Month: May 2012

Proyecto Madrid Centro awarded at VIII BIAU

The Proyecto Madrid Centro (Strategic Project for the Urban Core of Madrid) has been awarded at the eight Ibero-american Architecture and Urbanism Biennale (VIII BIAU) in the category for applied research.

The BIAU is led by the Infrastructure and Urban Development Ministry of the Spanish Government through its General Direction for Architecture, Housing and Land, awarding every two years innovative projects in the 22 countries composing the Ibero-american space, including Spanish and Portuguese speaking Americas and Spain and Portugal.

The proposal establishes a detailed diagnosis of the present condition of the urban core of Madrid to define a strategic vision aimed to guide its evolution towards a more sustainable urban development model. Substituting an expansive growth model with one set to recycle existing urban tissues, taking into account the complexity and potential of the existing city, is the declared goal. In an urban space of 50 sq km with a population of 1,07 million, included into the M30 orbital freeway, that in 2008 has about the same population as in 1940, the central issue is the meaning of urban centrality.

The consultant team has been directed by José María Ezquiaga, Juan Herreros and Salvador Pérez Arroyo, with a highly qualified group of specialists addressing different issues. I have been honored to work in the team coordination and defining proposals.

Link to the project in the municipal site of Madrid

Additional details about the project in next posts.

Urban freeways (2)

Mumbai (the city formerly named Bombay) is presented as the economic capital of India, with a metropolitan population over 19 millions. It is a city I don’t know in person, so these notes are based on secondary sources.

Historic Mumbai results from the union of several islands, creating a complex seashore. After a northward growth for the previous century the state of Maharastra begins the development of Navi Mumbai. A new town is so configured on 344 sq km on the continent, east of Thane Creek, as a part of an eastward movement reinforced by the opening of Vashi bridge and the new Jawaharlal Nerhu Port Trust. The aims of these projects are to absorb rural immigration that otherwise would congest insular Mumbai, to control growth and to balance business locations in a context of improved quality of live.

Growth previsions for Navi Mumbai have not been met, partly for a reason often critized in India: the shortcomings sincronizing urban growth with capital investment in infrastructure, as well for basic networks (water, sewage and sanitation, waste processing, energy) as for transportation. Maharastra State has a current investment program set to develop a transportation scheme including freeways, subways and monorail.

In this context Mumbai has plans, dating from the 1960s, to create a freeways network including a new 22 km bridge linking central Mumbai to Navi Mumbai and the port, as well as a coastal beltway on the western shore. This beltway is defined as a set of bridges aligned in parallel to the coastline, whose exit ramps are linked in perpendicular to the existing shore road.

The Bandra- Worli Sea Link (also known as Rajiv Gandhi Sea Link) is the first element in this western freeway. Composed of two parallel roads adding up eight traffic lanes, over a structure with concrete viaducts with a part cable stayed over Mahim bay, it configures a toll section of 5,6 km. It is today the southern extreme of the Western Express Highway, connecting Chhatrapati Shivaji airport to Worli, one of the main business districts in Mumbai.

The Indian web scene concerning the project shows an intense debate on the issues raised by the Bandra- Worli project, as well as on the whole sea link freeways project. On one side some inscribe the project on an economic development vision and as a solution to the urban car congestion. On the other side critics address the environmental impact, the radical change in the landscape implied by a permanent structure on the skyline, and the high construction costs. Some voices propose an alternative for shouthbound parts of the project, defining an configuration as a freeway on the shore, with a much reduced cost, without a definitive solution on sight.

The Bandra- Worli link was open to the public on june 30, 2009, presented a reduction in travel time between the two access points from close to 60 minutes in peak hours to 6 minutes. The configuration of the southern exist seems especially prone to congestion.

The freeway network project includes linking the Worli exit to the Navi Mumbai bridge through a future elevated freeway to Sewri, a 4 km section over one of the busiest parts of Mumbai.

Some references:

  1. Conference Urban Age Mumbai 2007
  2. An article on city infrastructure on the Business Line section of The Hindu newspaper
  3. Vedula, Aparna, “Blueprint and reality: Navi Mumbai, the city of the 21st century”
  4.  Pradhan, Bawesh, et alt, “Evolution of Navi Mumbai”
  5.  A presentation criticizing the environmental management of the Rajiv Gandhi Sea Link project

Urban freeways (1)

This post begins a series on urban freeways. The first case is that of Madrid Rio, the urban integration project of the M30 beltway  in Madrid. I live in Madrid and I have followed the works as citizen. Ezquiaga Arquitectura, Sociedad y Territorio, the practice to which I am associated, formulated a proposal selected for the second stage of the competition regarding the fluvial park (independent and later than the tunnels project), a competition finally won by Ginés Garrido/ West8.

Madrid was not founded on the banks of a large river, but on a minor Tagus tributary. The Manzanares has its source in the Sierra de Guadarrama, less than 50 km to the north, and it empties into the Jarama river south of the city. Upstream from Madrid the El Pardo Reservoir  allows for a complete regulation of the river flow, so the water level can ostensibly change between two visits, or even between two areas separated by locks. The transverse section shows an embankment of concrete walls along the M30.

Up to the strong urban growth in the civil war aftermath the Manzanres was a limit separating the city (which not always colonized its banks) and the open fields. Growth from that moment on the right bank has not prevented that limit condition to subsist, albeit in social terms, between the central city and the areas that were settled by rural populations with lesser resources (Carabanchel, Orcasitas, Aluche…). These territories were annexed to the Madrid Municipality soon. But for a small part in the north in which the Royal Palace plateau can be seen, and some areas in which the transformation of the old rail corridors started during the 1980s has been successful, most of the buildings around this itinerary show an unremarkable architecture.

The M30 beltway began its construction works in 1970, having been preceded by similar projects since the 1930s. Works ended in 1974, with protests by neighbors due to the reduced distance to their dwellings.

The nearly five kilometers (some three miles) separating subway station Legazpi (3) from station Principe Pío (21) can be walked in slightly more than 90 minutes (provided you are not in the hot summer season) through the Manzanares linear park. This park has been built after the burial of the M30 beltway in this area.

The project has kept the five ramp systems to the roads previously connected to the beltway, two of which are national trunk freeways. The burial of the freeway as an integration tool was applied also to the first part of the A5 expressway (Madrid- Lisbon) (22), so as to improve the pedestrian link between the public transportation hub of Principe Pio and the Casa de Campo (the large Madrid Park to the west).

The urban debate on the project was centered on the high cost of the buried solution, that will be in the municipal debt for years, the reduced public participation and the lack of environmental appraisal under the pretext of an urban condition of the freeway after its cession to the city. Burial works were planned and executed in 2003-2007, and the public spaces over the tunnels were executed in  2007-2011. The linear park has become an uncontestable success, to the point of sometimes having small conflicts of use between bikes and pedestrians.


The urban promenade begins in the south at Plaza de Legazpi (3), on the left bank, long time the bus hub for links between downtown and the right bank. At that point the park resulting from the burial is also connected to the one to the south previously designed by Ricardo Bofill. The surroundings of Plaza de Legazpi still keep some testimonies of its past industrial strength, including the old slaughterhouse  (Matadero in Spanish) (2), today turned in an art and culture hub oriented towards contemporary and alternative scenes.

To the North, the Praga bridge (5) has maintained the A42 Toledo freeway on its former elevation level, with adjustments on the connection ramps, whose length and slope has increased due to the burial of the beltway.

To the North, the Toledo bridge (11), a masterpiece of baroque engineering, which before the burial was a pedrestrian structure, keeps that condition and is liberated from most of the additional bridges of the ramps connecting to the beltway, whose design has changed.



The next stage is the Santiago Calderón soccer stadium (14), whose columns reach the Manzanares embankment. By lack of an agreement between the city and the owners to transfer the stadium to a different site, the stadium stays in its original configuration and is the only place in which the cars go back to the surface (only on the left bank) to go down again in the northbound itinerary. The complete burial should be executed, but has no timetable.


To the north, by the Segovia bridge (another relevant historic bridge)(19), a part of the previous freeway bridges is integrated in pedestrian areas. This marks the entry on the monumental part, where the park faces the Royal Palace and the Campo del Moro, its gardens. The burial has allowed for a substantial improvement of this urban space and its perception.







Inner suburbs

Municipalities adjoining middle size cities are subject to peculiar dynamics: competition on a real estate price basis, and sometime on grounds of less strict codes than the central city are a constant, but in these municipalities position values are higher due to the highway infrastructure improvements related to central city accesses. Furthermore, the existence of virgin land that can channeled to proposals more adapted to market demand with comparatively lower management costs than in central cities is also a factor.

The following four municipalities (two in Spain, one in France and one in the United States) share that condition, being adjacent to central cities of midsize urban areas (each in its country) in different geographical contexts.

I know Oleiros as I have lived in La Coruña for 30 years; I have worked for ten years coordinating the team for the Santa Marta’s Plan General; and I know St Herblain from visits to Nantes, an interesting city. I have never been to Oregon, but Milwaukie seemed a good case in the American context.

Santa Marta de Tormes (population nearly 15.000) shares municipal boundaries with the capital of the province of Salamanca (metropolitan population near 190.000). Urban development during the XXth century has been linked to N-501 road to Madrid, on which is located the original settlement. Growth gained momentum during the 1970’s with large scale developments of detached housing south of the bypass expressway, in fact starting the development of peripheral municipalities. Growth has been fast, with a large share of detached housing surrounding a dense original core which shares most of the drawbacks of 1960-1980 Spanish urban areas: a dismal urban space (recently subject to requalification operations), scarce parks and public facilities, and a housing stock of lesser quality.

Santa Marta’s 2012 General Plan, defined by the Municipal Council, without a reference metropolitan planning framework, is articulated around the following guidelines:

–          Prevention of urban development in the environmentally significant areas (fluvial plains to the north, southern areas)

–          Concentration of residential growth in the central area of the municipality, north of the expressway, filling a present patchwork of disparate elements and giving coherence to future tissue. The proposed density is on average 35 housing units by hectare, combining individual and multifamily housing. It is difficult to predict a time for this development taking into account the present crisis context, but the priority is put on the future urban structure.

–          Provision of a set of boulevards irrigating the new residential areas, including a priority for walking an cycling, and a possible development as public transit corridors. The plan provides a system of large public facilities and parks in the growth areas. Peripheral bypass local roads are aimed at reducing car traffic in new residential areas.

–          New industrial and business areas south of the expressway.

–          Urban infill operations, mainly on industrial estates in central areas

Improvement in the road connections to central Salamanca through a new bridge over the river Tormes.

Urban core of Santa Marta de Tormes and improvements in the relation with the river Tormes : A) project for a new park related to the river, B) opening of visual connexion between Plaza Mayor and the embankment, C) integration of the new City Hall with the river and the island of El Soto.

Growth areas in Santa Marta de Tormes, integrating previously occupied tissues in the grid defined by the N-501 and the new boulevards (B1, B2).

Oleiros (population slightly over 34.000) is separated from the provintial capital of Coruña (metropolitan population 410.000) by the El Burgo estuary. As often in Galicia, there is no single main settlement, but an array of small ones distributed over the municipality. Urban growth during the XXth century was conditioned by improvements in N-VI road to Madrid, and even more by the AC173 road linking the city to the less exposed eastern beaches. An initial surge in holiday housing around beaches developed on a tradition of low density rural sprawl and a network of small paths and hamlets. Over time, these holiday houses became main permanent residences.

The 2009 Oleiros Plan Xeral, a municipal project without a metropolitan planning reference, protects from development the northern coastal strip and some ecologically significant internal spaces. The Plan aims to grow in continuity with the many areas already urbanized, often with a rural origin, and to improve a public facilities system that is already good from a regional perspective. There is also a will to integrate a coastal landscape quality element in the growth strategy; the recent approval of the Galician Coastal Plan, including Oleiros, helps in that sense and gives coherence to works on coastal areas on a metropolitan scale.

Central area of the Oleiros municipality. The City hall is on the right part of the image.

Oleiros, Santa Cristina beach.

St Herblain (population 44.000) shares municipal borders to the east with Nantes (population 590.000 for the whole metropolitan area), the old capital of the Britanny Dukes. In a context in which there was traditionally some settlement dispersion, the urban growth during the XXth century has been linked to the improvements of roads D965 (Nantes- Vannes) and D-17 (more local path on which sits the municipality main settlement). The municipality is also crossed by the Nantes Beltway (peripherique) and the Saint Nazaire Expressway (RD 201).

Today the RD 201 is occupied by business areas, configuring a territorial system in which three residential areas (Centre Bourg, Est and Nord) surround a central industrial and big box retail area. The housing stock shows a large proportion of single family units and some large multifamily social housing developments from the sixties, subject to improvement projects agreed upon by the municipality and the National Urban Renovation Agency.

St Herblain’s Plan Local d’Urbanisme, enacted in 2007, was developed by Nantes Metropole, the metropolitan governance structure, setting coherence with neighboring municipalities as a goal. The proposal follows four essential guidelines:

–          A diversified city: living in the city and in your neighborhood.

–          A moving city: developing and sharing the city

–          City and nature: preserving and improving the living space

–          An attractive city: participating in the metropolitan dynamics

–          The Plan defines a system of green corridors to ensure a continuite from the Chezine valley in the north to the Loire in the south, a requalification for the structural routes between the historical core and the north, specific measures in the south to tackle industrial risks and to promote renewable generation in the area (wind farms, high efficiency heath networks), and growth areas on the fringes of the current tissues as well as in a new northwest neighborhood.

Historical core of St Herblain. The historical layout can be recognized, with clear alterations in the void- built pattern due to the parking lots.

Recent residential tissue in northern St Herblain, with a majority of single family housing units and presence of multifamily units to the south.

Milwaukie (population 20.300) is a city in the Portland, Oregon, metropolitan area (population 1.556.000), established in 1847 on the Willamette river. The river was the main way to the city until the beginning of the XXth century. The opening of  McLoughlin Bvd in 1932 as the main thoroughfare connecting Portland and the upper Willamette valley, the main agricultural area of the state, and the railroad, allowed an effective integration into the metropolitan area.

Milwaukie is part of METRO, the metropolitan governance system of Portland, and also of its planning system, based on the Oregon land law, one of the closest in concept to the Spanish law in terms of growth control despite important differences.

The city center has a density that would be defines as reduced nearly anywhere in Europe, with little multifamily housing (of recent construction). Centrality depends on businesses, City Hall dependencies and a retail strip based on the automobile. The rest of the municipality can be describe as a vast array of single family housing with a reduced density from an European perspective (about 10 houses per hectare, which is about four per acre, in the densest areas).

The Metro 2040 Growth Concept is the Plan for metropolitan Portland, defining the guidelines for growth control. The Plan separates urban from urban growth land, and by exclusion there is also an implicit definition of the land not to be urbanized. The effective status of the land in terms of roads and infrastructures has led to Milwaukie being considered entirely urban. The central core is considered a Town Center (third scale centrality), integrating an existing high capacity transit line (rail) and a prevision for future transportation corridors. The Plan also defines two streets as Main Streets (retail concentration areas), and integrates the plans to convert the current rail line to southern Oregon in a high speed line.

The Town Center, as well as the Main Streets, are still projects. The designated  Main Streets are today low density roads in which the transformation has still to be started, with workshops currently being held as a public participation tool.

The historical core of Milwaukie ; on the left the Willamette river. On the image center is the City Hall, and along McLaughlin Bvd (the large street by the shore) the parking lots serving stores and offices are visible. Recent multifamily apartment buildings can be seen on the upper part of the image.

SE 32 Avenue in Milwaukie, one of the main streets proposed by the 2040 Strategy

Cities that share limits with central metropolitan cores show similarities :

–          A strong link with the social and economic dynamics of the whole metropolitan area. The competition with the center and the rest of the cities is played according to the position in the matrix defined by access, price and real qualities the city can offer.

–          The firs growth surges come usually while the city has not developed administrative control or structural planning visions, and this makes indiscriminate sprawl more likely. The Plan becomes a remediation instrument.

–           When cities consolidate their position in the metropolitan area, the Plan plays a more complex role, integrating the sustainable development issues not previously considered. It is not just social or environmental issues that have to be addressed, but also economic ones. The cost of maintaining in good state of repair roads and infrastructures is reduced during boom periods in which there are high fiscal revenues from permits; but they grow with time and often there is no sound and balance economic scheme to cope with that issue. Low density urban tissues can be especially onerous.