Smart City Barcelona

The Sagrada Familia

The Sagrada Familia

I was recently in Barcelona with the European Energy Forum, looking at their “Smart City” programme, and at their roll-out of smart meters.

I have to admit that I am not entirely convinced about smart meters.  There are clear benefits for utility companies.  They will no longer need to have meter readers, and they may be able to plan their operations better with more detailed information.  But I suspect that the benefits envisaged for consumers may prove illusory (though the costs will be real enough, whether you agree to have a smart meter or not).

I really can’t see householders watching the meter on a minute-by-minute basis, and rushing to turn off the light in the spare room to reduce consumption.  Most people would rather watch a football match.  Admittedly the planners are looking ahead to “smart appliances”, which will be able to turn themselves on when power companies have spare capacity.  That all sounds a bit sinister and Big-Brother-ish to me, though suppose we shall have to get used to it.

Plans for “smart cities” seem to revolve around improbable quantities of solar panels (though these may make marginally more sense in Barcelona than in Birmingham), and around the proliferation of all-electric vehicles, which I don’t see catching on in real volume, except perhaps for city buses and municipal vehicles.

Smart cities also involve “energy efficient buildings”, which based on the examples I saw are an affront to æsthetics.  Barcelona’s  Mediatic building is a case in point.

So it was a relief to snook off for a couple of hours to revisit some real architecture — Barcelona’s greatest building, the Templo Expiatorio de la Sagrada Familia.

I first saw Gaudi’s unfinished masterpiece about forty years ago, and it was difficult to say then whether it was a new building under construction, or an old ruin falling down.  The workforce on the site appeared to consist of two men, a wheelbarrow and a dog.  I decided that they weren’t enough even to maintain what was there, never mind bringing the project to completion.

Then along came the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, and a new flush of enthusiasm.  The next time I saw the building it was all action, and noise, and concrete mixers and cranes and big yellow machines and hard hats.  Today the interior space is complete and decorated, stained glass windows in place, more or less water-proof, and in use as a place of worship.  Pope Benedict consecrated the building in 2010.

It is a structure of astonishing contrasts.  Gaudi was inspired by nature, and the sweeping, branching columns of the interior bring to mind a petrified forest.  Yet he was also passionate about mathematics, and contrived to bring together remarkable mathematical planes and surfaces in extraordinary profusion.  I simply can’t imagine how he could coped with this three-dimensional complexity in the days before computer-aided design.

Many of the columns are fluted.  But they start at ground level with six flutes – a sort of curved hexagon cross-section – and then, imperceptibly, Gaudi builds in new surfaces so that soon there are twelve. Then twenty-four.  Yet you can’t see the join.

Equally the style defies easy classification.  There is overwhelming evidence of its period – Gaudi’s very idiosyncratic Catalan interpretation of the Art Nouveau movement.  Yet it is also timeless, sui generis, forever (provided that vibration from the recently-dug subway doesn’t play havoc with the foundations).

It is really quite the most extraordinary evocation of the human spirit.  It is a triumphant monument to mankind’s aspiration and imagination.  This place, surely, is as close to the sacred as a profane man can hope to come.

And it is moving on apace.  The major tower in the centre is already approaching the height of the existing towers, which are much photographed and have become an icon of the city.  Eventually it will be close to twice their height.  Ambitious it may be, but they hope to finish it within ten years.  And I hope to live to see the day.

I see that there are calls for Antoni Gaudi to be beatified.  And I’d happily vote for that.


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23 Responses to Smart City Barcelona

  1. catalanbrian says:

    Was your jaunt to Barcelona self funded, or was it paid for out of my taxes (and those of other Europeans)?

  2. “Smart meters” are going to cost £10s of billions. For that we could have 10s of 1 GW nuclear generators (current production is about 40 GW). Seems like a no-brainer to me but perhaps I am overestimating out political class.

  3. ex - Expat Colin says:

    My meters are 3 yards apart so whose going to change the battery in the gas smart meter. Not me thats for sure. I suppose in Spain it’ll be the unemployed mass of youth doing it…for nothing?

    It also means somebody arriving with a pipe cutter and a piece made in china. Or a new lump of gas pipe with a piece made in china attached (mobile phone). Fiddle around/phone up/sniff and go.

    There is a pile of complaints (websites) in the US on this. Wifi/phone (rf) sickness and web security issues.

    Complexity in the domestic domain means unreliable expensive stuff (short life) and a mess.

    Whats he on about above….the self funding stuff etc ?

  4. My son lived for several years in Barcelona. What a lovely city! Good old Holy Family – lovely cafe opposite I remember with real affection.
    I never went there without being robbed. My bank card (twice) money out of my pocket, my bag, all were stolen.
    I am so glad he has moved: I hope I shall never go back to that wicked place.

  5. DeeDee99 says:

    I visited Barcelona about 8 years ago with my younger son. I must go back …. just to see how much more of the fabulous Sagrada Familia has been built.

  6. Jane Davies says:

    Here in British Columbia Canada we have had smart meters for more than a year. And yes Roger there are some folk who with a special remote thingy check their consumption daily! Then there are the folk who refuse to have one as they are afraid of them, they think their brains will be fried! They have got their way for now…they are having to pay an extra fee to pay for someone to come and read the old analogue one, but eventually they too will have to have one. It’s the future and although as yet there is no difference in our electricity bills at least our brains are still intact!

  7. limogerry says:

    Roger, your spider-sense is right on. They are sinister and Big Brotherish, giving government another keyhole into peoples private lives. They are not a good thing.

    • catalanbrian says:

      I really cannot see why on earth governments would be in the slightest bit interested in the amount of power that we individually consume. Yes. the police might be interested in excessive consumption as such consumption is often the result of criminals growing marijuana (although why the consumption of marijuana is illegal is also beyond me, but that is another issue). Please explain why a smart electricity/gas meter is sinister. The monitoring of telephone calls and internet usage is what I call sinister.

      • Jane Davies says:

        I agree catalanbrian, the only people who should be worried are those who are doing something illegal. Since we have had smart meters here many arrests have been made regarding the grow-ops in residential areas. The illegality of growing marijuana is of course a whole other story, there is a consensus here that thinks it should not be illegal anyway.

      • No Brian. That’s not the point. They want you to have “smart appliances”. Then they’ll be able to turn off appliances selectively. Instead of general power-cuts, we’ll have selective power cuts. Or worse — they’ll actually pull power back from the batteries of that new electric car they think you’re going to buy!

  8. ian wragg says:

    The spooks who grow weed using electricity usually bypass the meter anyway so a smart meter is only smart when the power passes through it.
    The meters are connected so power can be switched off during high demand because the demented bas..rds who rule us have left it too late for new reliable generation.
    Ede Davey et al should be strung from lamp posts.

  9. vpom says:

    Wow love the idea of smart appliances etc…. at least i would be able to get out of the family christmas dinner ” sorry it’s raw but my energy company switched the cooker off! ” raw turkey yum yum… i wonder how many times i would have to take my severe sight impaired child to hospital from accidents due to energy company turning off my lights! I don’t suppose you would happen to know who i could sue if this happens? obviously not very smart!!!!!!!

  10. Scaredypants says:

    Everybody needs to research smart meters. No- we don’t want this invasion into our privacy. It’s all part of the original globalists plan to log and monitor every human on the planet like cattle. I think maybe UKIP just lost my vote

  11. Scaredypants says:

    I am no criminal and have not done anything illegal ever as far as I know. I don’t then need monitoring like a criminal to prove it. If you want to be watched by CCTV cameras, Smart TV’s which can watch you, have GPs trackers fitted to you , your every word monitored on email etc etc just like 1984 then you are a fool. These smart meters know when you are in or out and in America have been used by the government for all sorts of spurious reasons. Wake up and smell the coffee
    Oh and just as a PS they have been proven to emit quite a lot of radiation

    • catalanbrian says:

      I am sorry Scaredypants, but that’s just luddite paranoia.

    • Jane Davies says:

      Thanks for the laugh……..The Dowager Duchess of Grantham, in the TV series Downton Abby, would have nothing to do with the new fangled thing called the telephone, convinced it would cause untold harm to everyone who went near it!!!
      These folk who think smart meters are harmful don’t have mobile phones then?

      • Those who think that “smart” meters are expensive, much more expensive than allowing us simply to have as much electricity as there is demand for are, obviously, absolutely right, If there is an argument in their favour, apart from increasing government totalitarianism, the ecofascists appear to have avoided making it.

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