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Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Book Review: OAB

OAB: Office of Architecture in Barcelona by Carlos Ferrater
Actar, 2015
Hardcover, 320 pages

Nine years ago I reviewed Synchronizing Geometry, a monograph on the Carlos Ferrater Partnership that came out of an exhibition on the firm at IIT in 2006, the same year OAB formed. The very first project encountered on opening that book was the Barcelona Botanical Garden, completed in 1999. Likewise, OAB (an updated version of a 2011 monograph also from Actar) places the same project on the beginning pages, illustrating the importance of the project in Ferrater's career and giving the firm a chance to explore its evolution in the last decade and a half (the firm expanded it seven years ago). The Barcelona Botanical Garden, which consists of a network of triangles laid across the Montju├»c site, is my favorite OAB project, and it is one that clearly inspired other projects; take the AA House (aka Origami House), for instance: square rooms and courtyards in plan resolve themselves as folded triangular planes at the roof.

Looking at OAB's work in the updated monograph in this manner, a number of formal strands can be grasped: triangulation, as in the BBG and AA House; carved volumes, as in the Azahar Group Headquarters and Granada Science Park; grids, which are appropriate for corporate buildings, such as the Mediapro Building; the layered facades of Bilbao's Riverside and other apartment buildings; and the occasional articulated box, such as the Vila Real Public Library.

Yet I find myself gravitating to Ferrater's landscape projects, which also include the Benidorm West Beach Promenade, an OAB anomaly when considered in my categorization of their projects. Instead of triangles, carves, grids, layers or boxes, the promenade curves along and over the beach, the latter through cantilevered prows that provide shade for bathers. From the beach, the promenade is but a sinuous white wall at the base of the buildings across the street, but from above (the favored presentation of the project) it is a colorful path that moves from green to yellow to orange to red to purple to blue.

The in-progress projects, which make up the last twenty pages of the book, indicate that landscapes remain in balance with schools, hotels, office buildings and other building types (the Tangier Promenade is the most obvious example of this.) This could get chalked up to Barcelona's push to improve its public spaces since the 1980s, but to me it seems that Ferrater and company enjoy the freedom that comes with landscapes over buildings. The latter are relatively rigid, yet refined, while the former are upbeat, if systematic. This monograph captures all shades of one of the most important Catalan architecture offices practicing today.

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