Mercat de Santa Caterina

Over the next few months Studio P10 will be blogging about the iconic buildings, designs, architects & designers who have splashed their colourful imprint on this Mediterranean city.

We start the series with Mercat de Santa Caterina. During the 7 year process from commission the architects experienced a multitude of set backs including the discovery of a Dominican monastery from 1835, ruins of a late Roman necropolis and what is thought to be the first Gothic church in the city dating from 1241.

This backstory, entwined in the fabric of the architecture, and the tragic death of the visionary and partner architect, Enric Miralles, who died suddenly in 2000. Before he could walk the floor & taste the fruits of his labour, make the Santa Caterina market a truly iconic and defining landmark in Barcelona.


Originally commissioned in 1997, to Enric Miralles and Benedetta Tagliabue, the husband and wife partnership, of EMBT architecture. A household name in Barcelona, who came to international prominence with their commission for the Scottish Parliamentary building.

Through his career Enric Miralles was concerned with the relationship between life, architecture and with exploring an architecture of time.

 “The first mistake is to talk about old and new. Whatever has managed to survive into the present is current, useful, and contemporary. And it permits us to move back in time in order to continue forward. To be permanent is contrary to existence. Things are forever changing.”

And as local residents of La Ribera the architects had a personal and emotional connection to the neighbourhood, and a desire to implement a concept providing clear and open space and respecting the historical memory of the market.


“We tried to break with the pattern of brutal demolitions followed by rebuilding using very different typologies,” she said, referring to the raw, simplistic slab-blocks typical of public housing on the periphery. These “have nothing to do with the historic architecture of the city core, with its patios and balconies.”

The architects retained the white-painted masonry walls on three sides of the rectangular 1845 market structure, with many arched openings permeable to the surrounding streets.

They brought the same granite pavers used on city streets in the neighbourhood into the market interior “so that everyone understands it’s a public space,” explained Tagliabue. Since the market did not need to be so large, the architects demolished the rear wall and cut in an intimate plaza.

Overall the approach lit up and revived the area but at the same time maintained the old traditions and philosophies.


However, the defining aesthetic and design of the market lies in the roof and it’s intricate construction. Designed using computer software the form and structure proved impossible to manufacture by industrial means. Therefore boat builders and traditional techniques from Seville were used to carpenter the white pine.

Similarly the roof tiles numbering 325,00 were too complex to computerise and manufacture. This was therefore done by hand, cutting, positioning and fixing the separate hexagons. Which probably makes it the largest life sized jigsaw in the world!