Fri, Apr 27, 2007 - Page 6 News List

Tunnel sparks fears for Gaudi masterpiece

THE GUARDIAN , BARCELONA, SPAIN

The chief architect working on the Sagrada Familia Cathedral in Barcelona on Wednesday condemned a plan to build a bullet-train tunnel less than 2m from Gaudi's unfinished masterpiece.

Backed by local civic groups, the advisers to UNESCO in Spain, and architects and engineers from 50 universities around the world, Jordi Bonet i Armengol, who has worked on Gaudi's daring cathedral for 40 years, said : "I am astounded by this brutality. This is an attack on culture of the highest order, something one would only expect of a third-world country."

In a protest letter, an engineer from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology called the railway plan a "thoughtless act of vandalism", while the president of the cathedral board of directors, Joan Rigol, said it was "the kiss of death."

plan approved

Last week, the mayor of Barcelona, the Catalan premier and the public works ministry approved the plan, which awaits an environmental impact review by the national government, according to a city spokesman.

The city of Barcelona wants to build the rail tunnel to provide a high-speed link between Madrid and Barcelona, and on to France.

The mayor, Jordi Hereu, has promised the project will "meet the highest technical standards" to guarantee "the safety of the surroundings."

However, during an emotional press conference yesterday, Bonet outlined what he sees as the dangers to the cathedral's foundation and structure. He also attacked the "arrogance" of the civil engineers working on the project. He said they had assured him that, with modern building materials, the daring architectural feat Gaudi began 120 years ago would be safe.

"They also said the Titanic couldn't sink," he said.

Bonet said the building, a UNESCO world heritage site visited by about 10,000 people a day, was threatened initially by the construction of an underground protective barrier, which begins less than 2m from the building's foundations. Any accidental contact during the project could cause cracks in the foundations. Eventually, chunks of the vaulted ceiling could fall on someone, he said.

The construction of the tunnel, which would pass below the water level only 10m beneath the 20,000-tonne cathedral, could cause the ground to shift or compress, destabilizing the building, he added. "The whole thing could crack and it would start to crumble," he said.

campaign

The Spanish branch of the International Council on Monuments and Sites (Icomos), which advises UNESCO, has launched a campaign to block the plan. It has sent letters and reports to local and national authorities, said the Icomos spokeswoman in Spain, Maria Rosa Suarez-Inclan.

"They are just laughing in the face of international conventions on world heritage," she said.

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