The new W hotel on the southern end of the Barceloneta beach is a new landmark. Even being quite diferent from the seashore tourist compuounds of the 1960’s, it is also a difficult to explain element in a country in which the limitations imposed to new buildings on the shore have been subject to a bitter debate, despite the growing justification given by the climatic projections regarding coastal risks.
The Barceloneta appears as a neighborhood during the XVIIIth century to relocate the Ribera neighborhood dwellers, displaced by the building of the citadel. It is a planned with a grid layout, with buildings on very small lots. Its sea façade is the mere addition of the side facades of these small five to six stories buildings.
You will be able to find a complete article in english about the Proyecto Madrid Centro in MAS-Context issue 11, which can be downloaded as a pdf from http://mascontext.com/pdf/MAS_Context_Issue11_SPEED.pdf (pages 26 to 37)
Barcelona is the typical case of a city that is said to have « turned its back to the sea ». In fact, as almost always, in the mental map of its inhabitants the sea was a marginal place when related to other more valued spaces.
The old city of Barcelona is constrained by the presence to the South of the Montjuic mountain, whose base is right on the shore; the port operations have historically grown towards that area, and urban extensions would have been unfeasible due to the slopes. On the opposite side, the North coast is quite flat, without noticeable obstacles up to the Besos river.
When Cerdá conceives his ensanche in 1859 on the plains surrounding the old city on the north and west, the northern seashore is integrated. The ensanche takes about a century to cover, but this happens in an unbalanced way; while the trace is quite respected (albeit highly densified) on the area closest to the old city, in the northern areas it is modified and more often industrial than residential. The main lines of the grid can also be seen ther, but the continuity of the pattern is compromised in areas, the plaza de las Glorias does not reach the potential civic center status devised by Cerdá and the beachs are mere marginal areas.
Two events change the situation: the 1992 Olympics deploy in the area the Olympic port and the Olympic village, taking advantage of a previous holistic vision of the city, and the Diagonal finally reaches the seashore by the Besos mouth, dynamised by the forum 2004.
These events allow the creation of a string of beaches with high quality parks on their back; this array of public spaces is separated from a new urban tissue by the ronda litoral, a freeway on a lower level than the streets, with a reasonable pedestrian permeability.
The seashore is quite gentrified in the process.
The inner courtyards that where to define the private spaces of the city blocks have often been occupied by garages or other uses. City Council has implemented a program to transform as much of these spaces as possible into pocket parks open to the public. Here the Laura Albeniz Gardens (Pau Claris and Provença streets)
The Ensanche included the building regulations for the new extension, aimed at maximizing sun access (having always in memory the narrow and congested streets in the old city), with a proposal to locate buildings only on two faces of the city blocks. Eventual variances to these regulations led to the current, much denser ensanche.
Cadastral map of the old city of Barcelona in 2012 and lot area in sq m. Despite the 150 years pased since Cerda’s plan enactment and many transformation operations, there is still a large proportion of small lots and the old middle ages urban fabric is still visible, marked by some street openings planned by Cerdá, as the Via Laietana.
The Spanish modern urban planning system is still, after more than a century, clearly influenced by the historical conditions of its beginnings. It is generally acknowledged that the zoning experiences in Modesto, California, where the beginning of planning in the USA to protect housing values against nuisances; In the UK social reform movements related to the housing problems of a new urban industrial workers class with meager revenues and the menace of poverty led first to housing innovation and subsequently to garden cities. In France, the complex XIXth century in Paris, with the central role played by Haussman, finds no strong theoretical continuation until the later hygienist movement. The German urban planning develops many technical and theoretical tools in the context of a newly unified country at the end of thr XIXth century. All these national urban planning cultures share the hope to solve social and technical problems, but aesthetics also play a relevant role through such personalities as Sitte or Olmstead. In Spain the first half of the XIXth century is a national disaster, with the end of the Spanish American empire due to weakness resulting from Napoleonic wars and the lost years during the reign of Fernando VII. It becomes clear that city walls are no longer useful against modern weapons and are strong conditions contributing to miserable living standards in inner cities.
In 1858 and 1860 the Barcelona and Madrid demolition acts are approved. In Barcelona there is a conflict between state and city, as the first imposes Cerda’s project; this bears the name “ensanche” (widening), since then a generic name for city extensions. The regular grid is not a revolutionary layout, as it was a norm for newly founded American colonial cities of the Spanish empire; innovation was clearer for its theoretical framework, a comprehensive review of all the technical considerations associated to urban growth, clearly related formal issues and a social reform agenda less radical than in other examples but nevertheless new in approach. The public works minister, Pascual Madoz, introduced land management procedures that allowed demolishing the walls by an anticipated sale of future building rights. This contrasts with Paris, which retains its walls until 1919 due in part to the presence of open spaces inside, or Vienna, where the Ring also generates a new urban tissue but on a more reduced scale. Madrid and Barcelona get a planned growth instrument with larger territorial ambitions.