Month: June 2014

Being up to it (4) Retiro

Retiro, at the edge of a plateau

Retiro, at the edge of a plateau. 100 m grid

The Retiro park appears as a peripheral hunting ground (not unlike other parks in many European royal capitals), east of the Prado creek, by then the urban limit of Madrid.

The Texeira map shows that garden as related to an essential part of its ensemble, the Palacio del Buen Retiro, now disappeared (not unlike what happens in Paris with the Tuileries garden and the palace that disappeared during the Commune). The Palace was on the natural ramp ensuring a clear link to the city; nowadays the Jeronimos neighbourhood and the Prado Museums compound have substituted it.

South of the park the urban limit is much less clear; the Observatory sits atop a cliff facing Atocha, while north of Reina Victoria street the urban fabric is confuse. The south section of Menéndez Pelayo shows clearly the differences in level, but along the northern section and Alcalá and Alfonso XII the park is at street level. The park is not a flat platform, as the Palacio de Cristal shows, but the elevation variations are reasonably integrated in the design.

Biblio (95) Rebuild by Design

Rebuild by Design is an initiative of the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Even if sometimes from Europe such a ministry seems unlikely for the US, it has existed for decades, with influential policies, although not always on the good sense… as everywhere. HUD is looking for a way to tackle the urban resilience challenge posed by climate change, taking into account the Sandy lessons. These lessons can benefit other rebuilding efforts or risk prevention schemes. The initiative has formalized as a competition whose results were published in April, with 10 winners proposing alternatives for damaged coastal cities. There are big names from the architectural world, as OMA, but the projects are not just drawings, as they benefit from public participation; according to the available information, what is really chosen is not a team of architects, but local coalitions that have built consensus and will receive grants to develop proposals that have been formalized by specialists.

Maps 2014 (22) Swiss rural space

The division proposed by this map produced by ARE (the Swiss Federal Office for Territorial Development) is thought- provoking: the national territory is divided in cities and metro areas, tourism areas in the Alps, rural areas around cities (taking into account integration in public transit networks) and peripheral rural areas (in which population is relevant).

Being up to it (3) Kings game

The area as seen from nort

The area as seen from north. The Palace is the mass under the dome of La Almudena, on the left.

The Royal Palace of Madrid stands on a platform 55 m higher than the Manzanares bank. I once heard that the initial plan submited by Filippo Juvara, the architect, was for a building with four main courts, but that it had to be reduced to just one as there was such a steep slope (contour lines were still in the distant future, so such projects were not necesarily easy when made from a distance.

The level difference between the Palace and the river is solved through garden platforms; a new project now being built, the Royal Collections Museum, just adapts to that gap. Just south of the platform on which the Palace and the Almudena Cathedral are is the Viaduct, an urban bridge which has been for years a choice spot for… suicide, taking advantage of the difference in level.

A 1 m interval contour map. The river area is not acurrate, as the source data was probably collected during a recent works period

A 1 m interval contour map with a 100 m grid. The river area is not acurrate, as the source data was probably collected during a recent works period

Preliminary works for the Royal Collections Museum, as portrayed on

Current state of the Museum

Current state of the Museum

Being up to it (2) Altimetric Madrid

Overall hypsometry

Overall hypsometry

Any large city can have a complex setting, altough it is not compulsory (just think of the Randstat, Shanghai or New Orleans). Madrid has a certain terrain complexity, defined by the Manzanares (a quite tamed river), and the Abroñigal and Castellana creeks; Abroñigal is nowadays a corridor for the eastern M30 beltway and Castellana is the main north-south spine. The historical city began on the steep slopes of the eastern shore of the Manzanares, to later grow towards the east.

20 m contours, a river and two creeks

20 m contours, a river and two creeks

The central city on its setting

The central city on its setting

All the buildings (sort of...)

All the buildings (sort of…)

Being up to it (1)


Cities are 3d realities, even in the flat Netherlands. So where you are is not just a matter of planar coordinates, as the landscape changes according to the relative height of every element: trees, buildings and the ground itself. This is our next subject in Madrid, a city that has a certain “altimetric diversity”.

Biblio (94) Vacant capacities

edificabilidadremanente-biblio 94

The Municipality of Madrid publishes every year a report on the building rights defined in the current General Plan that are still to be used (edificabilidad remanente). As a result of the current economic crisis (which at least in part is due to an excess housing offer as related to demand), their numbers as of january 1, 2014, are (for a city slightly over 3 million residents):

– Housing: 19.867.607 sq m (some 195.600 homes, that could house about half a million people)

– Industrial: 11.383.048 sq m

– Tertiary (what for most of our American friends would be commercial): 7.874.561 sq m

So there is still a large amount of potential job for everyone involved in city building; but where are the people that will populate that, work in new factories or office cubicles, or buy in new retail spaces? therein lies the rub… This capacity can be seen as an asset for the future, which is unpredictable in itself. But it seems a long term future.

Maps 2014 (21) Paris 2020

paris 2020 webThis is an online version of a 40 sq m digital model of greater Paris currently being exhibited at the Pavillon de l’Arsenal, one of the main watering holes for visiting architects in Paris. Worth a look to understand the ambitious urban projects associated to a new metropolitan rail network and other things architectural and urban happening right now in the French capital.