The last general election in Britain in 2011 brought a wave of public spending reduction in many fields. Among these reductions the Council for Architecture and the Built Environment was considered redundant; it published good examples of design reviews concerning urban planning and architecture. Thank god, the National Archives keep a link to the contents of the old site.
It is probably a good idea to propose some preliminary ideas before getting into the awards issue. I’m going to talk about awards to plans or documents that somehow have been approved by a public administration, or about ideas that have been built; I will even talk about awards to existing urban spaces in which there is no actual new construction. So architectural/urban competitions will not be included; don’t get me wrong, they can be really interesting (there can be interesting issues beyond the famous cases as the 1922 Chicago Tribune or the 1931 Soviet’s Palace competitions), but because I’m right now more interested in what I have described. Under these conditions, whatever receives the award must have been somehow endorsed by a certain amount of agents, resulting so from a (varying) degree of consensus.
An award is nevertheless similar to a competition or even to a school exam; you often see it just in one sense, as a choice between a set of proposals from which you pick the one more fit to the criteria you have set. But often it is also clear that the jury is also put to test (and sometimes fails). The award is a social construction based on a set of conventions, depending on the moment and the vision of the jurors (be it coincident or not with the majority views, even if they are far from reasonable), and even (let me hope that just in a minority of cases…) depending on the personal affinities with given candidates. Even if all the former can be interesting elements, I will not focus on them.
What I will focus on is, in the cases I will portray during the next posts, my vision on the awarded proposals when related to the remaining ones, as seen from a distance (for several reasons I will not talk about awards in my current direct geographical area). Judging their virtues is not always easy (even if sometimes you are tempted to say something is worthless…), but some questions arise that I think are worth sharing.
Awards are great as a way to see what is currently seen as interesting or innovative by people on a bussiness. So I propose for the next posts a glimpse on what is the current season of awards regarding urban planning and design, and their links to architecture, sustainable development and other issues.
I was born on a peninsula, and I like that kind of places. Some people from inland areas are somehow puzzled, as for them a coastal city should have water only in one direction, a far cry from what a peninsula is. These same people have a still harder time when they realize that a peninsular city changes its shape constantly; not that inland cities are different, but here the coastline provides a more apparent limit that makes things clearer.
The best way to find your way on a peninsula is to look for a tall element. A lighthouse, a hill, a chimney… if you have no such elements, you are in trouble, as ships can come from anywhere (thank god, in the Cadiz marshes you have shipyards with large cranes, power towers and a new bridge…).
Some have found a loophole: make city grow so much larger than your peninsula that it will no longer be noticed. But this is somehow cheating…
Cuando estudiaba en la Escuela de Arquitectura había un libro básico para los novatos: Arte de Proyectar en Arquitectura, de Ernst Neufert. No se trataba de su metodología de proyecto, sino de su sistemática descripción de la medida de las cosas o las proporciones (dos tabicas+ una huella en un escalón=63 o 64, 44 cm como anchura de asiento…). Ernst Neufert vivió entre 1900 y 1968 y publicó la primera edición de su libro en 1936; pero en la edición de 1986 aún había menciones a fuentes como el instituto Kaiser Guillermo.
Si bien es cierto que la dimensión del ser humano medio no ha variado tanto (y esa era la base de esas dimensiones), también lo es que algunas de las soluciones constructivas o de diseño recogidas en el libro parecen hoy en día anacrónicas. Cuartos de baño mínimos en los que el suelo cuenta con un desagüe para servir en conjunto como duchas, o escaleras con peldañeados imposibles para ahorrar espacio muestran que en la Alemania de la primera mitad del siglo XX aún había un problema importante de vivienda, y que eso también existía, aunque no guste reconocerlo, en otros muchos países (lo cual hace pensar si el Neufert no podría ser un éxito de venta en los “países emergentes”, que siguen teniendo muchos de esos problemas).
La Grande Motte tiene algo de eso. Es un modelo de asentamiento turístico diametralmente opuesto al de otros emplazamientos mediterráneos, como Benidorm, basados en una amplia laxitud del planeamiento. Aquí, en el marco de un programa de saneamiento y promoción turística del entorno de las lagunas del Languedoc bajo De Gaulle, se planteó una ciudad de vacaciones con arquitecturas que destacaran por sus formas entonces futuristas. Los edificios siguen siendo llamativos (aunque no necesariamente hermosos), pero cuando uno se acerca algunas cosas se muestran extrañamente pequeñas, o superadas por las expectativas de confort. Parece casi un ejemplo de retro futurismo; no es en ese sentido tan diferente a Benidorm, donde los rascacielos de hace décadas siguen ahí, con una obsolescencia clara en muchos aspectos, pero representando pese a todo un ideal de futuro pasado, mucho más anárquico en la imagen, aunque con una estética quizás más potente aún. No se alcanzan las cotas del bajo Manhattan (el único casco histórico que conozco con amplios conjuntos de edificios de más de 100 metros), pero hay algo de eso.
Y sin embargo, La Grande Motte no es igual. La profusión de espacios libres públicos y privados, con densidades menores que en el caso de Benidorm, y la idea de comunidad cerrada por las propias condiciones físicas del emplazamiento (podría rodarse una versión de el Show de Truman a la francesa) hace que la relación con el agua y la presencia en el paisaje sean diferentes… desde un punto de vista europeo, porque hay ciertas cosas que casi podrían ser del sur de Florida….
An august morning in Nice (some years ago) has many things to see; as in many other cities, but here, from the castle, you feel you can see more:
– Planes. Lots of them (one of the busiest airport in France), which you can see take off and land, as the runways seem an aircraft carrier; you feel you can almos touch them, as here the approach is curved (I never saw something like that, at least in Spain), and this makes traffic all the most spectacular. The aeronautical servitudes map seems an Enric Miralles’s architecture.
– The beach is quite active; cobblestones, so less hospitable that sand beaches.
– The Promenade des Anglais is quite used. Compared to other more modern sea walks, its beach sidewalk is utterly simple (its prestige comes more from the buildings on the land sidewalk), but seems to work well; it is wide, the most important thing, and at least it is not cluttered with nonsense stuff.
– Seen from a distance the hills could be almost anywhere in the northern Mediterranean coast. The percentage of eyesores on the landscape is lesser than in Spain or Italy, but they also happen to exist.
– On the harbour there are many yachts the size of a navy corvette (although not as many as in Monte Carlo). In fact, that area seems among the least active of this landscape, but it attracts the eye in a quite ordered wharf, which still shows the Italian origin of the city.
Historical architecture can be complex in shape, and quality drawings to document their conservation by traditional means can be an interesting, albeit long and tedious process. Photogrametry has been used for some years, but it was not necessarily an economic solution. Today there are new tools which could reduce the costs (time will always be needed…) as Wohlfeil, Strackenbrock and Kossyk describe in their article.
In Bologna the arcades, a singular element in other cities, are a systematic feature. Not that they do not exist elsewhere, but here you have more than 40 km of them, and nearly any stroll in the historical core can be done through them. In many cities, they are an element complementing the sidewalk, but here they substitute it almost completely. This implies that sometimes a pedestrian does not see clearly the vehicles until he decides to do it (not necessarily a good thing), but also that anyone stopping a car must be more attentive. During winter, if ice appears, sunrays do not touch the pedestrian area, so there is a risk of slipping, but if there is just rain you are covered. Compared to other historical cities there are very few sidewalks, and even pedestrian streets, but when you walk you feel much more protected; even if they wished to do so, cars and trucks could not occupy the pedestrian space but through unusual means.
It seems the arcades appeared during the XIIth century, when streets were wider, as a solution to extend buildings to cope with a surge in the university population. In 1288 a municipal ordinance made brick or stone arcades mandatory for any building, even if today some wooden arcades remain. The key measure were 7 Bologna ft in height (2,66 m), enough to allow the passage of a man astride his horse. In law terms, it was a compulsory easement by which the public use of the arcade was guaranteed and it was to be kept in good use by the building owner, in exchange for the right to use the spaces in the floors above. As a compulsory architectural element in any building, it has taken varied shapes, in palaces and in humble homes, with a large diversity.
The Bologna arcades (Portici Bolognesi) are candidates to enter the UNESCO world heritage list.
These arcades have also probably survived due to another factor: compared with other historical cities penalised by a position atop a hill, Bologna’s historical core and its surrounds are almost flat, so pedestrians have it easy.
To many people (above a certain age…) the image of Salzburg can be that of “The sound of music”. Incidentally, Germans and Austrians seem not to have liked the film due to the many inconsistencies it displays, both in geography and in terms of relation with the real story of the Trap family; it seems their canonical story was the one of a previous German movie. It is also a place marked (just ask tourists) by Mozart and the music festival.
In physical terms, Salzburg is a city in the valley of the Salzach, marked by the presence of two large hills: Kapuzinberg to the east, rising some 230 m over the river, and Mönschberg to the west, with lesser heights but a clear plateau. The German border is just across the airport, and according to the elevation map, here it seems the Austrians got the mountains and the Germans the plains. Quite fast you get over 1.000 m, mainly to the south, with impressive views of the summits.
The historical core of Salzburg is inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage List since 1996. The core area encompasses 236 hectares, in which the two hills are almost half the surface, and the buffer zone measures 467 hectares. The site declaration recognizes the role of the city as a meeting point for northern and southern Europe; the city is considered a relevant example of an European ecclesiastical city-state, preserving well its townscape and architecture, and a relevant arts city, especially when it comes to music, with Mozart as an example.
The 1997 Flächenwidmungsplan (Municipal Plan) clearly protects the two main hills, surrounded by urban land (red). The city, which was initiated between both hills, has today filled most of the level areas. The geometric proportion of hills, river and urban tissue, despite the built density, deliver a balanced result in the urban core.
Salzburg could have chosen to maintain its landscape only in the space between hills (most of the tourists never get out of that area), but overall there seems not to exist any major nuisance in the rest of the city. And the Alps are always there on the background, a much more important feature than the debate on whether the film is really authentic…
Here is a story that most architects have read during their training years, and surely a substantial herd of tourists visiting Vienna (the kind of story tourism guides usually like to tell). Once upon a time, in the late imperial Vienna, there was an innovative and daring architect, Adolf Loos, set to modernize architecture by going beyond a formalism that he thought was archaic. He found a client (Goldman & Salatsch taylors) which also wanted to display a commitment to modernity and owned a site on Michelerplatz, jus opposite from Hofburg, the Imperial Palace. The architect had to face social opposition and the municipal architects (the later probably as formidable as the first), who by all means tried to reorient the project towards more traditional aesthetics. According to the urban legend, the Kaiser was upset enough to have the windows to the square closed as not to endure seeing such a hideous building…
Usually students see this building in history books in which Loos is presented as a hero and his book “Ornament and Crime” is mentioned, but it is much less often that you can see the square defining the context of that quarrel. If anything should be defined as baroque, the Hofburg would be. But the Loos building also plays with materials and composition, in a way that perhaps was not decorative in a classical sense, but is surely quite subjective. There is not here a lack of decorative elements, i.e., of a personal view on the problem of how to finish a space, but rather a whole new ballgame in terms of precision and tools stemming from a higher industrial evolution.
After some time as a taylor business, the ground floor became a car dealership, to later receive a swastika, and after the war a furniture business. Since 1987 there is a branch of Raiffeisenbank, in which you can see an exhibition of plans and images from the time, as well as some reminders of the controversy.