Month: December 2013

Barcelona (18) The stapler

Design museum as seen from the southwest

Design museum as seen from the southwest

You never get to know the true name of things until people christen them. In this case, for obvious reasons.

The Design Museum is located on Plaza de las Glorias, a place that was to be the centre of the Ensanche as there intersect the Diagonal, the Meridiana and the Gran Vía, but in fact became a freeway exchange. In 1992 the Olympics led to a new design of the exchange, with trees inside, but it still is that. Nowadays, and after many proposals, a project to bury traffic is underway, transforming the square into a large park, according to the following image.

An image of the new Plaza de las Glorias from the northwest. Taken from glories.cat

The Design Museum is on the southeast flank of the new square, on the axis of the Avila street. The difference of level between the new square and the street have led the authors, MBM, to have a ground floor with escalators open to the public. This is a confuse part of the building, that in itself has become one more piece of the strange objects populating the square, as the Agbar tower or the Mercat dels Encants.

The current curbline of the square, and the viaduc to be dismantled

The current curbline of the square, and the viaduc to be dismantled

The street through the ground floor

The street through the ground floor

The lower side and the access of the street

The lower side and the access of the street

Biblio (69) The Barcelona Plan

Some days ago I was in Barcelona for a meeting of the Association of Urban Planning Architects. The program was interesting, and the chance to meet excellent professionals and to discuss many issues. The next posts will be about what I saw these days.

Barcelona’s urban planning has a singularity: it is governed by a 1976 plan, an unusual thing as plans for cities this size are usually reviewed each decade or at most each 20 years. This has not prevented the city to rise as a reference in urbanism in many senses, but it has led to over 1.000 variances to the plan, turning it into a palimpsest. There is a certain logic in the timing: Narcis Serra was elected as Mayor in 1979 and was in the seat until 1982, when the plan was still new, and under his mandate, the definition of an urban project under the cover of the Olympic alibi was started. Does this mean that the ongoing revision will change Barcelona?

Barcelona is an exception in the Spanish context: The Plan General Metropolitano defines the rules for Barcelona itself and for several nearby municipalities that are part of the “dense” metropolitan areas. This means that there is an overall vision of the whole (even if it was drawn some 40 years ago) articulating this territory, avoiding so the problems of other areas (I have previously commented such cases in French cities as Bordeaux or Lyon).

Let’s get a different perspective: the Area Metropolitana de Barcelona (an administrative body for the planning scope) covers an area of 636 sq km, with some 3,2 million residents; these are nearly the same numbers of the Madrid municipality, but there are 36 mayors, while in Madrid there is only one.

Barcelona’s Plan is being revised to use another format, still to be defined, but that will likely split into a structural instrument for the metropolitan whole (Plan Director de Urbanismo) and 36 closer-to-the-ground municipal plans.

Area Metropolitana’s website has information on the revision and on the current plan (only in Catalan).

Barrio de Salamanca (7) Future

Main uses by lot: economic activity (blue) and housing (orange)

Main uses by lot: economic activity (blue) and housing (orange)

The draft revision of the 1997 Madrid General Plan (PGOUM) has been published few days ago. The new document should address an uncomfortable situation, helping to weather the economic storm and to steer a municipality of more than 3 million residents on 600 sq km towards a more sustainable future by all standards. I will not talk here about the territorial model issues, or the (unusual) idea of starting a debate with a map with a detail corresponding to the building lots, just about the Barrio de Salamanca.

Barrio de Salamanca is here just an element, central and relevant for its dynamics, but not the main character. In fact, its “poor brother”, the Arganzuela area, also included in the 1860 Plan, takes a more visible stage role as there are plans to foster the urban regeneration that began in the 1980s by replacing industrial areas with housing and other uses; it should become a southern centrality node.

But there are some questions that are highlighted in this draft plan:

–           According to the central position of the area, many of the main streets are inscribed in a strategy to recuperate the main boulevards, increasing the green space into the city. Some important changes in the allocation of space to pedestrians and cars at streets as Principe de Vergara are shown in renders, as well as the possibility to create a pedestrian park in the Plaza del Marques de Salamanca.

Images from the Draft Plan

Images from the Draft Plan

–           There is a clear aim to make more flexible the location of activities (retail and others) in ground floor, as to improve street vitality

–           Barrio de Salamanca is one of the areas in the city that have less area for public facilities; this is far from new, as it is a heritage from the replacement of the original Castro’s Plan, that would have allowed to get more space for such uses.

Overall, a neighbourhood that was born to improve and expand in a rational way a city has become just one more part of it, with a strong economic clout, but also with persistent deficits resulting from the demise of the initial planning proposals. This is a bit less hard here considering per capita income, but not everyone residing there are rich people…

Let me rephrase the question. Could Barrio de Salamanca have gained such a central role with the initially allocated densities? It is far from clear, and this question to ask in contemporary low-density urban extensions. You cannot have an urban tissue in which every part is central, but now that “sprawl repair” and other such ideas are gaining traction (thank god, in general terms), the balance between public facilities/ public realm and density should be addressed carefully, as densification is always a complex issue.

Barrio de Salamanca (6) Density

salam-colonLet’s go back to the inception. The project for the urban extension of Madrid was prepared between 1857 and 1860 by Carlos María de Castro, including the current Barrio de Salamanca, and set to take Madrid from 270.000 to 450.000 residents in a century. Altough people still talk of the Castro Plan (planners, as there has been not an extended knowledge among lay people as in Barcelona), it has become, as well as in Barcelona, quite different from the initial plan, even if the structure and the idea of a grid is clearly there.

The Castro Plan (Anteproyecto de Ensanche, enacted july 19, 1860) established a maximal height of 3 levels (ground floor+2) with a maximal ground ocupation of 50% of the lot area. But in 1864 the Government increases height from 3 to 4, reducing the space for courtyards and gardens to 30% in lots over 10.000 sqm, and to 20% in lots with smaller areas, allowing private streets to be counted as such. 1867 is the year in which the old city bylaws come to be applied to the extension area, rising so height to five levels plus penthouses. Castro is substituted as chief officier for the urban extension of Madrid in 1868, and in 1873 municipal bylaws reduce street width, supress gardens on private spaces, and legalize any previous building. And as in any administrative bad joke, the Definitive Extension Plan (the 1860 plan was deemed to be a draft) is aproved in 1898, when a substantial part of the extension was already built.

The Castro Plan aimed to get to a ratio of 50,98 sq m of built area per resident for the whole of the urban extension, improving the then current ratio of 28,68 in the old city. Nowadays, and taking only the Barrio de Salamanca on the part of the same name ward that is west of calle Francisco Silvela, there are 83.000 residents and 282 persons per hectare (residents only). Cadastral data say there are slightly over 6 million sq m of built area for housing, so there are some 73 sq m of housing per resident. Way ahead of what Castro aimed for on average, altough this figure masks strong variations…

 

Barrio de Salamanca (5) Years

Year in which the first building still existing at the begining of 2013 was built

Year in which the first building in the lot still existing at the begining of 2013 was built

Here we are, in Madrid, capital of a vanished empire, a city in the old world. And this central area has a built stock that is probably younger than that parts of downtown Mannhattan, which in some parts is quite a historic district on its own right (only with much taller buildings, but aging ones after all). Sure, this is a XIXth century extension, but it is a proof that, despite what many could think from abroad, european cities are far from being static coocoons preserving old glories. Just note, as I have mentioned before, that this map results from the use of cadastral data, so in some cases (perharps 10%) building ages are not what you would asume, as the cadastre re-start the age of a building when it undergoes a massive refurbishment (I know some that would like that after a surgery…)

Barrio de Salamanca (4) Parking

Lots with parking space, according to cadastral data

Lots with parking space, according to cadastral data

A neighborhood designed 150 years ago, many buildings from the XIXth century. As a result, scarce parking when compared to other areas. So City Hall decides that there is a need to have parking under some streets and squares (red rectangles; there are in fact more, but they are not rendered on the cadastral files as such). Even if, as in other cases, some areas are not codified under a parking category, overall this dense neighborhood has scarce parking, but it is a real urban core

Barrio de Salamanca (3) Offices and homes

Housing area- office area ratio for the lots in the Barrio de Salamanca and the surrounding areas

Housing area- office area ratio for the lots in the Barrio de Salamanca and the surrounding areas

One of the main aims of urban planning in Europe since the 1980’s has been to avoid a destruction of the soul of the historical areas through the insertion of large scale offices. This is something that can be quite controversial, as in some areas it has led to no offices but no population either. In Madrid we can see a minute mix of uses. In many cases GIS would not return a value as it is a division by zero (and here I can hear residents of the area, as some lots have clearly a lot of offices, but the fact is that cadastral data considers them other uses). This is somehow as mixed as uses can get in Madrid.