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.
The upper image corresponds to the village of Alange, in the Spanish province of Badajoz. The dam was completed in 1992, with a wall 67 m high (from foundation) and 720 m long, so what until then was just a village over the Matachel river became a space marked by water and a new coastline. This is no doubt a project beyond the means of a small municipality, and was managed by the Guadiana Water Board. This action produces a new landscape that allows the use of water for irrigation (in lower lands there is a wide agrarian plain) and electricity production.
The reservoir has a catchment basin of 2.545 sq km (which is equivalent to 60% of Rhode Island), and its water surface, of some 35 sq km, is marked by some islands which display the geology of the area. The areas that were to be underwater were cleaned of all vegetation, so when the water level changes sometimes the shores look rather arid, in contrast with a much greener area of lands above water.
Water has brought relevant change; a neighborhood was moved as its precedent site was flooded, some new buildings respond to the new landscape, and it is fair to think that the payments to the owners of land taken to be submerged must have somehow influenced the local economy. There sure was an impact due to the flooding of the lower valley agrarian land, usually a fertile one. Over a stretch, the new layout of the road goes between the urban edge and the water, but its physical configuration is not very attractive. Water has become the central element of an area of the Natura 2000 European Nature considered a Relevant Birds Area; birds have become users of the reservoir. But people are becoming less relevant in number; there were 2.031 residents in 1996, and in 2014 this number fell to 1.946.
This first example of 2015 is not really a map, but rather a rendering of an idea that has received an award in a competition for students held by the American Society of Landscape Architects. Its author, Reid Fellenbaum, proposes a strategy for the evolution of the central US plains, threatened by the gradual depletion of the aquifers that water its cereal crops. He summarizes the project as an evolution from the current Jeffersonian grid towards a more fine-grained arrangement in a land which is more fragile than it seems. I’m not talking about feasibility (which would be complex to judge in its entirety), even if it is clear that traditional cultivation techniques probably could provide some useful tricks, but rather about the graphical quality of the presentation, which is quite good.
Besides, this project addresses an issue, the “grain” of the land, on which I will soon write… widely.
In 2015 metrhispanic will focus on new themes, as the built space never stops its flows. New ways to represent and discuss issues are under way…. Happy new year to all of you!
Some years ago, while in Paris, I had a chance to listen to a speech by Jean Paul Lacaze, a French urban planner among those that had been everywhere in all the relevant places, as he explained a curious story. He talked about the French experience with new towns, and the growing complexity of the criteria to choose a place (to erect a city, an industrial area or whatever) in consistency with the sustainable development paradigm. He spoke about the urban planning project linked to the Lacq gas field, in Pyrénées Atlantiques. The field was discovered in 1951 and is somehow the origin of the present Total oil group; there are some parallels with the current shale gas, as it was a hard to obtain resource (high proportion of hydrogen and sulphur), but a relevant input for the national economy. Lacaze said that while the presentation of the project to the press around 1957, the mayor said something like “we chose the better place, no doubt; Jean Paul and I, we drove for an entire day on my car around the municipality to find it”. That is a far cry from what could be considered good practice now, but it is how Mourenx, a city of 7.000 now (10.000 in 1968) appeared.
The gas field closed in 2013, and the economic base of the city suffered, as in many other mining areas, even if there is a set of industrial projects. The city seems clearly a “ville nouvelle” of the first model, even a hybrid with the previous “grand ensemble” model. It is an architecture of lineal multi-storey blocks on a rather regular street grid in which every chance is taken to introduce a curve (and the terrain gives some room for that).
That day, Jean Paul and the mayor chose a relatively flat area surrounded by two large sets of hills giving a certain visual protection when seen from the close industrial areas. Each neighbourhood has a tower, but individual homes have become more important (after all, that is France). The Plan Local d’Urbanisme is being revised, with moderate growth previsions.
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….
According to the European Landscape Convention, landscape is “an area, as perceived by people, whose character is the result of the action and interaction of natural and/or human factors”. The convention mentions the links between economics and landscape, but the fact is that its implementation has often been more oriented towards environmental and perceptive issues, in part due to the difficulties to quantify and relate the multiple actions on landscapes with a concrete impact of each action overall. There are methods to compute the Gross Domestic Product, but it is complex to evaluate the worth of a landscape in a given configuration and by itself (and not just as a simple addition of the value of the present activities), which would be needed to evaluate the impact of a given project.
Sure, you can say that a sustainable development must focus on all three dimensions (social, environmental and economic), and that economic calculation by no means guarantees a better policy or a coherent portrayal of reality. You can even say that creating an algorithm is just a way to have people tamper it to their own benefit.
Despite all that, some have gone down that way. Tiziano Tempesta evaluates the Italian case: “the landscape policies in Italy are currently essentially based on landscape transformation control and on the payment of subsidies to farmers. Since the landscape policies have a cost for citizens, in both cases it is necessary to evaluate the benefits coming from public intervention”. There are no definitive conclusions, or magic algorithms, but some interesting thoughts on the matter.
The aggregative effects of what we can see as simple things can give us a clue on how the world works. I will try to approach this in the next set of posts.
To be honest, the title here is not entirely accurate: I knew about the landscape interest of Gata (Cáceres, Spain), and in fact I was in a visit preceded by a quite complete briefing. The unexpected being here to which extent I liked how the different elements fit. And largely, the pines to the right of the church in the first image, just a handful, but clearly leaving a good imprint on that landscape.