I tried. I really did try to take a break from all the design and innovation buzz while on vacation last week in Spain. It didn’t work. Throughout an incredible ten-day sojourn across northern Spain design and innovation reminders were everywhere. It wasn’t premeditated. I am sure the lens through which I view the world has a lot to do with it but I also credit Spain, which has a clear case of the design and innovation bug. Then again maybe my perspective was colored by all of the great Rioja wine. Here are the design highlights from this innovation junkie’s summer vacation.
We started our Iberian adventure in the great city of Barcelona. On our first day we set out to see Casa Battlo and La Sagrada Familia designed by Spanish architect Antoni Gaudi. Both were on our must do list and unanimous recommendations from many Twitter friends who had been to Barcelona. Goodbye jet lag. Wow. I wasn’t familiar with Gaudi before our trip but will never forget his work after seeing it. Gaudi was ahead of his time. He was more modern than the Modernist Art Nouveau period in the late 19th early 20th century he lived and designed in. Throughout Gaudi’s life, he studied nature’s angles and curves and incorporated them into his designs. His works are iconic and seem to flow directly from nature. Gaudi said, “The great book, always open and which we should make an effort to read, is that of nature”. Amen.
Casa Battlo, or as the locals refer to it Casa dels Ossos (House of Bones), has a skeletal, visceral, natural feel throughout. I don’t think there is a straight line in the entire house. The way Gaudi used color and light to draw you in is amazing. He devoted the end of his life, unfortunately cut short in 1926 by a tram accident, to the monumental church La Sagrada Familia. He completed the amazing design but barely saw the work started. The work continues on today and the iconic church spires define the Barcelona skyline. There aren’t enough times in your life when design takes your breath away. Visiting Barcelona and seeing Gaudi’s work took my breath away.
From Barcelona we drove into Rioja wine country for some rural relaxation and leisurely wine tasting. Surely my obsession with design and innovation could take a rest there. No such luck! The concierge at our beautiful Relais & Chateau advised us to visit a couple of wineries in the small village of La Guardia. As GPS guided us toward the Marques de Riscal winery there was no mistaking the iconic design of Frank Gehry as we pulled in. I had no idea that Gehry did Rioja. But there they were, those signature metallic ribbons that remind me of the ribbon candy that we ate and got stuck in our teeth when we were kids. I knew we were going to see his famous work in Bilbao later in our trip but wasn’t expecting to see it in Rioja country.
As we visited the winery it began to make sense. Marques de Riscal is attempting to create a new positioning for the winery and its wines to blend tradition with innovation. What better way to execute a transformational positioning strategy targeted at employees, visitors, and customers than to hire the iconic architect Frank Gehry. I would like to think that wine is about grapes and fermentation but the business is all about brand, customer experience, marketing, and price point. It makes great sense to differentiate brand and customer experience through the power of design. As a bonus the Rioja was pretty darn good.
After several days in wine country the last leg of our journey took us north into the Basque region. We headed for San Sebastian and took a side trip to Bilbao. This time it was by design that we visited the Guggenheim Museum to see Gehry’s iconic work and its great collection of modern art. It was wonderful to visit and I couldn’t help but think about the power that iconic design can have on a community. Bilbao is an old industrial port city that has been transformed in part by the iconic Guggenheim into a design and innovation center in northern Spain.
I will spare you the details of every tapas bar, pintxos crawl, great restaurant, and winery we visited. Trust me when I say that a good time was had. Batteries are recharged and inspiration to advance the mantle of purposeful design and innovation is renewed. Gracias Espana. El gusto es mio.