Door still open to Hermitage Barcelona after city council calls for revised project

Ongoing negotiations for a new satellite of the Russian museum will focus on a collaboration with the Barcelona opera house

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A rendering of the proposed Hermitage Barcelona, designed by the architect Toyo Ito © Toyo Ito & Associates, Architects

A rendering of the proposed Hermitage Barcelona, designed by the architect Toyo Ito © Toyo Ito & Associates, Architects

The private backers of a new Barcelona branch of Russia’s State Hermitage Museum say they will push ahead with the €50m project despite renewed opposition from the city council last week.

On 26 May, the Hermitage Barcelona passed one hurdle as the board of the Port of Barcelona approved a concession for an undulating 13,000 sq. m Toyo Ito-designed museum to be built in the Nova Bocana area, conditional on the city’s agreement. Mikhail Piotrovksy, the director of the Hermitage in St Petersburg, hailed the “very good news” for the development of a “wonderful new building that will act as a bridge for cultural exchange between St Petersburg and Barcelona”.

However, having requested additional time to consider the plans, the local government of left-wing mayor Ada Colau rejected the scheme on 28 May. According to La Vanguardia newspaper, deputy mayor Janet Sanz said the original project failed to meet the needs of local residents and should be revised to incorporate other cultural institutions. “We want to continue negotiating with the port, with the [Hermitage Barcelona] promoters and with all the actors involved,” she said. “We are closing an old project to create a new one.”

Colau’s government previously rejected the plans for the port location in January 2020, citing concerns over public access as well as the museum’s cultural offering and economic viability.

In a statement after the latest setback, the Hermitage Barcelona promoters say they will continue working on a proposal to the city council and “[have] the will to generate the maximum possible consensus and continue to comply with the requirements of the administrative process”. They also pointed to the support of “part of the municipal government team” and “civil society”. A coalition of 85 local businesses and groups have signed a manifesto describing the Hermitage outpost as an “opportunity for Barcelona”.

Museum organisers and the port authority have reaffirmed a new collaboration with Barcelona’s Gran Teatre del Liceu opera house on La Rambla, which aims to develop a shared multidisciplinary cultural hub at the Nova Bocana site. According to the port, the Hermitage-Liceu collaboration responds to the council’s own wishes for a more locally oriented museum project, and could lead to other public and private entities joining the hub in the future.

Plans for a franchise of the Hermitage in Barcelona—similar to its independently run exhibition centres in Amsterdam and Kazan, Russia—date back to late 2012, when the St Petersburg museum signed an initial letter of intent with the Catalan government. In 2018, it signed a supplementary agreement with the Spanish firm Cultural Development Barcelona SL, owned by the architect Ujo Pallarès.

The project, led by the Hermitage Barcelona Foundation, is co-sponsored by Cultural Development Barcelona and the Swiss-Luxembourg real estate investment fund Varia, headed by Jaume Sabater, which holds an 80% stake. Guy Vesey, the former managing director of Christie’s in Russia and the executive director of the Hermitage Foundation UK, continues to serve as a consultant.

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