Joan Busquets: Ten Projects at Urban Scale, 1988-1994
“Life keeps its miracles hidden/Until, all at once, it reveals them in their higher state.— J.C. Bloem (1946)
When the dictatorship ended in Catolina, a miracle took place. All the pent up architectural creativity and the sinlently tensed town planning skills were unleashed and worked together as if inspired. They brought new life to Barcelona.
Joan Busquets was and is one of the leaders of this urban revival. Brought up in the compact capital of Catalonia, and an expert on the qualities of city life, he now works and teaches throughout the old and new worlds.
In recent decades the centres of Dutch cities have been enriched by some interesting new buildings, but the urban environment has become increasingly impoverished and has sunk to a miserable level for the ordinary user without a car. Attempts are being made here and there to call a halt to this trend and remedy the recent decline. Fortunately, in a number of cases Joan Busquets has put his talents and professionalism at our disposal. He is currently working in Rotterdam, The Hague and Haarlem, and form time to time he teaches at the Delft University of Technology. His method of working as an urban designer always begins with a close examination, both historical and morphological, of the terrain layer by layer in which he seeks explanations for events in the appropriate social context. In this way he has acquired a vast knowledge of the Western architectural and planning culture of our age, roughly since the Industrial Revolution. When you see him at work, he most resembles a detective of the scientific school, on the lines of Sherlock Holmes. The initial examination is followed by a phrase of handwork in which an inventory is made of the projects built or yet to be realised; this often anticipates the work of the local authority, as in the case of the huge site known as the «Spui quarter» in The Hague. He works his way through the piles of drawings of buildings, pavements and tram routes and literally maps the terrain from room to viaduct. This labour requires perseverance and restraint; it is scientific, dull and entirely lacking in glamour.
As he says himself «the gap between architecture and city design, should be solved on the intermediary scale», his solutions are usually a bridge between architecture and town planning. They create space in a masterly fashion and emerge as if self-evidently, after all the analyses, from concealment. The detective has suddenly become a magician. Solutions are born by the dozen and their viability is checked. A few are cosseted, put to the test and finally found worthy to be developed as a «plan» and shown «in their higher state».
His creations are probably—I agree entirely with Geert Bekaert—of the greatest importance for the future of town planning and architecture in our country.