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Barcelona announced as UNESCO-UIA World Capital of Architecture throughout 2026

Announced in Copenhagen at the opening ceremony of the 2023 UIA Congress, Barcelona was selected to become the next international forum for architectural discourse.

by STIRworldPublished on : Jul 03, 2023

The UIA World Congress of Architects is hosted by different cities, changing every three years. For instance, this year the Congress is being hosted in Copenhagen. The UIA selects the host cities in partnership with UNESCO, six years in advance. An election is held for the bidders and the winner becomes the World Capital of Architecture. For the three years of their reign, the city becomes the hub for debates on pressing global challenges in matters of culture, heritage, urban planning, and architecture. Consequently, in an election between Barcelona and Beijing to host the 2026 UIA World Congress of Architects, the former emerged victorious with a ratio of 147:129 votes.

Lluís Comerón, President of the Spanish Section of the UIA – Consejo Superior de Colegios de Arquitectos de España (CSCAE) declared their motto—"One today, one tomorrow"—with the intention that UIA World Congress in Barcelona will look at the city's relationship with its architecture and discuss a viable and sustainable future. UIA President José Luis Cortés Delgado also expressed his excitement to see the city of Barcelona emphasise the vital role architecture plays in society.

Barcelona City in ethereal light |Barcelona | STIRworld
The city of Barcelona Image: Courtesy of jarmoluk on Pixabay

A more fitting city could not have been selected than this mosaic of architectural phenomena from various eras. Barcelona has seen various architectural styles, influences, and events over the centuries. It was founded in the first century BCE by the Romans. The remains of the wall of the Roman colony can still be seen in the old town, as can the Gothic quarters from the Middle Ages when Barcelona was the economic and political centre of the Western Mediterranean. After witnessing the Roman and prosperous Gothic era, Barcelona saw a period of dramatic changes for 200 years.

Aerial view of the city |Barcelona | STIRworld
Aerial view of the city Image: Courtesy of Joaquin Aranoa on Pixabay

So, why Barcelona?

In lieu of this announcement, let's explore the city's history. At the turn of the late 19th and early 20th century, coinciding with an era of technological progress and economic development, various parts of Europe witnessed the simultaneous appearance of a new artistic movement (Art Nouveau) that focused on greater creative freedom. In Catalonia, the most cosmopolitan and prosperous region in Spain, the new movement was baptised as Modernisme, reaching its peak in Barcelona, a city that was expanding and flourishing in all sectors thanks to the far-reaching effects of the Industrial Revolution, especially the development of the textile industry in the city. The medieval walls restricting its growth had been taken down and Ildefons Cerda's urban planning of the vast network of streets, perpendicular and parallel to the sea was implemented where the central axis housed the elite bourgeoisie families.

  • Ariel View of Sagrada Familia and ‘Eixample’ urban planning |Barcelona | STIRworld
    Aerial view of Gaudi's Sagrada Familia and urban planning Image: Courtesy of Logan Armstrong on
  • Sagrada Familia designed by architect Antoni Gaudí |Barcelona | STIRworld
    Sagrada Familia designed by architect Antoni Gaudí Image: Courtesy of Mohammad Edris Afzali on
  • Casa Balto by Antoni Gaudi |Barcelona | STIRworld
    Casa Balto by Antoni Gaudi Image: Courtesy of Theodor Vasile on

Catalonia's rising bourgeoisie, considered Modernisme the ideal medium to express their political and social aspirations and unconditionally supported dozens of architects, painters, sculptors, and craftsmen resulting in the creation of unbelievable architectural wonders. These beautiful new buildings designed by architects like Antoni Gaudi, Josep Puig i Cadafalch, and Luis Domenech i Montaner radically transformed the urban scene of the city, which soon became the modernist capital par excellence, stationing itself at the forefront of the architectural and artistic panorama. Antoni Gaudi's Casa Mila, Casa Balto and especially Sagrada Familia, employing unprecedented nature-inspired methodology and style, are some of the most visited buildings in the world.

  • Park Guell by Antoni Gaudi |Barcelona | STIRworld
    Park Guell by Antoni Gaudi Image: Courtesy of Theodor Vasile on
  • View from Gaudi’s Park Guell |Barcelona | STIRworld
    View from Gaudi’s Park Guell Image: Courtesy of Marrovi

Barcelona has evolved architecturally over the past few decades. The city hosted the 1992 Summer Olympics, which led to significant urban renewal projects in the city. Designed by architects such as Oriol Bohigas and Josep Martorell, the Olympic Village is another significant moment in Barcelona's architectural history. Presently, the Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia, situated in Barcelona, is at the forefront of research on material innovation and computational design in architecture. Considering this rich architectural and cultural history of the city, one can deduce why Barcelona is the World Capital of Architecture for 2026 as it stands to bring forth various juxtapositions of old and new and exciting architectural discourse.

STIR is a Media Partner for the UIA World Congress of Architects 2023.

( Text by Aatmi Chitalia, intern at STIR)

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