Expert

Josh Kushner

Health Insurance, Private Equity

Work Today

Tech Job Site Created Just For Those Who Are Older Than 30

A new occupational job board presents a creative solution to age discrimination in the tech world

Europe Today

Architect Turns A Giant Smile Into A Public Exhibition

The structure offers visitors a new perspective of London and creates an immersive environment that integrates structure, surface, space and light

Children Today

Norwegian Kids Are Using Their Phones To Log Unsafe Street Conditions

Travel Agent is an app that gamifies the reporting of hazardous conditions to improve the safety of children's commute to school

PSFK LABS REPORT

Future Of Automotive
Scenarios Driving The Digital Transformation Of An Industry
NEW

PSFK Op-Ed september 26, 2016

Why Building Better Offices Is The Key To Employee Engagement

Interaction Designer and Audio-visual Technologist at ESI Design illustrates the value in creating environments filled with surprise and delight

PSFK Labs Today

The 10 Steps To Discover, Hire, Develop Your Next Leader

PSFK's Future of Work report outlines key steps in the employee development path to empower next-gen leaders

Travel Today

Google Wants To Help You Plan Your Next Trip

A new app curates vacation itineraries and organizes reservation emails to take the work out of planning a getaway

Technology Today

Small Handheld Analyzer Checks Oral Hygiene On The Go

The breath-detecting gadget gives people a quick and easy peek into their dental health

Asia Yesterday

Safe Drivers Rewarded In Japan With Free Coffee

Driving Barista is a new app that encourages Japanese motorists to put their phones down as they drive

Arts & Culture Yesterday

Michael Kors Has Designed Their Own Instant Camera

In a partnership with Fuji, the limited edition Instax Mini 70 comes in an exclusive metallic gold color

Health Yesterday

Manage Your Emotional Health Through Your Phone

Pharmaceutical company Pfizer has created a new iOS app meant to help patients track mental progress and set goals

PSFK LABS REPORT

Future Of Work
Cultivating The Next Generation Of Leaders
NEW

Food Yesterday

Delete Food Pics Off Of Instagram To Feed The Hungry

Land O'Lakes and Feeding America are donating meals for every picture of a meal taken off of the social platform

Design & Architecture Yesterday

This Shape-Shifting Pod Could Be The Future Of The Cubicle

MIT and Google have designed a new form of work enclosure meant to offer privacy in open-office layouts

Advertising Yesterday

Billboard Spies On People As They Walk By

To promote the movie "Snowden," the advertisement broadcasts information on passersby without their knowledge

No search results found.