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.







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