Month: April 2015

Maps (2015) Lago d’Iseo

An image from the project by Christo in Lago d’Iseo. Image from ANSA

This comes from a press release by ANSA, the Italian Press Agency, and the title is quite catching; in English it would be “walking on the Iseo lake with Christ”, as this is a project for a temporary structure on the aforementioned lake, in Northern Italy, which springs from the mind of Christo Vladimirov, aka Christo, and Jeanne- Claude, two plastic artists that have done things as wrapping the Reichstag. As always, an interesting work of art.

Blocks (3) Olivenza

Central Olivenza. Reference grid: 100 m

Central Olivenza. Reference grid: 100 m

Olivenza is a small city in the province of Badajoz, Spain. Until 1801 it was a Portuguese city, and the border is now at a short distance.

This border position is the reason for a series of walls that have protected the city, leaving a still visible trace in the current urban fabric.

The core of the walled zone is organized around the first castle and the main church, with a group of four rather regular blocks. The subsequent urban growth reached a larger wall.


Getting a look at the blocks on the southern edge of the walled area there is a certain degree of regularity, with some 35 m in width and slightly over 100 m in length, and a structure of streets going towards the core of some 5 m in width. Block area is usually between 4.000 and 5.000 sq m (about an acre for Imperial System fans), and lot lines are usually over 6 m. Heights are usually less than 4 levels. The rather narrow block makes courts rather irregular, with not much continuity.


And white architecture, with “calçada portugesa” as paving… A protected area which is well preserved.


Maps 2015 (14) The city of Mexico in 1628

1628 image (from

For some reason I found this week that image of Mexico city in 1628, drawn by Juan Gómez de Trasmonte and conserved at the Archivo General de Indias. A century after the conquest the city is still surrounded by lakes, and the structure of city blocks is apparent.

I also found that image of a mural by Diego Rivera (XXth century), representing the pre-hispanic city. Sure that is not a historical city, but I like the image.

Diego Rivera, National Palace, Mexico (image  from wikipedia)

Blocks (2) Façades

A façade on the Calle de Alcalá, Madrid

A façade on the Calle de Alcalá, Madrid

When you think about façades you think about buildings (one by one, taken as separate items) ; if you think in terms about bocks, the building façade is in a context, be it planar or not…

The façade is in the context of its plan, but also in that of a corner, or related to others in the same street but on the next block. And it is also in the context of whatever happens on the street, be it cars, cranes, horses, ships, you name it…

The façade is just a face of the reality, as it is often rather mute when it comes to describe how deep the building is, or how it relates to the core of the block.

A plan of the same block in Calle de Alcalá (the façade is the one from the white part)

A plan of the same block in Calle de Alcalá (the façade is the one from the white part)

Façades around the corner of Menendez Pelayo and Menorca, Madrid

Façades around the corner of Menendez Pelayo and Menorca, Madrid

Façades around the corner of Ibiza and Menendez Pelayo, Madrid. A wider street, a diferent relation

Façades around the corner of Ibiza and Menendez Pelayo, Madrid. A wider street, a diferent relation

Biblio (125) Morphological analysis of traditional urban tissues according to UNESCO

Biblio 125-2-morfol unesco

UNESCO published this text, by Alain Borie and François Denieul, in 1984. The World Heritage Convention was enacted in 1972, and the first properties were inscribed in 1978, so this is a rather early text in the production of the “world heritage” concept in its urban derivations.

This is a classical manual, based on the decomposition of the urban tissues in systems: lots, streets, buildings, open spaces… a lot of images in the final part.

Maps 2015 (13) Nolli

The map of Rome drawn by Giambattista Nolli in 1748 is one of those documents that any planner (or at least any architect- planner) would like to have for the cities in which she works. It is the ancestor of many maps used in historic district plans. Sure, nowadays those historic district plans can also include detail regarding the layout of non-monumental buildings, but the debt towards this pioneering map is what it is…Alongside the five weeks in balloon by Jules Verne and the maps of Turgot for Paris and Texeira for Madrid, it is one of those works that predate such things as google maps…

The University of Oregon has a website in which you can get a look at the document; the app allows a comparison with current satellite images. Berkeley allows the access to jpg portions of the map.


Blocks (1)


According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, a block is “an area of land surrounded by four streets in a city”. It is one of the less specific definitions among the languages I have consulted, but it gives a number of four streets, so there is a hint of a quadrangular shape somewhere. The Oxford dictionary, despite a more complex urban layout in Britain, says “a group of buildings bounded by four streets”, but it also recognizes that in America this applies to an area (no need for buildings)… bound by four streets.

What is relevant in terms of architecture and urban planning in a block?

  • Size, minimal in middle age cities or Genoa, and enormous in Berlin and other cities.
  • Treatment of courts or internal spaces, when they exist
  • Permeability between street and court
  • The way the street and the lateral façades relate: continuous or not, with varying setbacks by level…
  • The shape of angles
  • Differences in height between buildings

These are the subjects for the next weeks.

Biblio (124) The 1935 Moscow General Plan for Reconstruction

Biblio 124- tesis plan moscú

Elisabeth Essaïn presented in 2006 her PHD in Architecture before the Paris 8 University, as a work on the 1935 Moscow Plan. This post is based on a special issue of the Annales de la Recherche Urbaine in 2012.

The plan adjusts, according to the context of that time, without having to cope with the complexities of the private property of land or buildings. The city block- primary street couple becomes a central element of that plan. The plan proposes a substantial extension of the city, with city blocks growing from an average of 3 hectares to some 10 to 15 (some 7,5 acres to between 25 and 38, for imperial system readers). It is in fact an experience with superblocks, related in their size to public transportation, and in this sense it is not that far away from other European experiments at that time.

The PHD dissertation also includes a vision of the complex political scenario, with purges and persecution, to which the Moscow architects were no strangers.

Maps 2015 (12) Seeing TV in Italy

grande fratello

Design Density is a research laboratory at the Design Department of the Milano Polytechnic. The Link Magazine, published by Mediaset, called them to do a work for their tenth issue in which they were to visualize a series of datasets concerning how Italians see TV. From the first season of Big Brother and its followers by region (quite related to the places contenders came from) to other issues as the time “compass roses” of audience by chain. All this can be seen in a Flickr group.