Happy 2015 summer


You might as well think I’m getting on holidays… but that’s not just the case. Until autumn I will focus on different things, and I hope you will find time for some rest. And just a little contest for that time. The upper snap was taken in Madrid this morning, from a point inside city limits that can be accessed by anyone (at least during opening hours…). Whoever gets to locate the precise spot will receive a special gift when I start again a regular posting season in autumn. Under these lines you have a clue…


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 mexicomaxico.org)

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)

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.

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.

Starters of change (10) Contraptions

Somewhere in western Spain: the fruit trees on the foreground have clearly visible drip irrigation

Somewhere in western Spain: the fruit trees on the foreground have clearly visible drip irrigation

Time to widen the scope: in a moment in which the border between urban and rural gets fuzzier in terms of social demands, at least in Europe, some things can start change in both spheres.

European laws (and others, but those in Europe are closer to me) institute citizen’s rights without making differences between those in rural and urban areas; citizenship, despite its etymologic link to cities, applies to everyone. But in fact the burden of transportation and communications implied differences in the aspirations of the residents of rural areas, which often saw the access to some services as almost impossible, and this was commonly accepted. During recent decades residents in rural areas have grasped better chances to access more services, first through cars, then TV, and then the internet; this has meant an evolution in their view of the urban life. It is still different to live in a small hamlet with 250 residents, half of which are over 60, but some things are now felt as rights in the same way in both kinds of territory. And the consumption habits get closer as the rural populations loses overall weight.  This is catalyzer of change on a scale that goes beyond urban or metropolitan, either for good or for bad.

Saying that cultivation fields get technician by the aim for more production can only be accepted if you speak in terms of millennia; improving crop yields has always been a goal for farmers, despite the bucolic vision some urbans have. There is a constant buzz now around the “developed countries” concerning smart cities and the future introduction of sensors, but this is also becoming common in many rural areas through improved irrigation systems. The image of circles formed by pivot irrigation are known to most of us, but drip irrigation, albeit less impressive when seen from above, is quite efficient, and the chances to mechanize recollection in some cases change many things.

Sure, urbans are not getting fans of the farm machinery websites, but it is rather the way in which farmers exchange information about their working tools, almost as any urban professional. When farmers look for ways to hack the on-board computers on their combine harvesters, as a recent article on Wired showed, change is in the air. I’m not sure how/whether this will translate to architecture and landscape, but chances are there could be an impact. And this is in fact an essay, reduced but interesting, on what comes along with smart cities; managing irrigation water and its electricity use is a limited goal, but some smart city initiatives don’t go beyond the mere management of a limited set of services…

Biblio (120) The fourth paradigm of science

Biblio 120

So, I choose a large book by Microsoft, and I throw it to you, and it’s done… Well, it’s not just that. Authors say that science has evolved until now as a result of three paradigms:

  • 1- Experimentation
  • 2- Theory (since the XVIIth century)
  • 3- Calculation and simulation (since the second half of the XXth century)

The massive use of big data would deliver that fourth paradigm. As the book is from 2009, we can now see it with some perspective.