A short post

Spanish Mediterranean (2)

View of the eastern beach towards the initial settlement

The western beach, with the new seaside promenade (on the right), by Carlos Ferrater, one of the most relevant architects in Spain


Benidorm is a classical image of Spanish tourism. It is the representation of the development movement of the 1960s, with large, high buildings on the beach for hotels and apartments. Even today, the height records for buildings in Spain correspond to hotels in Benidorm.

It is a popular tourism model, apparently surpassed by other more innovative models, but in continuous transformation. There is still live music on the sefront promenade, but the promenade itself has changed. The original village sits on a small hill between two beaches, whose south orientation allow high towers to be built without receiving cast shadows on the sand. The eastern beach is the one developed most intensely during the 1960s-1970s, while the western has also been developed, but on a lesser scale due to a less flat profile; on the back of that beach there are more recent developments, that are also using high buildings.

Current lots

Lot surface in sq m

Built surfaces by lot, in sq m

Benidorm is like a “big box retail” for tourism in this territory: hotels and rental apartments in large buildings are dominant, set in towers (often beyond 40 storeys), as opposed to lesser density models based on sales of apartments or houses.

72.062 persons were registered in 2011 as residing in the municipality of Benidorm, of which:

–           34% were non-Spanish

–           20% were citizens of other states of the European Union

–           8% were British

–           5% were Romanian

–           1% were Moroccans

Spanish Mediterranean (1)

The Spanish mediterranean coast has one of the highest concentrations of touristic beds in the world. They are mainly linked to the “sun and beach” model, used from the 1950s on as a tool for economic grow in the state’s policies, in which tourism was to play an essential role.

There are areas in which the buildings are recent and/or refurbishment operations have been relevant, but in other areas buildings are quite close to the beach, are over 50 years old and raise issues that in other contexts are often associated to marginal neighborhoods rather than to tourism areas: low constructive quality and need for rehabilitation, poor efficiency in terms of energy and water use, a deficient public space design, a bad physical image of the buildings. Despite that, these spaces are still raising revenue, even if with time markets have become stratified due to their degree of physical conservation or transformation.

At the same time demand has diversified. Many northern Europeans have arrived to settle permanently or for long seasons every year, looking more for warm winters than for beaches or the seashore. This has opened the hinterland to real estate markets, and has also increased a problem that was already relevant: the cost of maintaining year-round services to urban tissues that are occupied just for a few months.

The landscape of this northern coast of the Alicante province is marked by steep hills and high rock cliffs over a complex coastline. The impact of tourism on this landscape is clear.

This week these notes will be about this reality, analyzing six examples in the Alicante province:

–           Benidorm

–           Denia

–           Calpe

–           Altea

–           Jávea

The economic relevance of each sector is estimated according to data from the Anuario Económico de España 2012 from La Caixa. The following graph shows the relative weight of each sector, and, for comparative background, the situation in Alicante, the provincial capital (population over 300.000). Benidorm is clearly singular due to the hotel concentration.

The analysis of the night stays in hotels on the Alicante coast (in which these municipalities are included) shows that each year Spanish tourists represent closet o 60% of all hotel nights, the rest corresponding to foreigners. The evolution by month shows that foreigners fluctuate less, while Spaniards concentrate in summer. Although in 2011 the hotels concentrated in the whole of Spain 73,6% of all night stays, these data cannot be directly extrapolated to the whole of tourism activities, as rental apartments and homes and apartments owned by tourists can have different dynamics, there are zonal specificities and there is also an unregistered tourism lodging offer.


Polop: urban growth on the hinterland

Night stays at hotels by spanish and foreign tourists in the area

London (6)

The last time I visited London was autumn 2005. Tony Blair was Prime Minister and the world seemed launched to an endless economic growth. This explains to those living in London now why some of my images lack some new elements, most notoriously the Shard, the new skyscraper by Renzo Piano on the south bank of the Thames.

London is, strictly speaking, a small municipality, nearly without permanent inhabitants (especially when compared to the army of employees working there each day), on a small area to the east of the West End, the area mostly explored by tourists. Managed by the Corporation of London, a peculiar institution, on this area there is an overlay of quite different architectural elements, marked by the kind of street grid already described.

The urban landscape of this area concentrates, on the subtract of the roman fort, elements from different moments. It is impossible to tell whether the result is good or bad, it is experimental as in similar cities, as the references of a combination of such diverse sensibilities by the presumed best architects in the world are not many.

I love that landscape, and I wonder how this will get old if the strength of the financial sector in the City is permanently and sizably reduced.

London (5)

Two years ago the London Mayor inaugurated a new pedestrian passage at Oxford Circus. The interesting point is in a design that allows diagonal crossing. This is common in some Asian cities as Tokyo, but seldom used in European cities. There is a reason to make that here, as this is a crossroads at a really frequented retail area, where this design allows a more fluid pedestrian traffic in all directions. The only thing to know is how sales have progressed in the stores right on the ancient pedestrian “gridlock” points…

London (4)

The layout of the Royal Observatory at Greenwich and its gardens is one of the most interesting public spaces in the London Area. It is a large baroque composition, whose monumentality has been used for many films.

The site facing the Isle of Dogs and Canary Warf, the old dock in which the bananas coming from the Canary islands were once unloaded and today flourishes a huge business area, has brought to this layout a new scenario. The uncertain future of the MIllenium Dome brings some suspense…

The images show the view from the park on the Isle of Dogs (1) towards the Observatory (2) and conversely, the access sequence from the river up to the observatory on the hill (3), and the views from the observatory towards Canary warf (4) and the Millennium Dome (5)

London (3)

The urban structure of London shows, when compared to other European cities, singular qualities. The lack of a central power able to impose its will on the rest of the political agents, resulting mainly from the civil wars and Oliver Cromwell’s revolutionary period, explains the nearly total lack of large, wide, straight avenues and of baroque urban layouts. It is true that Buckingham Palace is at the end of a wide boulevard, but this one sits on a royal park, which is Crown land. It is difficult to find wide and straight streets, but for some XIXth century layouts (Belgravia), that are almost always limited to the neighborhood scale.

Today’s street structure still shows quite clearly the situation prior to the XIXth century. Compared to the opening of the Parisian boulevards, or even Madrid’s Gran Vía, Regent Street and the curve to Picaddilly Circus show, with an elegant design, a permanence of the public domain and its irregularities that can also be read as a preservation of the private realm.

This is often the result of long term surface rights rents (ground lease, tenure a bail); a part of the large British fortunes originate in this business, by renting land plots to developers for decades, and recovering full property with all its content at the end of the term. Buying a home in these areas is not properly a buy, as it can be subject to this limit. This explains the uniformity of some zones, and also the persistence of the street grid.

On the other side there is also a substantial social housing stock; a part of it has been transferred to private hands from the 1980s. The system remains anyway mainly rent-oriented.

The structure of London is so the result of the overlay of a large river, a set of canals whose role is minor from the advent of the rail, a rail system whose technical demands have made it one of the main alterations of the urban fabric in the last 200 years, the presence of the large royal parks as the main public spaces of the city, and a street grid that has adapted to other conditions and has not had such a directive role as in other cities.

London (2)

Once the Olympics finished arrives some sort of calm, combined with a persistent economic crisis, with a looming larger crisis on the Euro zone. The images of the 2011 urban riots are still present in the minds.

What is still left of the London that ruled the world at the turn of the XXth century? A lot and just a few things.

The city is still marked by many of the same structural elements, in a larger measure than other European capitals, in part due to the strong associations that opposed the urban motorways during the last quarter of the XXth century. High tech architecture maintains an image close somehow to that of the big steel structures of the XIXth century.

But the city has grown, the personality of its zones has evolved, and despite the substantial expansion of the financial economy up to the present crisis, Great Britain has become a mid-sized power with a role in the world still to be defined.

London (1)

London 2012 Olympics have represented a sizeable investment of public funds around the valley of the Lea, as small tributary of the Thames on its north bank, north of the Docklands. What will happen now that the games are over?

As the large international events have grown in complexity and investment amounts, so have grown the demands to conceive their design and operations as to ensure the most socially and economically adequate way to give a good use to the infrastructure and other elements built for the occasion after the event. In the first times the issue was the destination of the housing units built in the Olympic villages, later it was transportation, and the array of issues has since widened.

Since the 1990s the screening of the candidacies to Olimpic city has given an increasing importance to the issue of legacy, partially to counter the criticism against the cost of previous events.

In London the legacy proposal has been organized around:

–           A redefinition of the area around six new neighborhoods, to be finished by 2040.

–           Housing: housing units are 65% of the building on the Olympic Park, with a prevision to build up to 12.000 units, including 35% affordable housing and 42% with 3 or more bedrooms, with surfaces allowing long term flexibility.

–           Parks: the new park system, already configured in its esencial points for the Games, covers 102 hectares. A part corresponds to contaminated soils due to past industrial activities, that have been cleaned up for the games. The potential of the canals for leisure and transport will be developed.

–           Employment: the Olympic Park area has a fragile socioeconomic structure. The aim is to double the previous jobs number on site.

–           Sports venues: five of the large venues will remain, with a partial reduction in size to adapt maintenance costs to predicted use

–           Public facilities: three new primary schools and two secondary schools are planned, along with a sports academy on the Olympic Stadium. Each neighborhood will have a community space.

–           There are plans to build new bridges, 14 km of new roads and 35 km of pedestrian and bike lanes.

–           Transport: use of the improvements in the railroad and underground, already in service for the games, planned under the principle of minimization of the use of private cars.

Under the current economic crisis, the delivery of these targets will surely bring lessons for future events.

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Paris (14)

Paris is still one of the most important and influential cities in the world, despite the diminished political power of France in the recent decades. It has first level cultural and high education facilities and high quality public spaces, and the city still plays a major role in the French and international economic scene. It still is home to innovations, but the capacity to surprise the world has somehow faded, having lost the previous major role in technological areas.

The magnitude of the problems of Paris and its ability (or inability) to cope with them gives interesting examples in many areas. President Sarkozy’s initiative launching a strategic brainstorm on the future of Paris, in terms of urban model and of governance, is maintained by President Hollande,  and can be of substantial interest for many big metropolises around the world. Addressing the inner contradictions of an increasingly diverse and economically segregated population will be a central issue.

The role of Paris in the world depends mainly on the future of Europe, thanks to the French ability to do what London and Berlin have not achieved: configure a positive and ordered image, despite its shortcomings and some troubling moments as the 2005 riots.

Paris (13)


The Musée des Arts Premiers is one of the most interesting elements in the recent public architecture production in Paris. It is President Chirac’s legacy to the series of “great works” initiated by the previous presidents, and it is linked to his interest in the arts from non European countries.

The building by Jean Nouvel is on a lot oriented towards the Seine, near the Champs de Mars and the Eiffel tower. A substantial part of the building is raised on columns, allowing for a large garden with an abstract composition. The built volume has a glass façade over the river that cumulates many colored boxes that are corresponding exhibition spaces. The dimensions of this volume allow for a substantial courtyard to the back street, creating an interesting access sequence to the Museum.

The internal vertical movement of visitors is organized with a large spiral ramp that plays a relevant role in the arrangement of volumes.

The building does not integrate in its environment by being mimetic, but rather through contrast with a neighborhood marked by the close presence of the Eiffel tower and the luxury condos around it.