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arcelona's Plaça Glories is anything but glorious. The subway exits to a beat-up sunken alley. Reaching the street, the visitor faces a throng of vehicles headed up a massive elevated roundabout that flings them onto the intercity highway network. Rising improbably out of the blocks of crumbling and boarded-up warehouses and factories is what Jean Nouvel calls his "ambassador," the bullet-shaped, 31-story "symbol of the international metropolis," the Agbar Tower.

It's hard to miss Nouvel's tower on the city's skyline, once dominated only by Gaudi's Sagrada Familia Cathedral. That's because Agbar is a 466-foot-high advertisement for the city's desire to remake the Plaça into a new commercial center in a section of the city located apart from established centers of commerce. By creating a newly well-connected, 40-acre, high-density development, Barcelona planners hope to spur growth without sacrificing the historic core.

Under a vast new green square, the city will bury the roundabout, creating a transportation nexus comprising an added subway line, a regional-rail station, and a high-speed intercity rail line. Agbar and a recently built hotel will be joined by other commercial development around the green. Confronted with today's scruffy surroundings, all this may seem unlikely, but consider that the city has already extended its famous Diagonal boulevard essentially from Agbar's door through the adjacent Poblenou neighborhood to the ocean-front Barcelona Forum, where new parks, marinas, commercial and residential development, and a convention center have all been willed into being by officials in a few short years [record, June 2004, page 109].

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