>Will the Walls Come Tumbling Down?

>Despite court action and repeated protests by concerned architects, engineers, and the public, tunneling is now set to begin in Barcelona which may end up bringing down one, if not two masterworks by the great Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí i Cornet. As I have reported previously, in order to bring the AVE high-speed rail network connecting Barcelona to Madrid, and eventually to Paris, planners decided to tunnel underneath the Passeig de Gracia toward the Sants train station. In so doing they will be coming close to the foundations of Gaudí’s Sagrada Familia church which, it has recently been announced, will be consecrated by Pope Benedict XVI himself this November.

The giant drill to be used in the tunneling has been nicknamed “Barcino”, after the ancient name of Barcelona when it was a Carthaginian, then Greek, and finally a Roman colony. Today excavators will begin making their way underneath the historic core of the Eixample, Barcelona’s 19th century grid of art nouveau buildings. Within a few weeks, tunnelers will be passing near the foundations of the Casa Milà, more commonly known as La Pedrera, Gaudí’s extraordinary apartment building completed in 1912. Both it and the Sagrada Familia, which the tunnelers will reach in a few months’ time, have been on the UNESCO World Heritage list since 1984, and there has been a chorus of both local and international concern that the excavations (and later the vibrations of the high speed trains in the tunnels) could damage the foundations of these buildings, possibly even causing them to collapse.

No one wants to have their neighborhood torn up for a lengthy construction project, and certainly other areas in Barcelona would have protested the siting of this tunnel under their own streets, which could lead to the condemning of private property in an eminent domain taking. The city has, in fact, done this before, with the construction of the Ronda de Dalt ring road for the Olympic Games in 1992. Barcelona prides itself on its architectural heritage, and heavily promotes Gaudí and his works for the purposes of tourist revenue; he is in some respects to Barcelona what Mozart is to Salzburg, or Shakespeare to Stratford-upon-Avon. One would think that the risk of digging around these historic buildings, let alone routing trains close by their foundations, would be too enormous to contemplate.

In short, this plan is both reckless and galactically stupid, in a city brimming with world-class architects and engineers who ought to know better, and who ought to have stopped this. One could very well drive a nail into a lathe and plaster wall using a sledgehammer, but no matter how delicately one may promise to do so, it is simply not the smartest way to proceed, as the wall may end up cracking or worse in the process. Just imagine the horror of the Sagrada Familia, full of pilgrims this November during the Papal Visit, as the Nativity Facade collapses.

Be assured that I will keep my readers posted, as I follow Spanish press reports regarding this lamentable project over the coming months. At the very least, if something does go wrong now that work is proceeding, those responsible for greenlighting this project should be held accountable: there should be no government immunity for utter incompetence. For more information on the risks posed by this tunneling, please visit the SOS Sagrada Familia foundation at http://www.sossagradafamilia.org

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