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New Catalan Design in the Years Between 1960 and 1990

Updated on November 16, 2019
Gro Kristina Slaatto profile image

I am a Norwegian writer with a MA Degree in Art History from the University of Oslo. My second subject is Philosophy.

With Spain's reintroduction of democracy in the 1970s, and with the 1980s vision of becoming a country in line with modern industrialized countries in the West, Catalan design took the lead as an important cultural expression of the democratic change process. In this transformation, the years between 1960 and 1990 are seen as particularly important.

Design as expression of identity and story

After decades of stagnation in development, the 1960s brought economic growth and the vitality of Barcelona showed signs of a new boom. Catalan identity became stronger and more visible through, among other things, in the Catalan language. In the 1980s, the city was once again a meeting point for intellectuals and artists, as at the turn of the 20th century. Design became an important expression of the city's identity and story, both locally, nationally and internationally. Viviana Narotzky writes that this process, referred to as Barcelona's design boom, is probably one of the most notable cultural phenomena in the Spanish democratization process.

Renegotiating identity

The democratization process made it necessary to renegotiate Spanish cultural identity. In this context, the individual's quest for roots, belonging to the country's cultural traditions and belonging to the world in general became relevant. In this way, a process of democratization can cause national, regional and local identity to be strengthened, weakened or lost.

In Catalonia, as in the rest of Spain, one of the means of renegotiating identity was to remove statues and street names related to the regime, and to make the Catalan identity visible through the Catalan language. With the democratization process, design went from being a matter of belonging to the Catalan bourgeoisie to becoming part of the public discourse that concerned everyone.

Design as part of a public discourse

In Barcelona, ​​the big changes in the city's outdoor space and the support of public authorities who saw design as a bearer of a cultural identity and as a means of rebuilding national identity can be seen as an important reason why design moved from a private to a public sphere, and became part of a public discourse. In the reconstruction of a democratic, modern and future-oriented Catalonia which marked a distinction to the rest of Spain, a line may be seen between design and nationalism. Furthermore, a brief overview of the main institutions that brought a new rise for design in Barcelona is given.

Gres; a reference point of good taste

The design that emerged in Catalonia in the 1960s was first and foremost a city phenomenon where a small elite of the bourgeoisie produced their own designs to satisfy their own tastes and demand in the absence of available products on the market.

Gres (1958), became one of the first design shops in Barcelona to become a reference point for good taste, with an assortment that emerged with a modern, simple and functional form language and with clear inspiration from crafts. Design became an expression of social affiliation and was associated with the same group of people attending art exhibitions. In order to increase the understanding of what new design intended to convey, exhibitions were organized in which both practitioners of design and fine arts were brought together with painters and sculptors, in order to make visible a breadth of what they were interested in.

The ideology of modernism

In Barcelona, ​​design prevailed as an expression of good taste with lines to Modern Movement and Bauhaus's factuality and good form, as an expression of both belonging to a bourgeoisie and bearing the ideology of modernism, as a democratic design.

An important reason for the rise of modernism during the 1930s can be seen in the context of; "(...) the fact that it was underpinned by social utopian ideals and identified with radical avant-garde tendencies as opposed to the repressive political and aesthetic agendas of totalitarian regimes that dominated Germany, Russia and Italy".

The 1970s and the playfulnesss of postmodernism

With Gris (1969), interior design is introduced that draws inspiration from contemporary pop culture in the UK and Italy to the Catalan capital. Contrary to prevailing good form, this one appealed to the emotions. Production was small and based on crafts.

In 1972, architect Oscar Tusquet and a group of architects created the Bd. Ediciones de Diseño, where they sold their own furniture designs.

Today Bd Design is one of Barcelona's most internationally renowned companies in the field of design furniture sales. This group gained a great influence for Catalan design with a new form of expression that approached the sensitivity of postmodernism, with spontaneity and playfulness. Tusquet made known Robert Venturi's text; Learning from Las Vegas (1972). The texts were translated into Spanish and published by their own publisher, Tusquets Editores, and became famous among architects and designers. In addition to its own designs, Bd started importing Scandinavian and Italian designs, and later the manufacture of chairs that were the design classics of modernism. With the dissemination of its own design, foreign high tech and the reproduction of timeless design classics, Bd consolidated its position as a leader in design in Barcelona.

In the 70s Vincon (1934) and associated gallery La Sala Vincon took over as Barclona's leading business in design, where own identity was represented through local design as well as international high tech.

In addition to owner Fernando Amat, who designed himself, the graphic designers Javier Mariscal, America Sánchez and Pati Núñez attracted attention with logos of design on Vincon's paper bags. The bags have later become collectibles. Vincon's success is attributed to a change in business idea from 1967, when the business was in deep crisis. It was then formally decided to emphasize products that were different from the consumer demand. This came to mark Vincon's entry into a new design world.

New design bars and the streets as a new space for freedom

The transformation of the city and the democratization process became the basis for the emergence of new forms of lifestyle where design became a carrier of cultural identity.

"The emergence of new design was particularly visible through the emergence of a number of new design bars in the transition to the 1980s with the open space open to everyone in the city, rooms that had common boundaries with nightlife and cafes".

The street which during the regime was associated with a space of limited freedom, became a space of freedom with the process of democratization. Again, in line with the southern way of life, people could live a social life without fear in a political-cultural context where there was certainty that overt governmental powers supported Barcelona's change and aesthetics.

Design in the public space

Increased use of aesthetics in the public space, increased consumption of design and increased awareness of design. The middle class became a new group of design consumers. Seen within the context of the nationalist Catalan, the consumption of design could be seen as a part of defining one's own identity and what it meant to be Catalan.The use of design within television and media channels also became important, as part of a communication channel within the Catalan infrastructure.


Narotzky, Viviana: La Barcelona del diseño, page13,16, 54, 55, 116, 203, 204.
Woodham: A Dictionary of Modern Design, page 286.
Stanton, Edvard F.: Culture and customs of Spain (Westport: Greenwood Publishing Group Inc., 2002), page 175.

© 2019 Gro Kristina Slaatto


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