Month: September 2012

Domes (2)

St Hedwig Cathedral in Berlin

Showing the ability to build implies doing what is most complex at each moment and place, and the dome can become a full sphere, or a different thing. But scale is still important, so much more than shape…

The communist-built tv tower (no more communist, but still a tv tower) and the nearby church

Angie’s domains in Berlin

Domes (1)

Lisbon’s Pantheon

A dome is properly a hemispheric structure, an obsession of western architecture since ancient times, that has no clear advantage but showing that you can build it and make it prominent over a space. Properly speaking, Beijing’s temple is not a dome, but has the same function; geometry. As well as the Maltese church; if you want to see large churches and domes in a reduced space, go to Malta, even if there it was not a matter of imperial power…

A church in a small maltese village

Heaven’s temple in Beijing

Counting lots (3). The French Cadastre

The French Cadastral website is less detailed in its free data services than the Spanish one. Using again the City Hall as the reference point (a public building) as in Madrid, there is much less information available, unless you pay.

Cadastral image of the Paris Hotel de Ville and its surounding areas

Cadastral data for the Hotel de Ville (a single lot covering the whole block)

But the Geoportail brings a wonderful image of the lot structure and the buildings, without limitations due to administrative local limits

Counting lots (2). The Spanish Cadastre

The Spanish Cadastre website allows the access to the general database for the municipalities covered by the system. As the Basque and Navarre provinces enjoy a different fiscal regime, they have their own, independent cadastres.

You can access the system through the cadastral reference (a single code atributed to each property) or by a graphic map for each municipality.

The cadastral image of the city block in which sits the new Ayuntamiento de Madrid (City Council)

Cadastral data for the new Ayuntamiento de Madrid

The system provides information about the buildings in the lot, the internal distribution of uses and areas, and other features. As with any database, there are some flaws, but overall is a pretty good service: for instance, the new Ayuntamiento building was built in the 1910s, but the building date in the database refers to the recent refurbishment.

Biblio 9 + Counting lots (1) land registry, cadastre and all the rest

This post is inspired on Flawed Vacant Land Management, posted on Phila Planning Journal. The following lines are a short and somehow simplified description of the Spanish system, but a better description can be found in the Land Registry web, this description of the cadastral system, and the bibliography from the Permanent Committee on Cadastre in the European Union.

A city is a set of coterminous spaces in which people coexist to diverse degrees. Public spaces belong to everybody, and the coexistence of all is possible under certain community-defined rules. Public space can also be recognized by opposition to private spaces, in which an owner’s right to restrict in a much larger measure the interaction levels is recognized, even if general laws are still to be applied (I.e. your property rights do not allow murder of trespassers).

Public properties, despite belonging to everyone, are not homogeneous; they have different owners (state, region, city, administrative units in the above), and distinct statutes. It is not uncommon to see legal systems dividing public property into public domains (for instance streets) and public patrimony (for instance, schools), with diverging sales possibilities. The later have property rights that are similar to those of private properties.

Urban planning defines the future limit between public domain and private domain (the rest) by drawing the plot line. This means that planning can define changes to private property in its present form.

For some centuries in many countries there have been systems to define the present configuration of private property and how they relate to public ones, with the aim to guarantee the property rights and to raise taxes related to it.

In Spain two systems (this is just an outline) coexist:

  • The land cadastre, an administrative record managed by the Tax Ministry, in which all urban and rural properties are inscribed, inscription being compulsory and free of charge. Today it is a digital graphical base, used for local property taxes and income taxes. As a free access graphic base it is in growing use. Tax payers are not necessarily land owners. In 2011 it covered in urban areas 13.435.868 plots with a combined area of 1.098.77 hectares. Rural areas had 39.861.294 plots with a combined area of 47.540.978 hectares.
  • The Land Property Registry, created in 1861, which is public and subject to a price. The inscription of a lot guarantees property, but as the description is to often only a text describing the relation with neighboring properties, there can be substantial differences with the Cadastre graphic bases. All conditions applying to the lot, as mortgages, are inscribed in the Registry.

So all the land plots in Spain are theretically included in the cadastre, but only a fraction is in the registry. The cadastral database is updated by entire municipalities (or by the inscription of building permits) with some regularity, and the geometry of contiguous land plots is coherente, while the registry is updated each time that an isolated owner asks for it. The cadastral taxpayer is considered secret data, but a citizen can ask the registry for data about the owner and deeds running with the land.

For an urban planner, the cadastre can give a rather good property map, but contacting the real owner can be more complex: it is possible that no one pays the local real estate taxes, and the sale of the lot could never have been inscribed in the registry, or have been inscribed in 1920… by an owner whose last trace is to have emigrated to Buenos Aires in 1930

Cycle superhighways

The new Barclays Cycle Superhighways are cycle routes (painted in blue, 1,50 m wide, on the car plaform) running from outter London into central London. They are meant to provide a safer and faster journey for commuters. A bike rental service is associated, and you can also learn to ride your bike. It is a possitive experience, but not entirely revolutionary.

Enter SkyCycle, a concept by British landscape Architect Sam Martin proposing a network of elevated cycle paths between the main London Tube stations, including transformed unused elevated rail lines and new infrastructure. This would increase bike speed and reduce cyclist’s deaths.

The system would not be free, as cyclists would use the Oyster card (an integrated transportation forfait) to gain access, paying about a pound to commute, which would be a third of the equivalent tube ride. It seems that a corporate partner is being searched for. But there are also some skeptics that would like to focus on the local bike networks.

The above image, that can be seen in the Rebar website (altough I have found no futher data on that in the site), seems to predict that such ideas could become common in next months.

Parking Day 2012

Parking Day 2011, Vigo (Spain), according to


Parking Day is an annual worldwide event where artists, designers and citizens transform metered parking spots into temporary public parks.  It is presented as an open source event. Conceived by Rebar, a San Francisco based design studio, its aim is to raise awareness about the amount of public space used by cars. The idea is simple: once you have paid in the parcmeter, you have a right to use the space for a given time, and it is only up to you to decide whether you want to use it to leave a car of other use.

In 2012 it was yesterday, 21 September. Since the first time in San Francisco, and according to the manual, metered parking has hosted wedding ceremonies, worm composting demos, public parks, free health care clinics, glass recycling, political campaigns,  public kiddie pools, and all sorts of uses. There is also a manifesto. In some american cities, as in Philadelphia, it is becoming a relevant movement.

Tirso de Molina Square

The area of the present square, occupied by buildings in Texeira’s map

Tirso de Molina Square is in the old area of Madrid, but it is not one of the classical historic squares, as the Texeira map, engraved in 1656, shows the area occupied by buildings; in the image you can also see some other changes from the years of Philip IV, as the configuration of the Puerta del Sol. Tirso de Molina Square is opened in 1840 and the façades to it are the former façades to the narrow streets, which explains the lack of a grand architectural composition.

The Madrid municipality has proceeded to refurbish the square, opening it in 2006; its role in the neighborhood as a public space with a sizeable subway users traffic was compromised in the previous years by the presence of homeless people and drug dealers. The new layout tries to regenerate the public space, adress the neighbour’s demands and reduce the chances of conflict through a limitation in motor traffic (intense until then due to lorries serving the clothes wholesalers of the area) and an urban design that eliminates the low visibility areas and has led to the use of benches in which it is not possible to sleep.

The project by estudio Haiku includes flower sales kiosks designed as sculptural elements that expand on the square during opening hours as the bar’s tables, linear gardening elements on the slight level changes, and child’s recreation areas. After six years of use and in the middle of a devastating economic crisis in the country, the new square seems to hold, with some signs of decay in the kiosks due to use.