Joan Olona awarded one of the European Heritage Awards for Besòs Water Tower

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The technical architect and professor Joan Olona of the Building Construction and Heritage Research Group​ (GREiP) has won a European Heritage Award for the Water Tower project. The award was given by the European Commission and Europa Nostra. They highlighted the quality of the project and the preservation of the essence of the construction, fully respecting its original spirit. The project was developed by the multidisciplinary collective BCN-Besòs Tower-Team.

The Besòs Water Tower, which was completed in 1882, was constructed to supply drinking water to the people of Barcelona. In 1888, the tower was incorporated into the iron and steel making complex of Can Girona (later known as MACOSA). In 1993, the company closed and the complex was completely abandoned. In 1996, all the buildings were demolished except for the tower and its attached valve house.

In 2010, a conservation programme was started to restore the structures and preserve as far as possible the original structure and make it accessible to visitors. Two sections of spiral staircase were installed in the tower to allow access. These staircases were manufactured in galvanised steel to emphasise the difference between the original building and the new additions. This approach was also employed in the renovation of the metal structures that support the roof of the tower, with the replacement pieces reproduced in galvanised steel in the same measurements and characteristics as the original components. Traditional crafts and materials, such as ceramic tiles, were also employed in the project.

The restored Water Tower is now a new cultural centre for the Poblenou district, with innovative art installations enriching the visitor experience and establishing a dialogue between art and industrial heritage. In 2012, Himmelsrichtungen, a sculpture by the German artist Blinky Palermo, was installed in the space.

The conservation project was developed in collaboration with the Arxiu Historic del Poblenou (AHPN), the Archivio Storico delle Arti Contemporanee (ASAC)-Biennale Venezia, the Museu d’Història de Barcelona (MUHBA), the Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona (MACBA), the Fundació AGBAR, the Fundació Ramon Calsina, and a collective of former workers of MACOSA – Alstom, with funding from Barcelona City Council and AGBAR.

The European Commission created the European Heritage Awards/Europa Nostra Awards in 2002. Since then, they have been implemented by the federation of heritage entities Europa Nostra. The awards are funded by the programme Europa Creativa and are the most important awards in Europe in the area of cultural heritage. In the call this year, 24 projects were recognised in 18 countries, five of them Spanish.