You have to take the term “gardens” in its official name with a pinch of salt when you first see the concrete flatness of this Barcelona park, though the free art on its walls changes as regularly as any city gallery, making it a worthwhile stop on your route. An ex-industrial site, the shimmering haze of its birches nevertheless perfectly counterpoints the aesthetic of heavy machinery and bright graffiti.
Such a hardwearing urban veneer makes it ideal not just as a regular concert venue but also for the skateboarding and tagging communities, both local and out-of-town. While taking photos here, the four artists who I found working on the mural walls had come down from Newcastle, UK. Moscrop had been here the summer before and returned with his mates Eli, Nesbit and Si (Lag) this year. Was this the modern equivalent of the way, a century ago, northern impressionists would come down on painting holidays, drawn by Spain’s exceptional light? The hardness in the light does seem to bring out the brilliance in colours.
It’s also a popular skateboarding site. A German friend, while holidaying in Barcelona with her teenage son last year, would drop him off at this park every day so she wouldn’t have to drag a sullen adolescent around the galleries and sights she was keen to see. It was an arrangement that worked for them both.
The three chimneys dominate the space. They are what remains of a power generation plant that used to be known as La Canadenca (The Canadian) despite being founded by an American. When electrical power was in its infancy at the turn of the twentieth century, it seemed like too risky a venture to attract many conservative Catalan investors.
So an American entrepreneur named Frederick Stark Pearson was persuaded to set up the Barcelona Traction, Light and Power Company Limited in 1911. The parent company then spawned a host of subsidiaries to develop the trams, rail network, two large dams and a canal system, power generation and water supply in Barcelona. By 1914 it was the largest electricity supplier in Europe and the seventh-largest in the world. The company was at the centre of a strike in 1919 that developed into a Catalonia-wide general strike, which the workers of the anarcho-syndicalist CNT union eventually won.
Pearson himself perished when the RMS Lusitania was torpedoed and sunk in 1915. After the Spanish Civil War, the company continued to expand for a short time under Franco, but his decree, prohibiting the exit of capital from Spain meant its foreign shareholders could not be paid and proved the company’s death knell.
You can see more Barcelona street art at bombcelona (in Spanish).
Jardins de les Tres Xemeneies, Av. de Paral·lel, 49