Casa Batlló’s heritage engagement in times of Covid-19.

The Covid 19 pandemic dramatically changed the world, including museums and heritage sites. The declaration of the State of Alarm in Spain supposed the closure of all the museums and heritage properties on March 13th and the beginning of the quarantine. This has been the biggest challenge ever lived in Casa Batlló since it was opened to the public in 2002 as cultural property and after 18 years of achievements in the heritage field, as the Europa Nostra Award in 2004 and the inscription in the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2005 within the Works of Antoni Gaudí. Casa Batlló was the former residence of the Batlló Family built by Gaudí between 1904 and 1906 following the Catalan Modernist Style. Inspired by nature, the architect put in Casa Batlló innovation and tradition in a singular and unique composition that, until 2019, surprised over one million visitors per year.

To tackle the drastic closure and the uncertain duration of the lockdown, the management team created several specific teams to deal with several issues and a special team was created to foster the online materials with the content of our cultural experience. This creative team, working remotely, developed a strategy in record time, starting with a benchmarking process and a brainstorming session to organize the proposals and put them in a tentative calendar. The aim was to continue our mission: to inspire people with the beauty of nature present in Casa Batlló.

Among the online materials, three videos were outstanding and totally related to three milestones lived during the three-month lockdown: First, the Saint George Day, day of Catalonia; second, the release of the unique 360 degrees video tour of Casa Batlló and, third, the very expected reopening with the adaptations to the new normal. 

On April 23rd is Saint George Day, the day of Catalonia, the most important celebration for Catalan people, an intangible heritage tradition that Casa Batlló celebrated since 2016 with a special decoration of its balconies with roses. This decoration became a reference in the city of Barcelona and used to be expected for thousands of people who used to gather in the façade to witness this beautiful spectacle that combines architecture and regional traditions in a creative and innovative way. Due to lockdown, this year it was impossible to decorate Casa Batlló’s balconies, but instead, we developed a call to action to encourage Catalan people to celebrate Saint George decorating their own balconies with roses. “Sant Jordi-More love than ever” was the name of the video and the communication campaign which rapidly became viral since we released versions in Catalan, Spanish and English. We knew that having natural roses was very complicated, the strategy included the edition of secondary videos to show different creative ways to make up roses with home resources, several of them recycled materials. The reply from the people was outstanding and thousands of families shared their decorated balconies in social media using the hashtag #TotsFemSantJordi (We all do Saint George). After the overwhelming reception, we edited a thank you video named "Sant Jordi 2020-Thank you" and added hundreds of images and short videos created by the participants. This action, in addition to adapt an intangible heritage to Covid times, was an opportunity to engage with local people in difficult times and contributed to alleviate the effects of the lockdown.

The second video was named “Casa Batlló 360 Experience” and is more than a guided tour of this marine-nature inspired house, it is an immersive experience available in four languages: Catalan, Spanish, English and Chinese. This last one version was shared in Casa Batlló’s social media in China and was the most international of all of the materials released during the lockdown. The immersive technology allowed people to explore the interior of Casa Batlló at their own pace and putting attention in the details they wanted to. This video became very popular with children and youth due to the imaginative and evocative narrative put in the storytelling. This material was an excellent complement of the Standard Virtual Tour that was available in our web since 2016. The tour also helped people to contextualize the Mediterranean location and the urban/natural environment of Casa Batlló, part of the inspiration that Antoni Gaudí had more than a hundred years ago. 

The third and last video, “We are back” was released a few weeks before the end of the lockdown and its planning started when the Spanish government announced the de-confinement plan. Our reopening, scheduled for July 1st was the most expected milestone during this hard process and we wanted to share it with a video that had to be rigorous and clear about the hygienic and protection measures but, at the same time, to transmit confidence and willingness to come to visit this World Heritage site. With that in mind, we gathered updated information for the reopening measures from UNESCO its advisory bodies and related institutions as ICOM, ICCROM and ICOMOS, from the World Health Organisation and from the National and Regional Health and Heritage-related institutions. As a result, we created a storytelling that presented the Covid 19 as a challenge for all the team of Casa Batlló. The video and all communication materials, including signage, logos, mask design and safety elements, were inspired by the shapes and colours of Casa Batlló to create that inspirational and aesthetically outstanding environment that the house has.

The mandatory measures were to maintain social distance, use of facemask and disinfectant gel, but Casa Batlló went further and incorporated other state-of-the-art devices. These innovations included temperature control for visitors, the installation of a real-time information panel at the entrance, a disinfectant mat at the museum entrance, disinfection of the video guide and headphones using ultraviolet light. In addition, in the interior we included the cleaning of the air with the bipolar cold plasma ionization system, HEPA filters and the increase in the cleaning of all surfaces in contact with the visitor. These actions were also implemented to protect the Casa Batlló staff who have daily contact with our visitors. The global importance of the site made it necessary to take into account the heritage value of Casa Batlló and therefore great care was taken in the implementation of these measures. As part of the reopening, we offered 40.000 free entrances for local people and free entrance for local health workers. Since July 1st, Casa Batlló reopened with only 30% of its capacity and the local people are having a unique opportunity to visit, engage and enjoy this outstanding World Heritage site physically with total confidence and improving constantly what we already have done.

Overall, the challenge of adapting the visit to the online platforms and the physical visit to the new normal has been a change of paradigm and an opportunity to improve our services, the satisfaction of the physic and virtual visitors and above all to strengthen the safeguard of the Outstanding Universal Value of this Work of Antoni Gaudí.