By Jesús Martín Alonso, Ana Pastor Pérez and Margarita Díaz-Andreu
For months the pandemic has delayed the beginning of the fieldwork in the area around the Fabra i Coats factory, in the Sant Andreu de Palomar neighbourhood in Barcelona (for our work in L’Hospitalet, see our previous blog). Sant Andreu de Palomar, a village until the end of the 19th century, became part of Barcelona in 1897 and is now a vibrant district of the city. Since 10 November its neighbours have often seen us walking and exploring its streets and many interesting corners. We have carried out a series of tasks described below, including accessing documentation on the urban transformations throughout time.
As newcomers to the history and the landscape of this neighbourhood, our point of departure was to undertake a sensory transect walk through the streets around the Fabra i Coats factory complex. On that very first day in the field we only used a digital camera and a simple google maps printed on a sheet where we marked our paths and marked places that seemed relevant to us, which we decided to subdivide in different categories.
During the following two days we visited the archive and the library Ignasi Iglésias-Can Fabra where we looked at books with old pictures and posters from all the past festivals taking place in the neighbourhood for many decades. This task intended to approach us to the old Sant Andreu, to its past people, businesses, types of transport, ways of life and landscapes of bygone times. After this, we decided that it was time to walk through the streets of old village centre, and at a glance we were able to identify the remains of roads and places we had seen in the old photos. This allowed us to start tracing some of its visual transformations.
This is what, after the suggestion of one of us, Jesús, we started to call places such as the latter a “persistent business”. This term helps to describe not only the old looks of a place where it is not possible to discern what is actually old and what is rebuilt or restored, but also stresses the continuation of its use from the old times to the present. Jesús suggestion had a basis on his PhD thesis on Contemporary Archaeology at the University of Amsterdam.
At this point in our research we started to work in parallel. Marga planned a visit to the Can Fontanet interpretation centre that took place on 2 December.
Ana worked on the design of street interviews and surveys and a photo diary. Jesús, who is collaborating in our project as a visiting researcher, wrote a sensorial diary, an autoethnography, of what was happening to him, reflecting his own transformations as a person and as an archaeologist in the successive visits to Sant Andreu. We all collaborated in setting up the semi-structured interviews that we will be conducting in the near future.
We finally entered the Fabra i Coats factory on 2 December 2021. We walked through its interior spaces, inside the perimeter wall. We had the feeling of moving in an enclosed space. The complex houses two schools and a secondary school. Depending on the time of day, one has the impression of people – the pupils – feeling enclosed inside the buildings. In turn, at some times of the day the oldest pupils, who are allowed to move around, remind us to the former employees, chatting in groups in the outdoor areas by the factory buildings.
In another building, the one that is managed by the Museum of the City of Barcelona (MUHBA), some restorers are working in the boiler room, which is one of the most relevant historic section of the factory complex.
Every single day that we have explored the area we have been surprised by new discoveries. We were lucky to find the oldest bar of the neighbourhood, the Bar Colombia, another “persistent business”.
We also identified a group of palm trees that used to be part of the Fabra i Coats employees’ recreation area. Our findings have led us to broaden our area of study and to map out a very different range of stakeholders from the ones we originally proposed. Somehow, we feel that the neighbourhood is talking to us. The Fabra i Coats sphere of influence permeates the whole neighbourhood. In this sense, our ensuing ethnographic work will be decisive, we believe, in order to understand the spatial and social impact of the transformation of this place.
At the end of November we had the chance to participate in Sant Andreu’s festivities, organized next to the old Fabra i Coats factory complex. Despite some restrictions due to Covid-19, this occasion allowed us to further experience and document the transformations the neighbourhood has gone through throughout the years. We found attractions for children and fair stalls, with smells and sounds that since the pandemic had become unfamiliar. In the future we are planning to continue analysing the ordinary and extraordinary through the voices of different stakeholders that we have selected, street interviews and future surveys. Our aim is to collect data not only from the Sant Andreu’s neighbourhood, but also to be able to compare it with the work of the parts of their cities that are being studied by our colleagues in Edinburgh, Florence and Oslo.