The Barcelona Forum 2004 is certainly an impressive set up, designed with the same sort of flair and enthusiasm shown by the Catalan authorities when they organized the Olympics in 1992. Located right on the edge of the city overlooking the sea, the whole area around the Forum has been rebuilt and new buildings of flats, offices, a big shopping center etc. have replaced what used to be one of Barcelona’s poorest, run-down, post-industrial, polluted areas. The number of new high-rise buildings built in the past 5 years around the Forum itself is quite astounding although high prices probably mean that people who used to live in the area can’t afford to buy any of the new homes available. Barcelona is famous for its modern architecture, and the new buildings are another example of the style and confidence of Catalan architects. Also, some of the old factory chimneys have been left standing inbetween some of the flashy new buildings, and the effect is quite impressive.
The Forum itself is made up of enormous colourful buildings housing the various exhibitions, conferences, dialogues, concerts etc.
All the dialogues are held on one side, and all the exhibitions on the other. A concert is held every evening. The Forum 2004 organisation describes the event as “A new and creative space for reflection and experimentation in relation to the main cultural and social conflicts that humanity is faced with at the outset of the 21st century“, and the design of the whole area certainly reflects this core objective. The courtyard in the middle of the two largest buildings needs a bit more shade, and some stands selling cool drinks would be welcome.
Inside, the spacious exhibitions are equally impressive, although you can’t help experiencing a certain feeling of improvisation, especially as far as the organization of the dialogues is concerned.
It is obvious that the building was finished quite hastily and some faults are apparant – just two days ago part of the Warriors of Xian had to be closed because rain leaking through the roof was threatening to damage the exhibits.
We asked local people (mostly taxi drivers because there weren’t many adult locals in the Forum itself – most of the visitors during the week are non-Catalan except for the hundreds of school children, ages ranging from 5 to 18) what they thought of the Forum. Most reaction was quite sceptical. I’d read an article in El Pais last week in which the Mayor of Barcelona admitted that the Forum hadn’t managed to “connect” with a significant part of Barcelona’s population, and this was certainly the impression we got. One taxi driver criticised the prices and said that they were so high that he wouldn’t be able to take his family (a day pass costs 21,00 € (adults), 15,80 € (ages 17-25), and 12,60 € (ages 7-16, pensioners and disabled people).
Visitors are not allowed to take their own sandwiches and drinks, which makes a visit even more expensive. The driver commented that people living in Barcelona should have been offered a discount or a complementary family day pass or something similar. He also asked how local people could possibly feel part of something they simply couldn’t afford to visit. Good point.
The Barcelona Forum 2004 is a spectacular set-up inspired by impressive ideals. And if it does turn out to be a regular event that succeeds in encouraging international dialogue and debate of important global issues, then it is an initiative we should welcome and support. But it might take time, and some organizational readjustments, for more people to be attracted to the event. For this to happen, the glossy image portrayed by the Forum with its really exceptional array of cultural events, conferences and exhibitions, will need to be accompanied by policies capable of attracting, accommodating and integrating local people aswell as one-off visitors.