The Agbar Tower

By Lucy Brzoska
The Agbar Tower opened in 2005 to controversy. Many people were affronted by its sheer size (only the Mapfre tower and Hotel Arts are higher), resenting it for dwarfing the nearby Sagrada Familia, or regarding it as overly phallic or reminiscent of a missile. Others admire it for its shifting tones and textures and sheer innovation. It’s completely unlike any other building in Spain. But loathe or love it, you can’t avoid it. It crops up at unlikely moments as you walk the city. You look up while crossing one of the long straight streets of the Eixample district and there it is, looming in the distance, as if dropped from outer space.

Its name, faintly Arabic in sound, is an abbreviation of Aguas de Bareclona (Barcelona Water), the main company of the Agbar Group, who commissioned French architect Jean Nouvel to construct their new headquarters. He describes it as “a fluid mass that has perforated the ground – a geyser under a permanent calculated pressure,” using suitably watery metaphors.

With his tower, Nouvel has created a symbol of the latest regeneration of Barcelona. Placed in Plaça de las Glòries, it is a signpost to Poblenou, once a district of obsolete industry now given over to information technology, hotels and highrise flats.

The building is not open to visitors, but its skin is probably the most interesting feature. Coloured aluminium sheets, earthly tones towards the ground and blue towards the sky, are covered by a facade of nearly 60,000 tinted glass slats. These two outer layers combine to create different effects according to the time and weather. From afar the tower glistens smoothly like an eroded pebble on the beach. Closer up it begins to break up into a glittering mosaic. At night, it reveals its party spirit, when 4500 LED devices glow electric blue and pink.

It rules over the Barcelona skyline, but maybe not for long. Appreciate it before a new rash of tower blocks crowds it out.

The Agbar Tower (Wikipedia)
According to Nouvel, the shape of the Torre Agbar was inspired by Montserrat, a mountain near Barcelona, and by the shape of a geyser rising into the air. Jean Nouvel, in an interview, described it as having a phallic character. As a result of its unusual shape, the building is known by several nicknames, such as “el supositori” (the suppository), “l’obús” (the shell) and some more scatological ones. It is also somewhat similar in shape to Sir Norman Foster’s 30 St. Mary Axe in London, often called “the Gherkin

Another fine pickle (The Guardian)
How Barcelona stole London’s prize gherkin – and had the cheek to improve on it

Buildings of Barcelona