Design This

04 May 2006

The Cheat takes a shot at the overwhelming design obsession of Barcelona society. If you've heard about how cool Barcelona is, read this and think again.

Design has quickly become a dirty word for me.  It wasn’t that long ago that I was tooling around the canals of Amsterdam looking for some cool and innovative sources of inspiration, be it in furniture, architecture, products or fashion, wondering why design seemed so stagnant in the Dutch capital.  Sure, the cloggies know packaging and graphics, but I’m talking about more than slapping some obscure typeface (or “font”, if you insist) across a 37 layered Photoshop montage of images and hitting “print”.  I’m talking about three dimensional inspiration here.  The world before 1996 or so was one where high design was still invisible to the mass consumer; a world where Charles Eames, Frank Gehry and Philippe Starck were about as well known as the principle cities of, say, Iraq.  Amazing what a difference a few years make.

So fast forward to today and lo and behold, Barcelona is bursting to the seams with design this and design that, thanks in large to the ubiquitous art and design magazines that seem to be multiplying like fruit flies in my kitchen.  It all started innocently enough, when Tyler Brûlé created *Wallpaper magazine, the self proclaimed standard for “the stuff that surrounds you” and took architecture, product and furniture design out of the dusty baroque annals of Architectural Digest and made them sexy and flash.  Good times, but man, look at us now.  It is a damnable requirement for these fat, glossy, $11 mini phone books to have a name that in no way is connected to its contents, like Face, Frame, Surface, Sphere, or Obstrukt ( Obstrukt? ) all in the name of being ironic.  Oh, how chique.  Now the whole damnable nouveau riche middle class and trendy Chavs alike can bask in the warm glow of shared mass-prestige consumerism. 

Why am I writing about this here you ask?  Because Barcelona has become without a doubt the most design saturated place on earth, where you can’t so much as pick up a menu anywhere in Gracia or Eixample without being overwhelmed with trendy graphics, obscure language names of dishes ( it’s called fusion cuisine, darling ), or sitting on plastic Chinese knock off Starck or Karim Rashid chairs; or eat off Umbra tableware.  It is cool, Buddy, and I do like it from time to time.  I mean, who knew that an orange juicer could look like a Martian space probe from War of the Worlds?  But after sitting through a 30€, two course meal consisting of a cabbage, three champignons some spice, and listening to Café Del Mar number 17 for two hours, its time to bust.

What happened here?  I mean, one minute Spain was famous for having a casual lifestyle filled with excessive sun and music, ample servings of hearty food and a laissez-faire that made it the greatest holiday spot in Europe.  Menus were hand written, bars had bare brick or stone walls, and things were good without all the Jordi Labanda murals of Vespas and Audrey Hepburn women with cell phones.

What happened?  We did.  We, the great migrant Posh Expat came swooping down from design saturated Northern Europe and New York and like some modern day barbarian horde, we destroyed everything by importing with us all this Moderne nonsense and pretentious, high priced minimalism.  My best friend and I were so happy in these places for a while, until we tumbled into some seedy joints we affectionately call “old man bars” in Gracia and Poble Nou and discovered to our joy that you could still get wasted on 8 bucks and meet genuine locals and expats alike without being forced to endure another second of Chillout or see another 60’s style pop art print.

Its all toast now man.  Even the once crusty, trusty and somewhat dangerous Raval is getting the design makeover as more and more Eames chairs and the likes of Camper and Vincon move in.  Poble Nou is positively infested with trendy clubs in old warehouses, and now boasts a design school.  That makes it the fourth in BCN.  Four design colleges punching out legions of black turtle-neck wearing artniks every year to inundate us all with more irony and minimalism.  Fine I say.  No problem.  The vast number of would be high rollers down here will be thrilled, meanwhile my friend and I will be down at “the Cuban” across the street.  You know that one?  It’s the one with barebacked wooden chairs, three dogs milling around the stools, and not an iota of design anywhere.

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