Parc de la Ciutadella, Barcelona
l’Ajuntament de Barcelona
Christian Cirici, Carles Bassó i Pep Bonet
The Café Restaurant was a commission made by Barcelona City Council for the Exposition Universelle of 1888. Unlike the other pavilions in the exposition, which were designed for temporary use, the café-restaurant was supposed to be a permanent structure. The executive committee in charge of the exposition found it attractive, a fine example of modern architecture, as it proposed original constructional solutions and decorative finishes (reinterpreting artistic styles of the Iberian Peninsula). Due to the building’s mediaeval air, it was christened The Castle of the Three Dragons, the name of a well-known comedy written by Serafí Pitarra (Frederic Soler) a few years earlier. The design was completed in a short space of time and the building work began immediately, although as a result of several problems that arose during its construction it remained unfinished, particularly the ornamental touches. Domènech preferred to resign from the project than to hand the work over to the tenant and seeing how he made use of it. Josep Forteza, until then assistant architect, was commissioned to complete the work.
The building is rectangular in shape, detached and flanked by square towers on the corners. Two of the towers evolve into polygonal shape while the keep is crowned by wrought iron and glass. The ground floor is extended by two large lowered arches and a terrace in the upper area. The interior consists of one nave divided up into a ground floor and a first floor. The exterior, with face-brick walls crowned by crenellation, evokes a mediaeval castle, although the ingenious interior structure returns to the Mudejar tradition of double-leaf walls, like the towers in Teruel, combined with Gothic buttresses. The façades are built of thin leaves of brick separated by a passable gap or cavity measuring one metre in width. Numerous ties and metal straps grant stability to the ensemble. The system reduces costs and accelerates the building process, yet this constructional boldness created doubts regarding its solidity within the committee following the progress of the work, which led to requests for calculations to be made to verify the structural soundness of the building. In the interior, the majestic hall on the first floor measuring eighteen metres in height is covered by the diaphragm arches that characterise Catalan Gothic architecture, in this case made of metal trusses and exposed, as recommended by Viollet-le-Duc.
Despite the fact that in the preliminary drawings made by Domènech the building was profusely decorated, only a few stained-glass windows, a ceramic frieze of crests under the cornice and glazed ceramic crenellation in yellow were made. The pictorial decoration of the wall surfaces and ceilings was completed at a later date.
Once the building was abandoned after the Exposition Universelle closed its doors, Barcelona City Council commissioned Domènech its conversion into a history museum. The Museu d’Història de Barcelona officially opened in 1892, although the building would later house the Museu de Catalunya de Ciències Naturals, the Catalan Natural Science Museum. The extensive polychrome decoration of the wall surfaces and metallic elements would subsequently be repainted.
In 1990 the building became the zoo museum, Museu de Zoologia, a function it preserved until 2011.