By Spanish Property Insight
Jun. 27, 2024

Diagonal Mar’s role in Barcelona’s transformation

Diagonal Mar’s role in Barcelona’s transformation

Barcelona’s former industrial zone has been revitalised into a prime example of sustainable, contemporary living whilst at the same time helping to transform the city’s reputation.

Stroll, swim or stop for a drink on the waterfront of Barcelona’s Diagonal Mar neighbourhood and you’d never think it used to be the city’s most industrialised area. The district that once played ugly duckling to the city’s elegant and wealthy centre has become a vibrant, modern neighbourhood with a character of its own.

Diagonal Mar sits between Avenida Diagonal, the longest street in the city, and the Mediterranean. The name, Diagonal Mar, was created in the late 1990s at the same time as the plan for the area’s regeneration, which is often considered one of the most ambitious of Catalonia’s urban projects.

Part of the widely regenerated el Front Maritim del Poblenou district of northeast Barcelona, Diagonal Mar is now living a second life as a hub for business, high-end residential development and a wide range of leisure and lifestyle amenities that you would hope to see in a beachfront city district.

Industrial past

In the 19th century, what had been a marshy agricultural area was repurposed into one of Spain’s most important industrial zones. Available land, and the proximity of Barcelona’s port, made it an ideal location for the many factories, workshops and warehouses the industrial age needed. The boom lasted for most of the century.

The good times came to an end in the first half of the 20th-century, when a series of setbacks, including the Spanish Civil War and post-war desindustrialisation closed factories and drove workers away. It wasn’t until the 1992 Olympics, after years of neglect, that the hidden potential of the Poblenou was rediscovered, as the games kickstarted the renovation of the entire Barcelona waterfront. Diagonal Mar was at the heart of this redevelopment.

Diagonal Mar’s role in Barcelona’s transformation
PASSEIG DEL TAULAT: Connecting Antares to the Diagonal Mar Centre shopping mall


By 2002 Diagonal Mar Park had been created, now one of the city’s largest public spaces, on the site of a former foundry. In 2004, Diagonal Mar was home to that year’s Cultural Forum, an event that saw the creation of the Parque del Forum and landmark Forum building, now the Museum of Natural Sciences, designed by Herzog & de Meuron, the world-famous architectural firm from Basel, Switzerland, whose other works include the Tate Modern in London, The National Stadium (Bird’s Nest) in Beijing, China, and The Elbphilharmonie concert hall in Hamburg, Germany. The building has since become an iconic landmark in the city, flanked by Barcelona’s conference centre, the Diagonal Mar retail mall, and various top hotel brands that regularly help bring the best of global business and tourism to the Forum area.

Diagonal Mar’s role in Barcelona’s transformation
Antares Barcelona in the heart of Diagonal Mar

Architectural landmarks

Across the road from the Museum stands Antares Barcelona, a stunning residential building designed by French ‘starchitect’ Odile Decq that visually confirms and reinforces the district’s reputation as the most modern part of Barcelona, with arguably the greatest investment potential. This Diagonal Mar cluster of architectural jewels from some of the world’s biggest names is the product of one of Europes’ best examples of urban regeneration, and the process is still going on.

So Diagonal Mar is a showcase for urban regeneration. The factories and tenements of Poblenou have been replaced by new, more sustainable development and green public spaces. The Besos river and wetlands have been cleaned up to provide a haven for birds and other wildlife, with 115 square hectares of natural habitat, and paths for walking and cycling. There are discussions about repurposing the old power station across the river (the Battersea Power Station luxury redevelopment in London could provide a role model), and a new marina is also planned. The five-mile long seafront has been transformed with clean Blue Flag beaches and amenities to offer everything one could want from an urban outdoor lifestyle. The walking and biking paths along the seafront are enjoyed by thousands of the city’s inhabitants every day.

Diagonal Mar’s role in Barcelona’s transformation
DIAGONAL MAR: Aerial view of Antares in Diagonal Mar
Diagonal Mar’s role in Barcelona’s transformation

Last opportunity

In addition to its seafront location and easy access to transport connections, Diagonal Mar’s benefits include being one of Barcelona’s last remaining locations for new development. Away from the constraints of the older city streets, designers and architects have space to innovate. This means you’ll find some of the newest luxury residential offerings in the city. Among them, Antares stands proud, not just as the tallest but the last building of its kind to get planning permission. The height and location mean views to the city, mountains and Med are unparalleled in Barcelona.

Diagonal Mar has helped turn around Barcelona’s image since the Olympics, as it evolved from a former industrial zone into a modern mixed-use neighbourhood providing residents with room to live, breathe and grow. And the transformation is only picking up steam.

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