Month: April 2013

Non-year round occupied housing (1) Lowest vacant ratio

Housing is, by principle, the main urban function, but a set of housing units does not imply, in itself, an urban reality; so, in the next articles the focus will be on municipalities with populations over 20.000, a size beyond which realities of a certain complexity should become apparent and you get rid of some extreme cases as 100% rural communities or municipalities that are just a ski resort.

According to the 2011 census the Spanish municipality with the smallest vacant housing units ratio was Moguer (close to 21.000 residents), with 8.068 overall homes, of which only 105 vacant (1,3%) and 199 seasonal homes. It is a municipality which is linked to the metropolitan dynamics of Huelva, the provincial capital; the municipal economy depends partially on the coastal tourism village of Mazagón (shared with the neighboring municipality of Palos, which owns the littoral strip), but also in a large part on an irrigation agriculture (strawberries, among other crops) which attracts a relevant number of foreign seasonal workers, which have had in the past specific housing problems. Attention, the google image only shows the central urban zone.

Just to compare, in France the commune with the lowest vacant housing ratio in 2012 was Colomiers (pop. 34.300), with an overall stock of 14.813 housing units, including 174 seasonal homes and 148 vacant units (1%). Located west of Toulouse, in its metropolitan area, its growth began in the 1960s and its economy is linked to aerospace (Airbus) and office spaces.

On both cases, the communities are integrated in wider metropolitan scale dynamics.

Biblio (39) Spanish housing census 2011

Percentage of vacant housing units in Spain in 2011, by province

Percentage of vacant housing units in Spain in 2011, by province

On april 19 the data on housing of the 2011 census have been published by the Instituto Nacional de Estadística (demographic data were published prior, with a total population of 46,815 millions). The main figures are:

  • 25,208 millions housing units (a rise of 4,26 millions for the last decade)
  • 18,083 million permanently occupied units (a rise of 3,89 millions)
  • 3,681 million seasonal units (a rise of 28.602 units)
  • 3,443 million vacant units (a rise of 336.943 units)

The general dynamic for the last century has been:

  • +14,6% population
  • +27,5% permanently occupied homes (equal to family units)
  • +20,3% overall housing units.

Spain is a big country, in geography and in population, so these numbers summarize quite diverse local conditions. By regions, the highest rise in overall units has been in Murcia (an area subject to tourism demand) with 31,1%, and the lowest in the Basque country (the region with the most stringent growth control and regional planning system), with 14,4%.

What do these figures mean when compared to other contexts?

According to the INSEE data, in France there were in 2012 (for 65,6 millions residents) a grand total of 33,192 million housing units, of which 27,680 mill. were permanently occupied, 3,153 mill. seasonally occupied, and 2,359 mill. vacant.

The US Census Bureau shows for 2011 (for 311 million people) 132,419 million units overall, of which 114,907 mill. year round occupied, 4,133 mill. seasonal, and 13,379 mill. vacant.

Comparing the data from the three countries, the average household size (persons per permanent housing unit) is rather similar, with 2,5 in Spain, 2,4 in France and 2,7 in the US. The main difference is in the vacancy rate (vacant units in the overall housing stock): 13,7% in Spain, 7% in France, 10,1% in the US (a large market with higher local values, as 14% in metro Phoenix). Seasonal housing rate is also different: 14,6% in Spain, 9,% in France, 3,1% in the US; the effect of the “northeuropean drem” of a house under the sun are important.

The census shows the relevance of history: the region with the highest ratio of seasonal housing (Castilla y Leon) and the region with the highest percentage of vacant housing (Galicia) owe these results mainly to the intense depopulation in the rural areas during the XXth century.

While the vacant units built during the last decade were over 700.000 in 2011, there were also over a million units built between 1961 and 1980, in worse conditions and with more problems to reintegrate the market.These are two different kinds of problem: the first is a banking and general economy problem, as often these homes were still held by the developer, and they have been also often repossessed by the lending banks due to payment defaults, while the second implies much more diffuse economic losses, but a potentially harder urban problem: decay.

The stork

Yesteday I visited Hoyos (Cáceres, in the Spanish Region of Extremadura). The stork is one of the symbols of Extremadura, and in fact you can see many, even out of their traditional migration season (in some areas they stay around the year, as they have found diverse food sources). They usually plant their nests on the strangest places (i.e., on the posts of a large freeway sign…) and they are a majestic figure when landing on their nests (that moment when you have no camera at hand…). They are an integral part of the landscape.


La Gavia

gavia 3
The project for the Parque de la Gavia in Madrid calls for a re-use of sewage water, whose treatment will be ensured partially by natural filtration ponds whose moisture help the growth of vegetation. The project, by Japanese architect Toyo Ito, was suposed to be part of the Madrid Olympic bids, incorporating some water sports. Nowadays it has gone from project to reality, a tricky bussiness for parks. Architects usually tend to see their buildings in their best shape when works are finished, but park designers usually integrate in the design the growth process, so a new park can be somehow underwhelming, especially compared to the expectatives raised by a park whose geometric design was part of the game. But in fact, the park delivers what should be expected: an open space in a mostly dry area of southeastern Madrid, which at least will use recycled water… and the growth of the  trees coul give a good result, if handled with care.



The park has not been officially opened, but as the works have been halted due to budgetary cuts, in fact neighbours opened some holes in the fence, and it is being used…

Images are from a cellphone camera, so don’t ask too much…

gavia 4

One of the ponds presented in plan as “water trees”. gavia2

gavia 1

Biblio (38) The angled deck


I am really interested in many things, but specially on those that are not a part of my daily work, but show an interesting way to reach an idea ; a bit what some call the sciences of design, but also a bit of the joy of changing the view looking at things as seriously as the boy who plays.

An angled deck is an aircraft carrier deck with two axis forming an angle, so its use is more efficient for a series of take-offs and landings. It appears after the end of WWII, and in an interesting way, nearly as much as the ideas developed in parallel but finally not adopted. On one side, jets are heavier and operate at higher speeds than previous navy planes, so some even propose flexible decks so planes could land without landing gears, so reducing their weight; on the other side there is a clear problem of space on such reduced decks, so airplane circulation has to be regulated as to ensure an adequate reaction speed. The angled deck allows to have two runways whose effective length is more than the addition of their individual lengths.

An interesting evolution of what in the end is a design problem base on which are the limits to how compact can a system used by different kinds of objects be, from the original idea of aircraft carrier, apparently first formulated by Clement Ader

The story, told by Hone, Friedman and Mandeles, deserves to be read, as it is an example of how to get to a simple concept through complex ways.

Centrality and periphery in Madrid since 2000 (11). Julián Camarillo and a final vision


The area around Julián Camarillo street was in 2009 the 13th census block in the region, 1.304 million euros. With 1.987 residents and 26.134 jobs (sixth value in the region), the ratio was 13 jobs by resident.

The original industrial area is in transition; industrial activity is no longer what it was, there are some housing units or lofts, and also many offices, architecture practices included. By location it seems difficult that this area will become a full fledged urban centrality, but it seems clear that in 20 years its identity will have changed.



Urban centrality is hard to define, but it seems clear that its is linked to activity. It is possible to do just the opposite of what has been done this week: which areas make up the “white” of the map, i.e., which census blocks had in 2009 a GDP under the regional average, and so would have more pain to become central?. The result on the following map… in white. The strength of the Castellana axis is clear, while some municipalities are almost entirely wiped out but for their industrial areas… even if they have their own local centralities. So, in the end, a single money figure does not end the conversation, and centrality is also a matter of the scale of analysis.




Centrality and periphery in Madrid since 2000 (11)

ciudad universitaria

The University City was in 2009 the 12th census block in the region by GDP, with 1.417 million euros. With a population of 1.514 and 27.089 jobs (4th census block by jobs number) the ratio was 18 jobs by resident.

The model of the American campus, implanted in Madrid at the dawn of the XXth century for what still today are mainly public universities, has produced a relevant GDP hub, but it remains to be seen if it will resist the crisis as well as other areas. The other relevant activity in the area is the Palacio de la Moncloa, the headquarters of the PM.

Overall the area has an average- high urban quality; there are some interesting buildings, but green is the most interesting feature, and you do not see the kind of spaces usually associated with north American campuses.

Again, a non-center, but a single function area which is important and really used. The transition to the existing city is not bad, but the pedestrian distance to the most central areas is too high.





Centrality and periphery in Madrid since 2000 (10) Banco


Circulo de Bellas Artes, as seen from Calle de Alcalá

The area around the Bank of Spain was in 2009 the ninth census block in the region in 2009, with a GDP of 1.819 million euros. With 1.543 residents and 19.549 jobs (9th census block by jobs number in the region), the ratio was 12 jobs per resident.

It is a clear urban core for many reasons, although with a slight “institutional” bias. The area has its “own” national bank, the lower house of the national Parliament (Congreso de los Diputados), an outstanding cultural center in the Círculo de Bellas Artes, the Thyssen- Bornemisza museum, a wide array of businesses, a good bunch of restaurants… The area is crossed by the initial part of the Calle de Alcalá, as iconic as a street can be in Madrid.

Up to the XIXth century it was rather a border zone, as all the area around the Paseo del Prado. By floor area, the current buildings where built in the XIXth century (6%), from 1900 to 1936 (22%), from 1940 to 1980 (22%), 1980 to 2000 (28%, it is good to remind that to the Spanish cadastre the integral refurbishment of a building resets its building date), and since 2000 (9%).

On slightly more than 24 hectares (streets included) and 167 lots there is a little more than 840.000 sq m of floor area (3,4 sq m/sq m FAR), of which 132.363 correspond to 1.211 dwellings (94 refurbished partially since 2000). 317.335 correspond to offices, 76.829 to hotels and restaurants, 71.825 to parking spaces and 37.797 to retail.






The sidewalk cafe of the Círculo de Bellas Artes


The angle between calle de Alcalá and Gran Vía


The same intersection as seen by day form the rooftop terrace of the Círculo de Bellas Artes. This is where Antonio Lopez painted his well known picture on Gran Vía (an interesting video on the process can be seen on the Spanish TV site)