Tuset Street: Conc entrated Modernity
For almost a decade, between the mid-sixties and the early seventies Barcelona’s Carrer Tuset became Via Tuset and Tuset Street, a fact that sums up the short modern history of a city that, looking to Europe, strove to bring a little colour to the postwar era of the crumbling Franco regime. In the short space of ten years this short street located between Avinguda Diagonal, home to the oligarchy, and Travessera de Gràcia, occupied by well-to-do families, went from being a stretch of plots of building land to a commercial link with the most modern establishments that were simply non-existent in the fifties. The idea wasn’t new; in fact it’s been standard procedure in Barcelona to give commercial links a thematic focus. In this case, however, innovation and the commitment to design and modernity became unifying forces. In a context of economic growth (due to the policies of economic development known as desarrollismo), the emergence of advertising agencies was an almost natural element in a productive city and a country characterised by budding consumption. The fact that the forerunning publicity agencies should have chosen to open their head offices in Tuset and its adjacent streets drew a specific sort of clients and pioneering graphic designers, and the area was soon a backdrop for shooting advertisements and holding photographic sessions. The street thus became a meeting point for different though complementary professional sectors, fanning the desire to be surrounded by new trends, which is precisely what makes this story, yet to unfold, interesting. ‘The name Tuset Street was coined by photographer Oriol Maspons, who also designed a T-shirt that featured all the shops on the street … the boom was ephemeral and transient; very soon it went back to being just another street with bars and shops.’1 The short history of Tuset transcends anecdote. Despite being short-lived or ephemeral, we can appreciate its transcendence thanks to the repercussion of the publications that referred to it at the time. It also inspired the making of a film,2 that could be considered a failure in terms of its initial experimental quality and yet strove to depict the street’s residents, who intended to transform the melting pot into a commercially ambitious venture that would end up turning the street into a pedestrian area — a revolutionary idea for the sort of town planning in vogue at the time.
Although the Tuset Street project and its desire for modernity would gradually evaporate over the course of the following decade, a couple of features still bear witness to that time, now out of context in the mediocrity characterising virtually all the residential areas in the upper areas of the city: the Flash Flash Tortillería, an omelette restaurant that opened in 1970, and Il Giardinetto, an Italian restaurant that opened in 1973. Both had been conceived by Alfons Milà (architect and designer) and Federico Correa (architect), and besides celebrating innovative interior design (each in its own individual style) they also represented a new type of restaurant. Original interiors, cutting-edge hairdressers, the latest trends in fashion and an ‘entertaining’ veneer (now in disuse, the term evokes the atmosphere of the age) shared the same microcosm that was progressively expanding towards adjacent streets, presenting a new Barcelona that counterpointed the existing town and rereading the city’s Art Nouveau past to create a new modernity. The golden age coincided with the publishing of the ephemeral weekly Tele/estel (1966- 1970), associated with the afternoon daily Tele/eXpres. The magazine had a section by Àngel Casas, printed on pink paper and headed ‘ Tuset’, that reviewed the events taking place on the famous street. This was the first Catalan newspaper of the postwar era and, along with La Cova del Drac — a drug store and Paco Rabanne’s shop BOOM by day, and a venue where Josep Maria Espinàs programmed protest songs, singer-songwriter and pop concerts in Catalan linked to Concèntric record label by night — established the existence of a genuine modernity extrapolated to the fields of architecture, design and publishing, with its own distinct features resulting from the country’s specific context that transcended the fascination with London’s Carnaby Street or Rome’s Via Veneto. An article in Hogares Modernos magazine in 1970 noted that ‘we could say that the spirit of Tuset is like an excavation at Troy. At one level there is one Troy, and below there is the previous Troy, and so on until the very first. In Tuset, snobbish excavations would allow us to recover three or four strata of the changes in aesthetic taste of the city over the last ten years. The managerial and executive glazing of the first bureaucratic buildings appears first. It is followed by the flared rationalism of serious establishments, passes through the Liberty revival and the revival of Catalan pa amb tomàquet (bread with tomato) and arrives at telluric and spatial figuration in steel, plastic lamination and the colour biological white.’3
Our description of the swift development in the way of understanding design focuses on one of the iconic establishments of the time, The Pub Tuset, where Joaquín Gallardo — the interior designer who brought colour to the street by designing many of its new shops and premises and painting the lampposts that still exist yellow and green — carried out his second highly successful intervention. For some time it seemed as if Gallardo had the magic formula for attracting young audiences, and the owners of shops and bars entrusted him with refurbishing their premises because of the aura of guaranteed success that emerged from his colouristic, nostalgic, eclectic and fresh imaginary. The most outstanding aspect of Gallardo is that as well as creating a particular way of working, he manages to turn his name into a brand (Show Gallardo), transforming the profession of decorator into a high-profile phenomenon. He first emerged on Carrer Tuset with the shop called Renoma, where they sold the trendiest clothes (as the expression went), and then designed The Pub Tuset and a long list of other projects. The Gallardo phenomenon crystallised when the decorator opened his own pub on Carrer Mallorca,
Renamed The Pub Tuset, it became a gathering place for filmmakers and was frequented by the members of the School of Barcelona group.’5 The façade of the refurbished establishment was completely yellow (even its matching awning), with a pergola on the pavement. The decorator himself came to be known as ‘the yellow man’ on account of his obsession with the colour. The interior, which had two levels, was totally reminiscent of gangster films, of Al Capone, and the whole space was pervaded by a peculiar shade of green that would evoke the atmosphere of a Chicago den. After the refurbishment, the bar ceased to be a lonely establishment and became one of the most frequented in town, always crowded. The counter was on the upper floor and a bar-cum-lounge was on the lower floor. Besides the gangster green, the space was covered in flowery wallpaper, which, in turn, was plastered with posters, creating an effect that customers found very attractive — a way of staging interior design. Oriol Bohigas accused Gallardo of being a ‘reactionary decorator’, and in an article published in Serra d’Or the decorator said he created atmospheres for the people of his times, regardless of immediate tradition and even of whether or not they would last. ‘There is a certain transience to Gallardo’s works, which is their main raison d’être. They are like decorative happenings that transcend the good and evil of design, even revolutionary and reactionary good and evil. We should deal this sort of verbal blow to the vampires who run around disguised as ideological magnates. Gallardo stands alone.’6 As he himself would often say, all his street designs were characterised by intuition. They were the first establishments that challenged the lack of imagination of the age, moving away from linearity and architectural coherence and thereby setting the street apart from most other commercial thoroughfares. Far from being based on design coherence, Gallardo’s work was built on formulas that were attractive to the young and the not so young who wanted to be rejuvenated, and inspired a range of elements that would shape the imaginary of youth: Renoma, clothes, The Pub Tuset, parties, Norton, motorbikes, etc. His work was also distinguished by this ability to create atmospheres and specific moods. This staging or thematisation of atmospheres was totally at odds with the rationalist idea of trying to create neutral and universal architectural spaces, yet it was also a way of generating stories and imaginaries, albeit unknowingly. Gallardo’s interior design evolved.
Years later, his reappearance on a street project when he was commissioned to design the Conti clothes shop would be quite different in nature, characterised by what I call ‘synthetic aesthetics’, that consisted in subtly evoking spatial imaginaries. All the materials he turned to were industrial, synthetic, and the design left no room for chance: the arrangement of the different elements was painstakingly geometrical, which doesn’t necessarily mean free of fantasy. To speak of this leap in form and decorative taste we shall continue to focus on The Pub Tuset. Around the year 1973, the Pub changed hands and once again the interior would be redesigned to completely different results. The project and execution were commissioned to Hans Christian Ostergaard, and the main idea was to create spaciousness and movement within the areas delimited by the existing walls. To achieve this, a loft was built to house the machinery, dressing rooms, staff toilets and storage space. A neat, uncluttered space was created by moving the toilets located in the middle of the ground floor to the far end of the premises. A new staircase was built and the existing staircase was enlarged to favour interior mobility. The sense of space and visual movement was produced by mirror arrangements on the side walls. The colour range was quite restricted: a violet tone for the floor and walls (with the typical carpets of the period), a beige and brown striped upholstery fabric arranged diagonally, and an intermediate hue resulting from the combination of these two colours with a shiny finish for the ceilings. In ‘synthetic aesthetics’, interiors are as important as the materials that cover practically all surfaces without exception, like the lighting, which is also very studied. Save for the counter, that has ‘conventional’ light sources, the rest of the space is indirectly backlit with metallic spotlights or light drapes that filter atmospheric light to create a relaxing ambience throughout the space, a private and restful refuge. This was the idea for the renovated premises, conceived as a space for unwinding and slowing down the pace of city life. Needs were changing.
‘In today’s Barcelona, in today’s Spain, Carrer Tuset means a lot. It means that this “Spain” of ours may one day cease to be “different”.’7