Framed by plantings chosen for the Mediterranean climate, an assemblage of simple wood platforms provides vantage points for gazing out to the boats bobbing in Barcelona’s historic Port Vell. Called Climate Islands, these structures—in combination with greenery, misters, and remediated hardscape—by Barcelona-based Scob Architecture and Landscape, sensitively update the oldest part of the Port of Barcelona, now a designated tourist district. While creating areas of respite in this dense environment, the new intervention, commissioned by the city’s Port Authority, respects the region’s history and cultural identity and addresses rising temperatures by providing numerous cooling strategies for visitors.
Part of the city’s larger urban-renewal initiative, Scob’s proposal sought to improve, update, and link urban spaces while preserving historic areas and considering the future of a warming planet. The design team’s Climate Islands, which occupy a mile-long parcel of land that wraps around the waterfront, consists of seven zones (each a five-minute walk from the next) and intersects with the bustling, tree-lined La Rambla boulevard, facilitating a connection between the seaport and the adjacent Gothic Quarter and Barceloneta neighborhood. The designers aspired to align with initiatives such as the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals 2030 and C40 Cities’ Inclusive Climate Action program.
Modular wooden seating, misters, and planters filled with species adapted to Barcelona’s Mediterranean climate are some of the design team’s interventions at Port Vell. Photos © Adrià Goula, click to enlarge.
A center of trade for over 2,000 years, Port Vell (“Old Port” in Catalan), along with the nearby 18th-century fishing village now called Barceloneta, has a long, rich history. Most recently, ahead of the 1992 summer Olympics, a new public promenade was installed, and beaches were restored. Scob’s design team was careful to honor the maritime hub, only subtly altering historically landmarked sections near La Rambla, and leaving basalt paving and pre-existing greenery untouched. “It’s important not to erase the history of the place,” says Scob cofounder Sergi Carulla Altadill, “and, instead, just update it, working with the identity of the location.”
Photo © Adrià Goula
The firm employed sustainable and cost-effective design strategies. For example, the team altered dark, heat-absorbing pavement by coating it with white resin paint (with a low thermal index) to delineate various zones. Along with a vapor irrigation system, the designers introduced a diversity of plant life to provide shading and improve air quality. To build the street furniture, they used locally sourced Iroko-wood slats that can be easily recycled.
Visitors enjoy views of the port from beneath the Columbus Monument, at one end of the newly reimagined public space. Photo © Adrià Goula
With their scheme for the vegetation, the team took a somewhat unorthodox approach. “We’re creating this particular language,” Carulla says. “We usually work with adapted local plants, but, in this case, we decided to propose a sort of Mediterranean garden of the world.” His team planted hardy native and non-native saline- and drought-resistant species to meet the city’s biodiversity goals and maintain a unified ecology. In addition to trees like French tamarisk, the designers included grasses, shrubs, and succulents, from New Zealand flax to red bottlebrush and Nerium oleander. Gradients of gold coin daisies, yellow sweet alyssum, purple grand statice, and orange ice plants paint the landscape with vibrant color that changes with blooming season.
With the Climate Islands, Scob offers much-needed sanctuary from the frenetic metropolis and also hopes to elicit a sense of fun. Carulla asks, “Why not reestablish the city as a playful space?”
Video © Adrià Goula, courtesy Scob Architecture and Landscape