Olga Schmid

Interviewed August 31, 2017 for Catalunya Barcelona docuseries.

If you could first tell us your name and where and when you were born.

My name is Olga Schmidt and I was born in Barcelona, 1972.

Could you tell us the difference between Barcelona and other European cities that are maybe more imperial?

I suppose that an important fact is that Barcelona isn’t a state capital.

I think this has played an important role in having a very different personality. Barcelona has always been a city with a lot of industry and business.

All these initiatives have an impact on the city’s personality.

The whole bourgeoisie movement in Barcelona from the end of the last century to half of the XX century prove it. Modernism is a reflex of that, precisely.

As you surely know, Barcelona is a city that has [can’t quite hear it, I think it’s about degrees of something] has there been any sort of plan to try to avoid this?

I didn’t know that exact pice of data, but it doesn’t surprise me. Besides the city density, which has a strong influence, there are also the geographic conditions of the city that amplify it.

It’s a city that is open to the sea, but has mount Tibidabo on the back which acts as a wall.

It also has a river on each side. This geographic features cause a very high degree of humidity, which then influences the perceived temperature.

I don’t know if there’s any sort of plan to try to avoid all temperature increase from traffic or industry. Actually industry has been moving out of the center of the city for a long while now, there’s barely any left.

Could you tell us what are the public works focused on in Barcelona nowadays?

I’d say that basically equipment.

Equipment on an autonomic level. Many years ago an equipment plan was designed in all of Catalonia regarding schools, health centers, libraries.

Libraries are directly related to the Barcelona diputation.

On a town level, there are also resources dedicated to this kinds of buildings: public buildings, libraries, community centers, etcetera.

And then there’s the whole social housing part. In the center of Barcelona it’s tough to find them, because they try to find areas of new growth, where there’s a chance to make this kind of social housing.

The rest of the city is in the hands of the private sector.

Could you tell us if Barcelona is, architectonically speaking, ready to receive the amount of tourists it receives?

Well, that’s a great question and a great dilemma, up to what point will the city be able to bear all this touristic growth it is receiving.

What’s clear is that there’s a disproportion in how Barcelona receives this tourism.

There was an important policy a few years back of giving lots of licenses to hotels, which favors the arrival of tourists. This is good for the city, good for business, but it also has its drawbacks.

It also leaves [the city] very focused on a specific sector, and I think that the influx of tourists in Barcelona is really starting to worry the citizenry.

Especially when the citizenry has few resources to benefit from this tourism.

There’s when I see that trouble is forming.

There are also arguments about the Airbnb topic, that the city hall doesn’t give licenses so that private owners can rent part of their home.

Because there’s a mixture of many private business that maybe don’t have good intentions.

But in the end I think that the one that is wronged is the citizen, who has to suffer all this touristic invasion and can’t benefit directly from it.

Back to the topic of social housing, I don’t know if you know that in the USA it has many negative connotations, such as being associated to crime levels. Does the same happen in Catalonia?

I don’t think so.

There’s actually a long tradition of building social housing.

Back during the republic, there were some very important plans. There were some too, but this is a moment in the republic when the government takes notice of the worrying situation of many immigrants from outside Barcelona, the countryside, who have come to the city in search of work, economic resources and have settled in ‘barracas’.

That’s seen as not having the hygienic conditions to live in, they aren’t fit for human living, so they start to treat this issue.

It was carried on, but during the dictatorship the criteria changes a lot.

Some is done, but not with the intensity it started.

After the dictatorship, I think it is picked up. The normative and laws are fit for it.

It is a way to answer a social reality that isn’t necessarily bound to violence or any sort of [crime]. It has no negative connotations, it’s just an answer for people with few economic resources who have to live in [awful] conditions.

From an architectonic point of view and directly from what I know and have done, in these last 10 years there has been some quality architecture done.

To offer to people who need it.

Now I’ll say different historic events and maybe you can tell us how it changes the city and the projects it brings. 1888 Exposition.

The 1888 Exposition takes place in Ciutadella.

It’s an important change for the city, because all the terrain that had been the military citadel is occupied.

In a way, that citadel had been imposed, and wasn’t to the people’s liking. So being able to, in a way, invade this area and taking it back for the city was very welcome.

I understand that it was a huge success. There were some beautiful buildings made, some of which are still standing. Others were short-lived, as is often the case in many universal expositions. They are made so that they will last for the exposition and then are dismantled.

But I understand there were some fabulous ones.

I think that the city, with that, earned. It earned recovering a space and earned having new buildings: the greenhouse, the ombracle, the zoology museum and the whole park of the Ciutadella.

The 1929 exposition?

The 1929 exposition is located in Montjuïc and has a different character.

Big palaces are built, in a very academicist style, very XIX century.

But as I understand it, it fulfilled its role as a universal exposition.

What’s really important to underline from this moment is the Mies van der Rohe pavilion, which is completely ground-breaking and proposes an exit from this outdates style of the national Palace, which some qualify as a

The Mies Pavilion represents a look forward, a top of the line architectonic contribution. Even now, it is very valued.

The Olympiads?

The Olympiads were a chance to put up to date a city that hadn’t had big investments for a long time.

Especially the communications, the topic of the ‘rondes’ was very important. Although now it’s starting to become obsolete, it’s not enough.

But back in 92 it seemed that it would answer and ese the issues that the city had regarding communication.

It was also a chance to get the city on point and make an urban operation in the area where the ‘Vil·la Olímpica’ was places, all the area of Poblenou.

What I think happens is that, on a residential level it didn’t have the result we expected.

I don’t know if it’s a planning issue or it just didn’t come off, but in the end this whole new area of the ‘Vil·la Olímpica’ doesn’t have the same character, I think, that the rest of the city does.

A city where there’s a lot of mixture of residence with the service sector, trade, the business sector.

Finally the ‘Vil·la Olímpica’ zone is almost a commuter town that doesn’t have much of the life that I think is what’s so attractive of Barcelona and why so many tourists come.

In any case, it works okay, nothing to say.

Then there were other things, all the equipment that was installed, the opening of the city to the harbor, all the remodeling that was done on the beaches and the seafront promenade.

I think it was a golden opportunity to update the city after so many years of decadence, dictatorship, etc.

The ‘Posa’t Guapa’?

The ‘Posa’t Guapa’ is a campaign.

I think it has had a lesser impact.

Surely, in many buildings the chance has been taking to get updated, but maybe it didn’t reach everyone.

I don’t know if due to lack of economic resources, I don’t really know beforehand the mechanisms that took place to lay it on the table.

It’s true that many buildings have been fixed. We have a center – not the historic center, the second center, the ‘Eixample’ – where nothing had been done for many years.

The truth is that it has changed a lot with this restored and updated buildings.

As a campaign, I think it hasn’t been enough, it didn’t reach everyone.

Could you tell us about the real estate speculation?

Big topic.


Evidently, the [economic] crisis changes everything.

During the years before the crisis, there was a normal running on a private level.

The city was valued, so it was always good business to have a site in Barcelona where you could build housing or any sort of design.

The crisis paralyzes everything.

As we leave the crisis, foreign resources start to arrive too.

I think this is where the danger lies.

This invasion, if it is as true as I think, that there’s a noticeable investment of foreign resources that think that Barcelona, coming out of the crisis, is an affordable market.

So if we don’t keep an eye on it, maybe they will, in a way, end up selling up our city.

That would be very harmful, because we’d lose the reins of our own city.

Could you tell us why every neighborhood in Barcelona is so different?

Yes, I suppose…

Because Barcelona is actually an addition of different towns.

If we take a look at a map form Barcelona, the center of Barcelona, the old medieval town with its two walls was surrounded by a series of small villages.

In addition, curiously when the citadel is constructed after the succession war, in order to control the city and the citizenry, what they do is forbid building around the city walls the distance a cannonball flies.

So, that means that all these towns that are around Barcelona are just that distance away.

And that’s the area that will later be occupied by the Eixample when this ban is lifted.

So Barcelona is united with this small villages, which have their own character.

Gràcia, Sants, Sarrià, Sant Martí, Hostafrancs, Sants.

That’s quite recent, so I suppose that they still keep their own identity.

Actually, the only neighborhood that didn’t have identity was the ‘Eixample’, because it was new.

But I think that has changed with time.

Could you tell us about the changes that Barcelona went through when Franco died?

Well, I’m not so familiar with the time when Franco died. I was young, I don’t have many memories of life back then.

I suppose there were many improvement proposals, but Barcelona and all of Spain was getting out of a dictatorship, some difficult time, so there was fear as well.

So, I think the changes were, in a way, slow.

On the other hand, there was a lot of interest in being able to modernize the city, the architecture.

During the 60s, there starts to be, maybe on the inside, but there is an explosion on design as well.

I think that this encourages that there can be a thrust and a help that, at least on the architectonic level, allows to make more up-to-date and bold proposals, more in line with what is currently happening in the rest of Europe.

Could you tell us about the different architectonic styles there are in Barcelona?


As many as history, because there are medieval buildings, renaissance buildings, noucentist buildings.

If we focus on the XX century there’s modernism, noucentism, rationalism, the modern movement.

From a moment onward, the styles almost have no name, the postmodern opens the way for many proposals.

And before the XX century, I suppose it’s like all historic cities in Europe.

Why did you decide to study architecture?

My father is an architect, so I always lived architecture at home in a very normal and close way.

Somehow, that took me to it, I barely even questioned it, and I went that way.

I must say, being honest the studies have been a good choice.

The studies, even if they are really hard, it took me many years to finish the degree, but they are very beautiful, with a mixture of creativity, technique, humanism.

I think it’s a very complete degree. After all, it’s university studies, one of its goals is to educate people.

I think that, in that sense, architecture is very complete.

How do, for example the Barcelona City Hall or the Generalitat, preserve the historic buildings in Barcelona and Catalonia?

Well, that’s a complex topic.

The issue of funding is always a handicap.

But I’d say that it’s getting done.

Every time there’s more awareness that buildings need to be restored and repaired. With criteria ever more scientific, if we can call it that.

Slowly it is getting done. It’s true that, regarding culture, the funding is always short, so it advances slowly.

On the other side, it must be said that Barcelona is a very edified city and that we need to consider how we want this city to prosper.

The buildings that become obsolete, should they be demolished or is there a chance to restore them and give them a new use?

There has been a proposal fomented by rules for the protection of the patrimonial value of buildings that consists of keeping the façade the way it is – the historic façade, modernist or older – and demolish the inside, building anew with new materials, in new conditions, etc.

On the one hand, that’s great because it guarantees a better building behavior.

We need to think that, for example, all of the Eixample is built with 15cm bricks, which nowadays doesn’t comply with any seismic normative.

Barcelona and Catalonia are in an area of seismic activity. So, if there was an earthquake it would all probably be devastated.

So I think that remodeling all the building is needed, it’s a responsibility that has to be carried out.

On the other hand, I also feel bad that only the façade of buildings is protected.

I think the patrimonial value of a building isn’t only what can be seen from the street, but also all that is inside.

The layout, the high ceilings, the flooring, the molding, the elevators, the balustrades.

I think that we are still far from valuing it as I think it should be.

Could you tell us about the renovation process of the ‘Sant Antoni’ market and the difficulties there are?

Well, I know first-hand because I’ve collaborated for a long time with it.

Actually, the Sant Antoni market is located right over one of the bastions of the second wall of Barcelona.

That bastion was demolished a long time ago, but from historical data it was known where it was and what we’d find.

The policy of the Institute of Markets, that has tried to restore in a, in my opinion, very smart way, using their buildings and offering more services but keeping the historic buildings, which have great value.

But in order to give more services, there’s a need to expand the facilities, which means building underground rooms, parking lots, making very important logistic areas, trash areas with all the needs, pipes, things that traditionally didn’t exist.

All in all, getting a market ready needs an amount of space that, if you don’t go downwards, it’s difficult to get.

In the case of the Sant Antoni market, there was the issue that we knew we’d find this bastion.

We included respecting the bastion from the very beginning.

Once we started working and taking samples and digging, we saw that the bastion had more magnitude than was thought.

Not only were important the bastion’s walls, but also the frontal wall in the bastion, that acts as the wall’s moat.

So that is found. The historians and restorers that, from the Barcelona city hall, collaborate with the project decide it has a lot of quality, so it should be preserved. Then, the project is modified and adapts to what’s there.

All in all, it’s been a very difficult market place, not only from the initial difficulties of ubicating in the same place a fresh market, an antiques market and a Sunday market.

There are this additional difficulties of these historic remains.

I think that, in the end, it has also been a chance to be able to work with this limitations, because I think in the end the very building gets the best of, and therefore all the users, all the citizenry.

Keeping on this line, if now a private company starts building or digging and fins, for example, a bomb shelter, what happens then? Is there a normative?

Yes, there’s a normative.

There has to be a communicate to the city hall department, stating that whatever remains have been found.

Then there are some inspections, it is evaluated and decisions are made.

Sometimes they need to be included in the project. In many buildings, there have been found remains of the wall that have had to be included in underground rooms, the parking lots or wherever it’s fit, but it’s historic testimony, so it needs to stay.

Sometimes they find remains of small magnitude. What is done then is documenting it, that needs to be done in all occasions, and then retired or removed and the project continues as planned.

But there’s a significant interest in having… Besides, this archeology and patrimony service from the city hall and the Generalitat have a rather clear idea or where remains might be.

So, even before giving the building permits, I think, they are already aware of whether there’s a possibility that [there might be remains], so there’s a prior notice that the proper communications should be made, etc. when the work is done.

It is often said that the urban plan from the Cerdà collection wasn’t carried out. Could you tell us a bit about this plan and why it wasn’t carried out?

As always, it is about yield.

Cerdà’s plan was ground-breaking. He was an engineer, but he did a very on-the-spot proposal for the Eixample block.

It’s a block that has been widely studied and functions great.

The chamfers on the crossroads, that gives a lot of choices regarding city functioning.

Cerdà’s proposal was that each of the blocks only had two sides built. The rest was left as public gardening, open for the city.

He also played with the orientations.

To avoid infinite focal points, each subsequent block turned the facing of the buildings.

If that had been carried out, I think we’d have a very different city.

It would be another city, with great health quality or low pollution levels.

All this inside gardens open to the city would have allowed for a better quality.

But the yield of the blocks didn’t allow to stop building so many plots, so it was changed and there was a proposal that the four sides were built.

That’s the city we have.

It has been an interesting and studied proposal.

I think we should have been more careful regarding the heights.

The planned maximum built height was about four stories, I can’t recall now if it was the main floor and four more or something like that.

If that had been kept, it would have allowed for the sunlight and air circulation to be better preserved.

But in the end, speculation plays its role. As soon as it is allowed to build more stories or build new buildings with more height, it takes away strength from proposals that were right in the moment.

Could you tell us about the superblocks, which is related to the Cerdà plan?

The superblock plan begins during the republic through Josep Lluís Sert, Subirana and Torres Clavé, and it is born from the study of the Eixample block of Cerdà.

What they propose is recovering the spirit of that first Cerdà plan and carrying it out in a modern way with all the hygiene guarantees that were in fashion in that time.

They propose these superblocks, one of the most important aspects of which is that they lift the buildings on piers. This is influenced by all the theories by Le Corbusier.

So, it would be lifted buildings with proximity services, like small stores, small libraries, small nurseries, etc.

That’s on one hand. Then the superblock also proposes huge gardened areas, so that there’s this circulation and movement of clean air and this improvement of the atmosphere’s quality.

A building that’s very recommended to visit is the ‘Casa Bloc’, by those same architects.

It was a sort of drive test to apply all the planning for these superblocks.

The truth is that, sadly, during the dictatorship the way it was meant to have was twisted, there were some major absurdities done.

For a while, already in the democracy, they’ve been trying to recover what little they can from this building.

There has been some important restoration done, because it is proof of that superblock proposal.

It’s interesting to go there, there’s an apartment turned museum by the city hall and the design museum.

It clearly explains all those new housing proposals for the city in a moment when the republic had an interest in being up-to-date and getting over some issues of poverty, lack of hygiene, and being able to give quality housing to those in need.

Could you tell us about art restoration, and whether there’s some project that’s especially interesting nowadays in Barcelona?

Regarding restoration, art restoration and architecture restoration, I think that a day will arrive when it will be tough to tell one from the other.

When we talk of restoration of, we should say cultural assets, we find the classic things, paintings, sculptures, graphic documents, fabrics, furniture.

But in architecture, especially in the architecture in this our city of Barcelona, there are many elements that are part of this cultural assets.

We have façades full of sculptures, we have buildings full of decorative elements, ceramics, plaster coverings…

Then, the restoration of architecture includes, in a way, necessarily the concepts and methods of the restoration of cultural assets.

This is a topic in which I’m very interested, because I have training in both subjects and I think it makes much sense, especially here in Barcelona, being able to work with this link.

I think that for too long has it been apart.

On one side, there were the architecture renovation works as far as they knew, on the other side there was the renovation of cultural goods and I think the moment is arriving when this will be unchallengeable, they will have to go together.

What Barcelonese works have influenced you on an architectural level?

That’s tough to tell. I suppose that as you advance your education you notice these and those works.

I remember that when I was studying, for example the proposals of Niels van der Rohe, the Niels pavilion, was a proposal that reached us, that also brought many ideas and reflections.

On a more practical level, I remember that it was very useful all the architecture from the public works that were being built.

Here I’m back to what we were talking before, on the public buildings from the democracy on, there has always been an attempt to give them architectonic quality.

The great architects of Barcelona and Catalonia have made public buildings.

I think that this ends up being noticeable, even by the citizenry, deep down it is pedagogy.

It’s also comfort, improvement of society.

Do you have any stories about Franco’s time?

The most important moments are this, the republic, the civil war, francoism. I don’t know how to say it, no…