Historic Building of Barcelona University, Spain

The University of Barcelona is a public university located in the city of Barcelona. It is the one that has the largest higher education space in Catalonia, and is leader in the number of students, teaching offer, research and innovation. It is sometimes called the Central University to distinguish it from other universities in the city.

The institution that is inherited by the University of Barcelona today was established in 1401, under the name of General Study of Medicine and Arts, and in 1450 it was named Estudi General de Barcelona. It was suppressed in 1717, following the New Plant Decree. The current university was established in 1842; the headquarters was built in 1863, and classes began in 1871.


From the foundation to the suppression of 1717
Its origins reside in the General Study of Medicine and Arts that Martin I the Human wanted to grant to the city in 1401, without the approval of the Consell de Cent, which believed that its powers were invaded; also, the Estudi General de Lleida protested, as this would break their virtual monopoly of higher education in the Crown of Aragon. Half a century later, in 1450, King Alfonso the Magnanimous founded the Estudi General de Barcelona, that is, the current university. It incorporated some existing teaching institutions, such as the Cathedral School or the municipal schools. For this reason, the university, unlike others, had a marked municipal character, with little control over the crown.

Classes were taught in different places: the cathedral, the convent of Sant Francesc (franciscans) and the convent of Santa Caterina (dominicans). The first headquarters was a building, opened in 1536, built on the top of the Rambla, next to the wall (in Canaletes, on the threshold of what is now the Plaza de Catalunya and the portal of Santa Anna),.

Transfer to Cervera
After the War of Succession, Philip V ordered that the University of Barcelona be destroyed in 1715, along with all the Catalan universities (Tarragona, Girona, Solsona, Vic and Lleida). Under the New Plant Decree, all the universities in the country disappeared to form a new one based in Cervera (la Segarra). The reason for the transfer to Cervera was that, as a reward for the support of the brewers towards Philip of Anjou in the War of Succession, financed by the rents obtained by the other Catalan universities, including the port rights of Salou. This situation continued for about 150 years, until it returned to Barcelona again in the 19th century. There, for example, Jaume Balmes or Josep Finestres were trained.

Restoration in Barcelona
In 1837 the process of transferring the university to Barcelona began. Once the Cervera university was deleted, in 1842 the new university was inaugurated, with the name of the University of Barcelona, which for a century and a half would be the only one in Catalonia. The first headquarters of the University of Barcelona was the Carme Convent, in Calle del Carme, at the height of Doctor Dou. The situation of the building, in poor state of conservation as a result of the bullanga of 1835, advised the construction of a new headquarters.

The architect Elies Rogent was commissioned to build the new headquarters, in the new Eixample, but next to the old city. This building, now known as the Historic Building, began to be built in 1863 (when it was among the first buildings in the new district), and was completed in 1893. Classes began to take place in 1871., although the official inauguration took place in 1874. The new head office taught all subjects except medicine, which were taught at the Santa Cruz Hospital from 1842 until., in 1905, they moved to the new Hospital Clínic.

The twentieth century
In 1932, in accordance with the Núria Statute, the government of the Spanish Republic conferred its own autonomy on the university, which was renamed the Autonomous University of Barcelona (not to be confused with the current Autonomous University, created). as an independent institution of the University of Barcelona in 1968).

That autonomy of the University of the Republic was repealed with the arrival of Franco in power in 1939. The Franco regime was a period in which the university went through a deep intellectual crisis, caused by the loss of a large part of the teachers who had to be exiled or who were cleansed and replaced by professionals (not always competent).) often elected based on ideological criteria.

During the last years of the Franco regime there was a great deal of student conflict, which called for improvements in the political and educational system. The UB was the only university institution in Catalonia and the Balearic Islands, until the Autonomous University was born in 1968, and then a segregation process began that did not end until the 1990’s and originated in the rest of the Catalan universities and also the University of the Balearic Islands. During the 50th began an expansion process that led to expand the university (he had been reduced to the historical building of the University Square): The Pedralbes campus was started (in 1957, the year the Faculty of Pharmacy was installed, the first of those new campuses), and then those of Sants, Bellvitge and Mundet.

The October of 2006 opened a new building for the Faculty of geography, history and philosophy in the neighborhood of Raval in Barcelona. Also, in recent years, significant improvements have been made in many of the other buildings of the University, and the Horizon 2020 Plan is underway, which plans to complete the development of the Diagonal Campus by creating a civic square, interdisciplinary buildings, a new dining room, a new auditorium, the extension of the Barcelona Science Park and the transfer of the Faculty of Mathematics, currently housed in the historic building. construction of new university residences and teaching and research centers in Santa Coloma de Gramenet, Bellvitge and Badalona is also planned. In 2005 Màrius Rubiralta Alcañiz was named rector, the first rector in history to be elected by weighted universal suffrage, in accordance with the University Ordinance Law.

Currently, the university enjoys prestige both nationally and internationally (see ranking universities in Spain) and is the only university in the Catalan region that is among the 200 best in the world regarding the quality of teaching and research, according to a study published by the Times Higher Education ‘s October of 2006. In addition, according to the same study, it would be the second best Ibero-American university behind the National Autonomous University of Mexico and the second best in southern Europe, only surpassed by La Sapiencia University in Rome.. This is the first time that a Catalan university has reached such a high level of prestige. She is also currently collaborating on the Europeana project, on the digitalization of European cultural heritage.

The historic building
The historic building of the University of Barcelona, initially called the Literary University building, was built between 1863 and 1892/93 according to the project of the architect Elies Rogent i Amat and began teaching in 1871. Located on University Square, it housed for almost a century most of the city’s colleges and universities, divided between the Courtyard of Letters and the Courtyard of Science. On February 26, 1970 the building was declared a national historical and artistic monument. The Plaça Universitat building is currently the oldest campus of the University of Barcelona. It houses the faculties of Philology and Mathematicsfrom the University of Barcelona.

Architectural history
The building was built by the Catalan architect Elies Rogent i Amat between 1862 and 1892-93 and was one of the first buildings to be placed in the new Eixample of Barcelona. Rogent was commissioned to carry out and direct the works on August 24, 1859. The royal commission, ordered the construction of a building that housed the faculties of law, philosophy and letters, medicine, science, pharmacy, the upper industrial school and the professional school of fine arts. Rogent presented the project on June 28, 1860, and on August 2 of that same year, the Queen’s university works were officially inaugurated. Works began in 1861and despite not completing the project until 1892-93, classes began in 1871 and officially opened in 1874.

The first classes began in 1871, shortly after the university returned to Barcelona after its removal in the wake of the War of Succession (1714). Until then, from 1842 (the date when the university in Barcelona was restored after 128 years of exile in Cervera), the university was located in the old Carmen convent, near La Rambla.

The Faculty of Medicine, which was part of the same university, was located in the old Hospital de la Santa Creu de Barcelona until in 1906 the new faculty building was inaugurated within the facilities of the Hospital Clínic. The School of Industrial Engineers of Barcelona was located in this building between 1874 and 1927. On the other hand, the technical engineering schools were on the premises of the so-called Industrial School, on Urgell Street.

The construction process of the University is divided into two projects, dating to 1860, and placed the new building in the same space as the Carmen convent, which Rogent criticizes and proposes in return, to place it in the new Eixample of Barcelona, which has just been accepted. The second project, from the year 1861, already places the University in the Eixample. This new space allows to extend the building that will finally be 10,836 m2 with 129 meters long and 84 meters deep. Thanks to these new dimensions, Rogent rearranges the project, but the general approach remains the same as that of the project of the year 1860. This new rearrangement allows the architect to propose a more logical distribution, always taking into account the use and the functionality of spaces. Some of the changes of the second project with respect to the first, are the extension of the cloister to the first floor, the change of pillars by columns, and the modification of the main staircase that happens to be placed in a more focused way, giving -the most important,

In the year 1867 Rogent will make a small change to the project, on the finishing of the central body, which he wanted to make at first in four slopes, which does not convince him and he ends up doing a horizontal finish of the central body finished off by a pinion with a ledge and is crowned by a crown with ridges.

Architectural organization
The architectural organization of the building responds to two main ideas; that of placing the auditorium at the center of its composition, and that of the direct correspondence of each of the parties located on both sides of the central body, as Milizia says, must be a university. The building is organized into two lateral bodies intended for scientific studies on the right and letter studies on the left, and a central body where the auditorium and central lobby are located from. the space is branched and organized through the scale of honor. The lobby is divided into three eight-section naves and is covered with vaults.Spanish provinces. On the walls are five statues of the Vallmitjana brothers (Agapit Vallmitjana and Barbany Venanci Vallmitjana Barbany), who represent Sant Isidor of Seville, Averrois, Alfonso X the Wise, Ramon Llull and Joan Lluís Vives.

Above the lobby is the Auditorium, the nerve center and representative symbol of the building, which we will discuss later.

The cloisters, articulated centers of each of the two faculties, are organized on two porched floors, and a third floor that creates an uncovered terrace. The cloisters have a length of 11 x 7 arches, of which capitals are all of medieval taste.

The courtyard of Lletres, on the left wing (Llobregat band, which overlooks Aribau street) of the building, housed the Faculty of Law on the ground floor and, on the first floor, what was called Philosophy and Letters (later divided into Philosophy, Geography and History, Philology, etc.) and also the School of Architecture.

In the Science yard, on the right wing (Besòs band, which overlooks Balmes street), there were the faculties of experimental sciences (Biology, Chemistry, Physics, etc.) on the ground floor and the Faculty of Pharmacy in the first floor.

Architectural concept
On August 24, 1859, during the administration of Victor Arnau, the architect Elias Rogent, through a royal order, was commissioned to:

“Project for the Literary University of Barcelona, containing the faculties of Law, Philosophy and Letters, Medicine, Sciences, Pharmacy, Higher Industrial School, Professional School of Fine Arts, University and provincial Library, with the corresponding museums.”

The construction of the University building took place between 1863 (the year in which the first stone was laid as Rector Victor Arnau) and from 1892 to 1893. Although not officially opened until 1874, the first classes were taught in 1871. It must be said that the expenses, direction and control were borne by the State, which means a presence notorious for the representation of power in the Building, as we shall see.

The Historic Building clearly reflects the theories that Rogent espoused about what architecture should be: Following the ideas of Italian theorist F. Milizia, architecture was fundamentally expressive, meaning content had to be expressed. To this end, Rogent uses, in his project at the University of Barcelona, an eclectic architecture that seeks the best solutions in the ways of the past through the simultaneous use of elements corresponding to different historical styles (Romanesque, Mudejar)., Gothic, etc.).

With the idea of creating an expressive architecture, in the project of the University of Barcelona Rogent deliberately seeks to show which part of the building is the most important for both academic and symbolic life, and from here sorts the rest of the composition.

Thus, all the architectural composition is developed around a nerve center: the Auditorium. According to Rogent, the Paraninfo is where the only activity that unifies the highest level of university knowledge – the award of a degree – is different from other common activities (in all faculties) and symbolizes all the interests of the institution. It symbolizes “the idea of university”. In this central body is also the main entrance of the building and the majestic lobby.

Rogent places the Auditorium not only in the center of the whole building, but also as an element of union of the two parts in which it develops, that is, in the center of the transverse axis according to which it is articulated the whole building: to one side, the building of Letters, and to the other, the one of Sciences. Two equal and symmetrical parts, which are connected on the ground floor through a long gallery of arches, articulate on either side of the central body.

Each of these parts is wrapped around a porch patio that repeats on the ground floor and first floor. In the first project that Rogent presents the porches are only for the ground floor and with arches on pillars. This solution, very much in line with the German Rundbogenstil that inspired so much Rogent, was modified by the definitive idea of the two stories high and columns instead of pillars.

He also strongly adopted the ideas of the Italian theorist Milizia, who strongly influenced him and argued that a university must necessarily contain the following elements: the organization around a patio with porches, side towers, a clock tower, layout of classrooms on the ground floor and other more institutional units upstairs, and a square in front of the building.

Indeed, all of these elements appear in the Historic Building of the University of Barcelona, although some decisions vary greatly over the different projects that Rogent presents, such as the time tower, which at first had to be located in the center of the facade crowning the central body. Finally, the iron clock and bell tower were installed in 1881 in the tower of the Pati de Lletres.

As for the facade, it is proposed from two strategic points – the central and lateral towers – linked by two solid, solid-looking horizontal bodies, lightened, however, by a continuous succession of openings in round arches, following the German style.

One year after laying the foundation stone of the building (1863), the artistic and decorative work subordinated to the general architectural program begins, and a sculpture workshop is set up in the same building college, in which artists and artisans work.

The decorative program of the Historic Building is a very important element to keep in mind, because, despite being subordinate to the architectural scheme, it had to reinforce the ideology and symbolism that the construction had to show.

Last but not least, the gardens through which the building opens to the rear and sides, thus encircling the entire U-structure of the building, except for the facade. The fence that fenced the garden was designed by Rogent, but was placed between 1892 and 1893, when Rogent had long since ceased (1889) as his director of works. Later, the gardens were conditioned in the period in which the University of Barcelona enjoyed a Statute of Autonomy during the Second Republic.

Architectural style
Understood as a neo-Romanesque building, the building is the paradigmatic example of nineteenth-century architecture, a search for a national cultural identity that is typical of the moment. It is important, then, to know the context and at the same time the architectural theory of Rogent, which, as some authors have said, is more important and more transcendental than the work of the architect himself.

The most important aspects of Rogent’s theory, when approaching the study of this building, are the constant rejection of the classifying training he received at the Escola de Llotja de Barcelona, the influence of the work by Francesco Milizia and his relationship with the group of Catalan Nazarenes. Milizia’s work; Principles of Civile Architecture, gathers the most advanced thought of the eighteenth century, which denounces classicist practice in architecture, elevates gothic architecture as an alternative to outdated classicism, and elaborates a whole theory on the organizational adequacy of space for the use to which the buildings are intended. The last point Milizia addresses is what we can see Rogent addressing in the University building.

Another important aspect to keep in mind when talking about the style of this building is the discovery that Rogent made during his 1855 voyage to France and Germany, where he discovered the Rundbogenstil (arch style) in Munich. round point) a combination of early Italian Renaissance architecture and medieval architecture, which will significantly and significantly use it in the construction of the University. In Munich, the main buildings projected following the Rundbogenstil that Rogent sees and studies in detail are the State Library of Bavaria, University of Munich. and the Max Josephstift corner pavilion at Ludwingstrasse.

In short, the university building is complex to define, but eclecticism, the influence of Catalan medieval architecture and the influence of the first Italian Renaissance are the basic style features of this building.

The construction completed during this period include:

Main facade
The main facade of the Historic Building is the one that opens on Gran Via, although it has four, since the construction is a single block with four winds. Unlike the main one, with a straight alignment, the rear facade has a U – shaped arrangement.

The main facade of the building has apparently massive lateral bodies, but lightened by a continuous succession of openings in round or semicircular arches, following the style of German romantic architecture. It is worth noting the closing of the windows on the ground floor, consisting of iron lattice-mounted glass, of geometric shapes.

Clock tower
The iron bell and clock were installed in 1881 at the place where they are now, in the corresponding tower in the part of Lletres. Earlier, Rogent had made two proposals for clock tower placement, but he was rejected.

Main lobby
The main lobby of the building is the first sign of monumentality that the visitor encounters as he enters the interior of the building. This monumentality is enhanced by the presence of the stairs of honor, the organization of the space in three naves separated by majestic columns and by the great statues of the Vallmitjana brothers who decorate the walls.

Patio de Letras
The two sides of the building are articulated around two twin courtyards. Each corresponded to the two faculties that housed the Historical Building: the one of Letters (at present reduced to Philology) and the one of Sciences (at the moment Mathematical). They are formed by two floors of 11 x 7 arches, with a third level of terrace without covering.

Rogent considered the Auditorium the space that best represents all the interests of the institution, “the idea of a university.” From here it is located not only in the center of the whole building, but also in the center of the transverse axis that unites, on the one hand, the building of Lletres, and on the other, the one of Sciences, and just Above the main lobby, downstairs.

Of a total of 530.57 m2, (32.55m x 16.30m) the Hall of Degrees, or Auditorium is a space for the most important and distinguished academic events of university life, is the space where they are awarded degrees, and is understood as the space that symbolizes all the activities carried out at the university and represents all the people who make it up. That is why it is so important. Following the idea of Rogent, learned by Milizia, to create an expressive architecture, the architect wants to stand out above all this space, and does so by placing it in the center of the architectural composition, just above the lobby. entrance and giving it a completely different air compared to the rest of the building in terms of decoration, creating a space of great decorative exuberance that creates a sharp contrast with the austerity of the rest of the building. The elements of stylesneomudéjar and plateresco are present in all the points of the space; the ceiling, the polychrome plaster on the walls, and all the furniture and accessories such as benches, high chairs, canopy with green marble columns, medallions, etc. The auditorium was just built in 1884, the latest intervention being the placement of the six history boxes, related to research, higher education and the university in the Hispanic kingdoms (understood as a unit), which decorate and at the same time project and reinforce the ideas of it. These paintings, painted between 1884 and 1885, are:

The council of Toledo of 633 presided over by San Isidoro of Seville, represented the visigoda Spain, by Dionís Baixeras (1883)
The civilization of the Caliphate of Córdoba in the era of Abderraman III by Dionís Baixeras, representing Arab Spain (1885)
Alfonso X and the School of Translators of Toledo de Dionís Baixeras, representing the medieval Castile (1884)
“The Councilors of Barcelona ask Alfons V to create the University in 1450” by Ricard Anckermann, representing the Middle Ages in the Crown of Aragon (1884)
Cardinal Cisneros receives a copy of the polyglot Bible printed at the University of Alcalá de Henares by Joan Bauzà, representing Renaissance Spain (1884)
The studies promoted by the Board of Trade in Barcelona of Antoni Reynés (1884), representing the 18th century.

Gallery of the Auditorium
The gallery of the Auditorium is a long corridor that communicates the Cloister of Sciences and Letters, that is to say, the two lateral bodies of the building. The gallery has access to three emblematic spaces of the institution: the Aula Magna, the Auditorium, in the center of the corridor, and the Library.

The Historic Building opens to the rear and sides through the Ferran Soldevila Garden, named since 1995 in homage to this historian. Although it was inaugurated, along with the building, in 1871, the fence that encloses the garden was not installed until 1892-1893.

The building was abandoned in the early twentieth century and during the years just before the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) the Board of Trustees of the Autonomous University took over some remodeling. Josep González and Francesc Perales were the architects in charge, mainly remodeling the exterior spaces, in some classrooms, and in the basement where new spaces were created as a bar. The library was also remodeled, and the solid wooden doors in the lobby were replaced with glass doors. During the civil war the building suffered some damage due to the bombings. Between 1939 and 1945 the damage was repaired;Josep Domènech Mansana was the architect who reformed the Aula Magna and is also the creation of the chapel.

From July 1, 1933 the building of the Board of Trustees of the Autonomous University will take over. Given the current abandonment status, one of the first provisions of the Board of Trustees is its restoration and adaptation, commissioned by the architects Josep González and Francesc Perales, during the administration of Jaume Serra Hunter and Pere Bosch Gimpera. From this age it is the placement of ponds with water lilies or the flower beds with cypresses of the patios. The garden fence is removed, which is conditioned by a new approach for the use of students and teachers. Likewise, many new teaching facilities (classrooms, laboratories and seminars) are equipped.

Of this age also is the use (1934) of the basements for different uses, like for example a bar, that represents a great novelty of the moment, as well as toilets and changing rooms. One of the major changes took place in 1936: the hitherto solid wooden door has been replaced with wooden, bronze and bronze ones, with glass ones that still retain the metal key frames., are mounted on a rationalist bronze structure. On the other hand, from 1932 to 1937, major reforms were carried out in the Library, in particular in the reading room, which underwent a major transformation by the GATCPAC rationalists Josep González Esplugues and Francesc Perales.

After the Civil War, during the period 1939-1945, repair and rehabilitation of the spaces damaged by the bombings were carried out. In fact, the regime does a lot of promoting these reconstruction works in order to highlight the authorities’ concerns about reopening and re-activating the university center. Other reforms of interest were made during the 1940’s; for example, the replacement of some laboratories on the ground floor by the Chapel, or a major refurbishment of the Aula Magna by the architect Josep Domènech Mansana.

Other reforms and adaptations of the building took place in 1967, and especially in 1970, during the rectorate of Fabià Estapé, to which the Government’s initiative, which declared effective, declared the Historic Building “National Historic-Artistic Monument” In 1970.

The restoration completed during this period include:

During the period of the Autonomous University of Barcelona (1933-1939), the University’s Board of Trustees undertook a number of restoration and adaptation work on the building. From this age it is the placement of ponds with water lilies or the flower beds with cypresses of the patios.

University bar
During the period when the Board of Trustees of the Autonomous University took over the building (1933-1939), basements were equipped for different uses, such as a bar, which represented a great change in that time (1934), as well as toilets and changing rooms.

Entrance doors
During the period 1933-1939, the Board of Trustees of the Autonomous University of Barcelona underwent major changes and transformations in the building. Thus, in 1936, the halls of the lobby, which are still solid, are replaced with wooden ones, with bronze keys – as shown in the picture – with glass ones that, although retaining the frames with metal keys, mounted on a rationalist-type bronze structure.

During the Republican University period (1933-1939) many new teaching facilities (classrooms, laboratories, and seminars) were conditioned. The photograph, taken between 1933 and 1935, shows a laboratory classroom of the Faculty of Sciences.

Between 1939 and 1945, various repairs and rehabilitation of the spaces damaged by the bombings were undertaken, as well as more significant reforms, such as the chapel’s installation of a ground floor premises where there were laboratories.

Magna Classroom
Although in Rogent’s project the space currently occupied by the Aula Magna was where the Natural History Museum was located, it seems that this space had been the defunct Doctoral Hall. Later, during the 40’s of the 20th century, the room underwent a major renovation led by the architect Josep Domènech Mansana, son of also the architect Josep Domènech i Estapà.

Administrative division
Now the building belongs to Humanities Campus or Central Campus. It consists of the historical building (in the Eixample) and the building of the faculties of philosophy and history and geography located in the neighborhood of Raval. Despite its name, it also hosts computer and math students. The first building (the historic building) was built in the 19th century shortly after the university returned to the city, so it can be considered the oldest campus of the University of Barcelona.