Theater of Discomfort | Option Studio

Option Studio: EPIC ARCHITECTURE - Barcelona and the Theatre of Estrangement
Cristina Goberna Pesudo
Spring 2018

The Planet as a Festival / The City as a Playground / The Theater as a Club

A projection screen. The audience is seated in rows in front of the screen. A secondary screen stands perpendicular to the first on the left-hand side of the audience. A table sits in front of the secondary screen. A secondary audience to be filled with covert actors flanks the primary audience. 

Announcer 1 [prerecorded]
Announcer 2 [prerecorded]
City Official [Sottsass]
Technical Expert
Vloggers 1-10 [prerecorded]

Projection of a red velvet curtain. Announcers’ voices come through the sound system. Actors trickle in to fill the secondary rows of seating. 

ANNOUNCER 1: Are you tired of the same club experience, the long lines, the messy crowds, the bland music? Are you sick of weekend getaways to party in foreign cities that all blur together in your mind? Are you looking to get fucked up, to leave your first world problems behind? Do you want to feel yourself again, to wake yourself up from the numbness of your generic, ultra basic life?

ANNOUNCER 2: Are you searching for an experience that will transport you outside of your boring day-to-day reality, beyond the world you know? Are you seeking the true Barcelona, for the hidden Barcelona only locals know? Do you want to enter a new world, one that is authentic and exotic, to connect with the enduring heritage of this unique city?

ANNOUNCER 1: If so, then book your (Ryanair) plane ticket now! The Barcelona Chamber of Commerce, in partnership with Ryanair, would like to introduce you to Super-Club, Barcelona’s hottest new party venue. Open 24 hours, 7 days a week, and located directly on the city’s busiest tourist mega-artery, La Rambla, in the center of its party hub, Super-Club has it ALL! Equipped to meet all the needs, desires, and urges of the typical party tourist.

ANNOUNCER 2: The Barcelona Heritage Foundation, with support from the Barcelona City Council, invite you to Super-Theater, Barcelona’s foremost venue for the consumption of authentic cultural productions. Located in the city’s preserved medieval-era core, on the border between El Raval and the Gothic Quarter, Super-Theater transports you to a world of preserved artistic integrity.


Open to closed-door meeting with Ettore Sottsass, dressed as an official from the City Council. Light is dimmed with a spotlight on the official seated at a table. The official proceeds to tell the audience in hushed voice the hidden agenda of the play. The projection screen displays a secret presentation approved by the City Council.



Thank you for being with us today. We are facing an urgent tourism crisis and we thank you for your cooperation and support as we develop an adequate response. According to our Office of Tourism, over 30 million tourists visit our city every year. This influx of short-term visitors--supported by budget airline companies like Ryanair--has hollowed out our housing market, turning over apartments to vacation rental companies like Airbnb. This has led to inflated rental prices that displace longtime residents. Moreover, and more insidiously, these practices have commodified our public space, transformed it into a generic playground with services that cater to tourists over residents. Consider, as an example, La Rambla, the city’s second most visited attraction (according to our Tourist Activity Report of 2016). Once a hub of political parties and civic organizing, now La Rambla is the home to only 120 full-time residents, out of the thousands of apartments on this street.


The perception that the city is at the limits of its capacity to accommodate tourists has grown, and stands above 40%. We see an upward trend in the percentage of surveyed Barcelonians who believe that the city was nearing its saturation limit between 2012 and 2015. The most critical opinions were given by residents of neighborhoods with the highest affluence of tourists, particularly Ciutat Vella, home of La Rambla. We have identified two strains of tourism that are particularly disruptive and pervasive. The first strain is party tourism, supported by low-cost air travel (like Ryan Air), that patronizes the city as a space of indulgence unconcerned with the specificity of place. These are mainly European youth who come to party in clubs concentrated along La Rambla and the beach, such as Boulevard and Opium, and events like Nasty Mondays at Sala Apolo. In doing so they produce an urban sameness, a global debased junkspace.


The second strain is authenticity tourism, driven by the search for authentic experiences particular to Barcelona. We find this in the theaters of Barcelona that offer performances of authenticity (whether of Spanish or Catalan identity): opera, flamenco, and cabaret. These include Palau de la Musica Catalana – 1905, Liceu Opera House – 1847, Tablao Flamenco Cordobes Barcelona – 1970, El Molino – 1986. These modes of performance, while extensions of tradition, are also thoroughly branded and marketed to a visiting, foreign audience. This highbrow consumption transforms historical spaces into often expensive, less accessible attractions.


Superinstrument models are brought out on stage and unveiled. The city official gets up to deliver an impassioned address not from the script.



We have recently acquired a trio of super-instruments to accelerate these entrenched urban dynamics, to bring about a wave of internal discomfort among these populations of tourists and in doing so temporarily repel them from our city. These are experimental tools that have not yet been tested but we are hopeful they may spark some change in the trajectory of our city. As such, they will be used in a series of short-term installments to create irresistible tourist attractions, namely a super-club and a super-theater, that in turn set up moments of clash between the two venues and produce experiences of unbearable discomfort. In this way, the superinstruments will breed rumors and mistrust that temporarily reduce the number of tourists visiting Barcelona.


We have installed these instruments in the traditional buffer space of our city’s most prominent theater, the Gran Teatre del Liceu. Hooking them up to the existing utility and tech systems, including the lighting, sound, and climate systems. Historically Liceu has served as the premier theater of the city since its original opening in 1847, an actor throughout the city’s history. It is thus a prime site for the first phase of our master plan for the future of Barcelona’s tourism. We have taken over the underused, or in some cases unused, liminal spaces that enwrap the audience seating volumes of the theater, including storage spaces, overgrown utility plenum and ductwork passages.


Recuperating the tradition of Barcelona’s theaters playing host to varied civic programs, we populate the poche of Liceu with offerings that cater to party tourists—a dayclub, a pub crawl, and a nightclub—in order to set the stage for contestations between the Super-Club and the Super-Theater, all mediated by our superinstruments.


I will now hand over this meeting to the director of technical operations.


TECHNICAL EXPERT: Each instrument has the capacity to create the ideal atmospheres for theater and club, with the latent power to ruin both. These are each calibrated according to respective standard parameters of comfort for party spaces and theater spaces. The Blinder Gun gathers and disperses light effects of the club and theater, alternately blinding theatergoers and flooding the club with light calibrated through hue and intensity to kill the party. Embedded reflection orbs gather light from wide angled distribution of the club, focusing and directing it into an interior catchment chamber. The light is reflected and supplemented through an internal array of LED nodes. 

The chamber is angled to focus the light into the central shaft with filter discs that change the hue and volume of light emitted. As it travels through the shaft, it is angled into an ultra concentrated beam that may then be directed through rotational lenses to blind audience members one by one. Additional splitting lenses may be added to multiply the blinding effect. 

The Ear Pump funnels the din of the club into the theater as varying pitches of white noise and sound effects, while the theater seating activates acoustical panels in the club, thereby insulating or amplifying the sound of the club to exploit the vulnerability to hearing loss that comes from rapid changes in volume. As the theatergoers take their seats, the live load activates acoustical panels below, suddenly dampening volume levels in the club directly below the theater.

The Stink Hydrant regulates and disturbs the balance of humidity and liquid between the two venues. It collects the body heat and odor of the bar drinkers through ultra-fine sweat netting, releasing rank drops onto the theatergoers. In the reverse direction, it circulates the beer through the theater seating, using passive temperature exchange to cool the theater and to warm the beer. 

The Superinstruments are turned on. Sounds of partying and theater play through the speakers. The city official continues this impassioned address, with even more feeling, raising his voice over the din of the party and opera. 

CITY OFFICIAL [SOTTSASS]: With our project we imagined that something has been changed in character of our city in the age of globalism. and that it is thought that tourists can come to feel, by means of their bodies, their psyche and their sex, that they carry in themselves the discomfort, the annoyances, the economic struggles, of tourism. The meeting is interrupted by a transmission from the future. The opposing screen turns back on displaying a party tourist vlogger talking to the camera. The light on the city official dims, but the screen remains on, displaying a drawing of the city (La Rambla) with a year marker.


The main projection continues displaying video footage of vloggers narrating and filming their experiences in Barcelona, as we begin moving into the future. Subtitles wax philosophical about the future implications of the superinstruments. The second projection screen displays axon projections of the area around La Rambla, showing its development into the near future.


Club Vlogger 1
Hey to all my followers, I just got back from Barcelona and it was so weird, like I don’t know quite how to describe it. I tried to go out a few times to different clubs—one in particular, Super Club. Some guy we met the night before wouldn’t stop talking about it. I think he was a promoter. We were having a great time and the next thing I knew the lights were blinding and people starting spitting out their beer all over the place, complaining that it was hot. It was a fucking mess! Not sure what’s going on with the nightlife there. Remember to subscribe below. 


Theater Reviewer 1
Good day! Welcome back to the latest edition of International Theater Reviews. We have quite a story for you today about our most recent outing to the grand re-opening of Barcelona’s prestigious Super Theater. We were excited to visit this exquisite historic opera house with gilded interiors, sculpted balcony seating gathered around an impressive proscenium. The night of our show, we arrived early, eager to take our seats in the plush interior. Immediately we noticed something not quite right, our seats were cold, so we tried warming them up. During the show we heard a few people in the audience exclaim “gross” or something like this—more and more over the course of the show.



Year 2019: The Superinstruments at first repel a few tourists, broadcasting complaints of the bad party times and terrible theater experiences. Through minor yet potent on-the-ground effect, the superinstruments supply anecdotes for an audience that feeds on them. These tidbits swirl through the travel blogosphere, the social-postindustrial complex. People chatter, posts are shared, travel plans adjusted.


Vlogger 2

Hi fans, I just heard from my vlog friend about this club in Barcelona. It was like the best time of her life until she realized she couldn’t hear the music anymore and thought her eardrums had burst. She stayed in this place for 2 days straight. I don’t know if it sounds terrible or fucking rad. I might have to put Ibiza on hold this year and go check it out.



Year 2021: Word spreads of these bad times, opening a destructive-creative spiral of intrigue, as some pass on Barcelona to party it up in Amsterdam or visit the Vienna State Opera. Others venture to experience this novelty themselves. As the city continues to swell with tourists, more superinstruments are installed in cultural spots like the main flamenco venue on La Rambla or the notorious cabaret, El Molino. In their growing over-use, the Superinstruments breed new attractions and risk domesticating their own power, ever on the verge of absorption into the industry they are designed to resist.


Vlogger 3

Sup cyber-fam, I’m making plans to head to Barcelona in a few weeks to hit up this new club that opened recently. All my internet friends have been hyping it, sounds like a destination I can’t miss out on. 



Year 2028: In this faltering position, the Superinstruments have produced an urban dialectic in the development of tourism—and the experience of globalized mobility—staging attack and counterattack in an ongoing, unresolved exchange between difference and sameness, upsetting and then resettling the generic city.


Vlogger 4-10 [saying variations of this]

Can’t wait to see what this is all about. / About to be either seriously let down or awesomely fucked up. / Here we go. / Off to Barcelona. Chorus of vlogger voices plays over the speakers, all making plans to go see what’s going on in Barcelona. They eventually drown each other out and the audio and video cut out.