L'Hospital Sant Pau (Barcelona)

Barcelona, Spain. Dating back to 1401, this site is one of the oldest healthcare institutions in Europe. Architect Lluis Domenech i Montaner later designed this compound of hospital buildings from 1901—1930. To me, it has all the organic magic of Gaudi, but with more reserve and continuity. No longer used as a hospital, some of the pavilions have been renovated, with exhibition areas.

The lower floor focuses on the history of medicine in Barcelona. Visitors enter through one of the tiled tunnels, connecting the buildings from underneath, and the first thing they see are fleeting projected views of hospital activity slipping around the rounded corners of the hallways.

A circular intro room shows the same horizontal video on each side, the images meeting in the center in a not quite kaleidoscopic way. Seating wraps around the room, allowing one side for viewing each language.

The display furniture uses glass and the same sea green as the tile ceiling.


The upstairs exhibition focuses on the Moderniste architect Montaner, who was also a scholar, and idealogue. The first impression is astonishing. And the first distraction is the projector stand.

The exhibition was designed by set designer Ignasi Cristia. Apparently the concept of a dragon, a symbol popular with the Modernistes, is the method to the madness. 

It appears to crawl down the center of the space, on delicate tangled legs, with many overlapping wings, as if it were emerging from a tile cocoon.

Black & white monitors at the far end show animated sketches. A set of touch screens feature the architect's full body of work.

Videos are projected directly on the patterned tiled walls. Gentle music adds to the other worldy mood.

A view of the construction inside the spine of the dragon.


It seems like an indulgent way to present architecture that is already exciting enough. A sculptural exhibition design where form and content (or architect and exhibition designer?) are dancing wildly. In any case...it doesn't really bite... 

This wonderful hall, in another pavilion, is probably used for small events. The historic image extends the room.