The Spanish architect Oriol Bohigas, who died November 30 at the age of 95, led the remarkable urban transformation of Barcelona that culminated in 1992 when the city was host to the Summer Olympics. He took charge of Barcelona's urban planning in 1980, when he joined the first democratically-elected city government of Socialist Mayor Narcís Serra, following the end of Spain's four decades of dictatorship. His programs revitalized the city's degraded medieval core, regenerated post-industrial sites and the working class periphery, and reconnected the city to the Mediterranean.
He brought an architect's sensibility to the task, converting planning issues into specific architectural projects, over 145 in all, including elegantly-designed urban plazas and new parks festooned with monumental works of sculpture by the likes of Richard Serra, Eduardo Chillida, and Joan Miró. His master plan for the Olympic Village, a model urban enclave along the restored beach front, combined the post-modern urbanism of Aldo Rossi with Modernist values of light, space and air, mixing the boulevards and streets of Barcelona's 19th century urban plan by Ildefons Cerdà with the open spaces of superblocks.
At his urging, the city rebuilt Mies van der Rohe's 1929 Barcelona Pavilion on its original site, and promoted quality architectural design for both city projects and private developments. He became a local power broker, nurturing a new generation of architects, such as Viaplana & Piñón Architects, Elías Torres and Martínez Lapeña, Oscar Tusquets and Lluis Clotet, and Enric Miralles and Carme Pinós. His planning gave rise to projects such as Richard Meier's Museum of Contemporary Art in the Raval, or Arata Isozaki's Sant Jordi Sports Palace for the Olympic Ring.
Bohigas arrived at this position after decades of struggle and behind-the-scenes civic organization during the dictatorship. His early formation was in the innovative Catalan schools of the short-lived Second Republic in the 1930s, and the spirit of progressive thinking and civic responsibility he imbibed in those years never left him, despite the subsequent Civil War and suppression of rights and liberties.
He was a prolific architect, with his partners Josep Martorell and David Mackay, but made his strongest mark as a writer, teacher, and organizer. After graduating from Barcelona's architecture school, the ETSAB, in 1951, he joined the nascent Grupo R, with older architects such as Josep Antoni Coderch, Antoni de Moragas, and Josep María Sostres, and they began promoting modern architecture in a city dominated by a tame Neo-Classicism. Bohigas and Moragas pushed the group towards increasingly political issues such as economic and urban policy, causing tensions that led to its breakup.
In 1957 he turned his attention to FAD, an organization dedicated to the decorative arts, and instigated its prestigious awards programs in architecture and interiors, which continue to this day. He wrote regular magazine columns and several books, advocating a Barcelona School of regional realism, for example, in opposition to more abstract versions of Modernism in the wake of Mies's American projects. Another pioneering book, daring for its time, was his history, "Architecture of the Second Republic," published in 1970.
Bohigas was behind the founding, in 1974, of the critical journal "Arquitecturas bis," a contemporary of Peter Eisenman's "Oppositions" and the Italian "Lotus," with which the magazine collaborated on several occasions. He also helped found the progressive publishing house Edicions 62, which he headed from 1977 to 1999. In 1966 he lost his professorship at the ETSAB for several years after joining a student strike, and in 1971 he was barred again for refusing to swear allegiance to the dictatorship. He was named director of the school in 1977, as Spain transitioned towards democracy, and oversaw its modernization amid the tumult of student activism. He left the position in 1980 to take on the modernization of Barcelona as a whole.
"He was authentically free," writes the columnist and literary critic Jordi Amat of Bohigas in the Spanish newspaper El País. "To exercise intellectual freedom one must possess a freedom of spirit, a stance of exceptional merit in a country where freedom was systematically crushed during decades."