Blocks (6) 22@ at Barcelona



September 2000 marked the enactment of a variance to Barcelona’s Plan General Metropolitano aimed at renovating the industrial areas in Poblenou, also known as 22@BCN Activity District. The goal was to transform an industrial area in a new technology development area, so preventing the brownfield problem. This implied conditions to rearrange the area, a regulation of land uses and use intensities, rules for public facilities and terms of references for Special Plans.


Built height (the darker the blue, the lower the existing height, with many areas in just 1 level)

When the plan was enacted the area was covered mainly by factories. The proposal was to provide a rise from a floor-area ratio of 2 in the previous zoning to one of 3 in the transformation areas (yellow), the rest (red) rising up to 2,2. This may seem reduced, as it is just 50% at the higher case; but the typological evolution (from one floor factories to narrower, higher buildings) will certainly change the landscape. A part of the increase in built surface is used to pay for improvements in public works.


The cadaster shows little change at first sight; sure, it is not entirely up to date (the “stapler” at Plaza de las Glorias is not yet represented), but the fact is that many projects stalled because of the real estate crisis. The Diagonal façades has transformed, and many projects are changing the area in a rather piecemeal mode, as the MediaTIC building, which opens this post…

edif 22arroba

Blocks (5)- Maps 2015 (16) Barcelona as seen by the tax man

pbarna 0-0

French geographer Yves Lacoste used to say that geography is since its inception a war tool. It’s not my aim to contradict him, but in fact urban cartography is since its inception a tool to levy taxes… here are the primary results of processing the cadastral maps of Barcelona by assigning a 3 m height to each level above ground… More soon.



Starters of urban change (5) Bow windows


Imagine you are a city or any other public administration with urban planning powers. How to foster the use of a given architectural shape without paying for it? Reducing the cost for those producing it. In a given moment, the city of Madrid decides that the floor area of a bow window is accounted for just about 50% of its size in the overall floor area permitted by the municipal plan on each lot. So it is a more profitable space than other square meters in the building. This explains why you so often this shape in the Madrid architecture of the last two decades.

Is this a better architectural solution? A more elegant one? You cannot say, as this depends on each project. Conversely, some cities as Barcelona are much less welcoming towards these bow windows, and this has been a tradition for more than a century. It is a matter of local sensibility… Barcelona’s position derives from the overcrowding in the old city before the Cerda extension in mid XIXth century, when cantilevering rooms sometimes covered the street. I could not trace back the reason for Madrid’s permissiveness.

Things I saw while on break

The Danube near Vienna, as seen from Khalenberg Hill

The Danube near Vienna, as seen from Khalenberg Hill

For those that have followed this blog during the last years, here is the proof it has not disappeared. Just a small fraction of that time was a break (most of it was quite the opposite…), but it was worth it.

During that time I have seen and thought about some interesting things, either on travel or through other means. Here are some, which can be viewed as a thematic layout of future posts:

  • Vienna: I had never visited Austria. After a recent trip to Germany I was curious to see the other big Germanic country, not so much (or rather no only) for its past as an old empire that imploded almost overnight in 1918, but more as a country in which I thought an interesting version of modernity was happening. The trip has indeed been interesting. My knowledge of German is schematic, and if I told you I have grasped the soul of the country after just a few days you would (for a good reason) think I’m just bragging; but some things have seemed interesting.
  • The evolution of the idea of sustainable development (or its weakening under some points of view). The quarrels surrounding the ministerial reorganization in France during this summer have made me remember news read during the recent municipal and European elections there. Among the promises made by local candidates of the National Front in many cities were the ones about letting again access the city core by car without restrictions, reversing policies adopted years ago to try to reduce pollution and conserve the old cities qualities. The National Front is a particularity in the French political system, but its rise is fuelled by their ability to grasp subjects that galvanize citizens. They raised that idea in many cities, but not in Paris and Lyon, where things cannot be so simplified. On the other hand, Nicolas Sarkozy, the former President, who instituted a Ministry for Durable Development, said in 2011 during a visit to the Agricultural Convention of Paris “the environment, it is becoming a bit too much”. On the other side, the relations between socialists and ecologists in France are far from easy (hence the initial mention to the French politics of this summer). The evolution over time of the UK policies on that matter has also been controversial there. Many in Europe will think that this is just peanuts compared to the American scene, forgetting the fact that there the scene is also mixed, as you just have to compare Republicans in the Congress (denial of climate change) to Schwarzeneger or Bloomberg (climate change policies) to see what I talk about. Are we witnessing the end of sustainable development as a somehow blind faith (believing in something presented as good, even if not understood by many that feel it just brings costs or even nuisance to their way of life) that can be used by politicians and marketers alike, to see a more critical conscience emerge, or else? Therein lies the rump….
  • A new rise in the social demand for rules, not as a defence of some economic interests, but of other matters lied to the idea of common good. These days there have been demonstrations in Barcelona against the growing presence of tourists renting apartments in an informal way in the Barceloneta area; they use what to some is a reduced booze price and a perceived image of Spain as a permissive country to behave in ways that perhaps could be subject to prosecution in their own countries. Sure, hotel owners have used that to talk about unlawful competition (a bit like taxi drivers revolts against Uber), but the neighbours asked here for quite simple things: the right to sleep without noise, or to move around their city without seeing gross scenes. I have read on today’s Washington Post a quite similar news concerning Ocean City, Maryland. The fear of squadrons of youth looking for booze and party, ruining the calm of a neighbourhood by renting homes piecemeal has also surfaced, and is also criticized by those saying that as the city lives from tourism, this must be endured. So Barceloneta (a popular neighbourhood with high density) is on the same wavelength as Ocean City (apparently a richer, lower density area). Some will present this as a case of NIMBY (Not In My BackYard), a resistance to accept externalities related to the inherent complexity of cities. But this seems something more, a symptom of a general evolution of the idea of what can be or not accepted in a society.
  • I have also seen interesting physical landscapes

Barcelona (23) War Memories



My father’s parents never talked to my mother’s, for the plain good reason that they didn’t speak each other’s language. I have been in family celebrations in which there was even a third language, and most of the people were not even able to speak at least two. But everyone knew that the person in front was not speaking a different language to offend him. They also knew that even if the person by his side could speak a common language, if they were talking to their wife/son/cousin in their everyday language it was not a disrespect, but simply habit, instinct. This is why I don’t understand some attitudes towards Catalan in other parts of Spain, and mainly in Madrid (I don’t understand either any rational criteria in some attitudes by a minority of Catalans).

My family also has memories from the XXth century European wars; my grandparents lived them in bad situations, and my parents were born just in the middle of the wars that raged in their respective countries, having to endure uneasy post-war years. My mom says that the first concept she associated with the word German was “boots”, as she heard patrols at night. But this has not led them to define their identity on the memory of this suffering; it is just a part, but a minute one.

This long preamble arises from the fact that architecture has sometimes a sense that goes beyond physical shape. Some days ago I visited the El Born Cultural Center, a former market that was intended to become a public library. During refurbishment works the previous city streets were discovered; the neighbourhood had been razed after the invasion of Barcelona in 1714 during the Sucession War. This allowed the war winners to set up a citadel to control the rebel city, leaving around an open, barren area to see any enemy coming. The cultural centre, into the refurbished market, includes an exhibition on the historical moment and the siege which has been well funded (although some of its statements seem to be far from consensual)

Imagining today what the Sucession War for the Spanish crown meant is complex. I am not an historian, so I will accept any correction. Judging from what I have read it would be as if Mitt Romney had not accepted Obama’s victory and a civil war followed. Each of the two sides would have the help not just from a part of the States, but also their overseas bases and dependencies; and the help of a large foreign power (China, Russia…) eager to grab as much as possible from the larger empire on earth. The war wreaked havoc around the then known world, and what Barcelona experienced was the dubious honour of being the last visible bulwark (but for Cardona) of the losers

But Succession War was not started to destroy Barcelona, as many of the successive wars that unfortunately afflicted the city; Barcelona suffered during the 1936-1939 civil war, but Madrid was during that same time a front line city. That’s why I find hard to understand why there is a movement (sizeable in number) that wants to give that event, which happened 3 centuries ago, such a central role in Catalan identity, which seems vastly more interesting in other terms. I understand that for some this marked the advent of a new centralist regime under the Bourbon dynasty, but there is one thing that Catalans have proved again and again for three centuries: that an uniform regime does not produce homogeneous outputs, and that there is always a way to be different in a positive way.

Let’s not forget what the original intent of this post was: the market has been duly restored, and it is worth a visit.



Barcelona (22) Roofs

A view from Hotel H10 in Via Laietana. 1 Agbar tower, in Plaza de las Glorias, 2 Ciutadella Park starts, 3 towers at the Olympic harbor, 4 Ciutadella park ends

A view from Hotel H10 in Via Laietana. 1 Agbar tower, in Plaza de las Glorias, 2 Ciutadella Park starts, 3 towers at the Olympic harbor, 4 Ciutadella park ends

It is often worth going to an upper belvedere (here the roof terrace of a hotel in Via Laietana) and see what is around. Buildings can seem rather well behaved from ground level, but roofs, especially when you have flat ones that can be used as in Barcelona, allow a more individual expression (as in cemeteries, you can express yourself through architecture usually with more freedom).

What do barceloneses say from their penthouses? Some have created gardens/forests, some hotels have established their own paradises with swimming pool to enjoy tapas o drinks (not during winter…) and there are many traditional rooftop clotheslines. Those willing (and able) make a statement with towers or domes of any kind.

cub2 cub1

Barcelona (21) Massive


XXth century “high architecture” has often been all about attaining a lightness that defies the massive condition of architecture. But there was a time when the idea whas quite different, and not just for ornament. When Lluis Domenech i Montaner builds the Palau de la Música Catalana in 1908 he works on a massive block that so becomes a number of things. Some recent aditions by Tusquets are also noteworthy

palau-1b palau-2 Palau-3 Palau-4