Proyecto Madrid Centro

Montpellier (3)

Madrid (municipality) and Montpellier (metro municipalities) at the same scale (1km grid). The core cities subject to specific programs are highlited.

Madrid (municipality) and Montpellier (metro municipalities) at the same scale (1km grid). The core cities subject to specific programs are highlited.

How large is a city? It is increasingly difficult to answer, as it is increasingly difficult to know what a city is. Anyway, if you take municipal limits, Montpellier is a city with a population slightly over 255.000 on a bit less than 57 sq km (compared to 605 sq km in Madrid, which has 12 times more population). It is common to see in France such a small municipal scale (over 36.000 municipalities when compared to some 8.000 in Spain, for countries with similar surface). So, in some matters, the correct comparison is not between municipalities, but between management logics for each space and each policy. In urban planning terms, if Montpellier has its own Plan Local d’Urbanisme, the SCOT covers the 31 municipalities of a Metro area that has administrative powers, and more interesting comparison items appear. Nevertheless, when you compare the city with Madrid, it is striking to see that both cities have addressed the issue of their urban cores at about the same time (PMC in Madrid, Grand Coeur in Montpellier).

Centrality and periphery in Madrid since 2000 (2)

Residential density on pre-1979 buildings

Residential density on pre-1979 buildings

Urban centrality is one of these complex concepts which are easier to recognize in everyday life than to describe with rigor and precision; this complicates (but does not prevent) actions to foster its positive effects.

As some have said, the center is, simply, this place to which everyone wants to go; to some this means, ideally, the place to which young people go to learn, but also to celebrate, and older people go to work, but also to enjoy, and there is also a lot of residents. To others, it is place with many roles, but few residents so they do not have to endure the burdens of congestion. And in real life, it is not so much a geographically defined space, with a closed shape, immune to change over time, but an area that evolves even along a single day, in which the most central areas are those that around the clock maintain for longer that centrality condition, always marked by the ability to attract external people.

What would be central Madrid? As it is a city with some history (although not that long, as somehow Madrid was to the European XVIth century what Brasilia has been to the American XXth), there are some physical limits; time and the inertia of capital infrastructure investments over decades have configured a space, coincident with the Centro ward, where converge the main transit lines and streets. It is the most iconic center nowadays, but up to the end of the XXth century it was the whole of the city, and this complexity is still apparent. The XIXth century Ensanche and the industrial extension towards Arganzuela only helped to stretch that center, an operation fostered also by the Gran Vía opening.

The consolidation of the Ensanche for a century and its better socioeconomic conditions as compared to the slums of Tetuan and Puente de Vallecas, almost contemporary in their development, helped the rise to centrality for that space, and more clearly around its western edge. And the northbound extension configures an axis around the Paseo de la Castellana in which by the mid 2000s there were already 3 jobs for each registered resident.

When we were called to write the Proyecto Madrid Centro (PMC), the City of Madrid considered that the scope for study and intervention should essentially be what is inside the M-30 beltway, which is as saying that the center of Metro New York is the whole of Mannhattan island, Paris 75 is the center of the Parisian metropolitan area, and the Ciudad Autonoma is the core of Buenos Aires. Work showed that this is just a simplification; on such scales the metropolitan dynamics and the fluidity of the transportation systems make for a more complex reality. Real centrality, as a combination of multiple roles able to attract external populations on a large scale, is the overlay of the Castellana Axis, the Centro ward and the Barrio de Salamanca, but there are also more local centralities; their future is threatened by the economic crisis, which seems to reinforce the attraction of the most central areas, aided by tourism flows, when compared to neighborhood centralities, more stressed in their retail role.

Madrid, Buenos Aires (4)


An elegant neighborhood is a space in which architecture has been developed with a greater quality over time as, simply put, its neighbors have had the money to pay for better buildings and they have maintained them. It seems Gangnam-gu is one of the richest neighborhoods in Seoul, but as the city was almost razed during the Korean war, this probably will only translate into an elegant area in the classical sense with more time (at least they have a song…).

The Retiro area in Buenos Aires (some blocks north of Plaza de Mayo) and the Barrio de Salamanca in Madrid (north of the Retiro park) have been built mainly during the XIXth century.

In Madrid the Salamanca area, projected as an integral extension of the city, is, as the Barcelona ensanche (a contemporary project) a tentative to use the grid as a directive principle. It has finally become the most exclusive neighborhood as those that had less money found less expensive opportunities out of the regulated city. And it still is a highly valued area, albeit an extremely dense one; as in Barcelona the original building bylaws where changed allowing a more speculative development. Anyway, there are still two blocks east of plaza de Colón where you can still see the originally projected block model, with large central courtyards, usually “forgotten”.

In Buenos Aires the Retiro district had no special intention to become different by layout or project. How would you differentiate you as a grid in a city that is a whole grid? In fact, it is a less regular grid than that of Madrid (one also adapted to preexisting elements). The neighborhood appears when the then rich citizens look for a new space after the 1871 yellow fever epidemics; Paris is the model for the architecture in a moment in which Argentina, as an agrarian power, becomes an emergent power. From the 1930s it is an entry point for modern architecture.

Avenida Córdoba, Buenos Aires. Image on Panoramio by Franciscovies

Urban planning and food (6) Madrid, potatoes and the Retiro Park


The Retiro park, in central Madrid, as substituted by farmland in the region, at the same scale

After seeing what happens in several cities, a look at Madrid. Data from the Regional Statistical Institute shows that for five crops relevant to the average urban diet (wheat, corn, potatoes and olives), cultivation surfaces have diminished considerably, but for olive trees. Output has also shrinked in several cases, but following more erratic patterns (agriculture being an economic activity, farmers plant according to their benefit expectations). Productions by hectare usually have risen.


Production in metric tons by hectare in the Madrid region for selected crops

Overall, over an hectare (2,5 acres), the average for the last 25 years shows that you can grow:

  • 2,24 metric tons of wheat or
  • 9,75 metric tons of corn or
  • 25,08 metric tons of potatoes
  • 2,56 metric tons of grapes or
  • 0,5 metric tons of olives

The Retiro Park in central Madrid  is slightly over 100 hectares, a figure that I will use to simplify. If the Retiro was to be entirely used for cultivation (this is just a mind game, by no means a proposition…), each of the 1.075.000 inhabitants of central Madrid (area covered by the Proyecto Madrid Centro) could eat, for each harvest:

  • 208 grams of wheat or
  • 907 grams of corn or
  • 2,33 kg of potatoes or
  • 230 grams of grapes or
  • 46 grams of olives

Even if some experiences have shown that urban agriculture can be more productive than current agriculture methods, it is also true that the qualities of the Retiro soils for agriculture should be assessed…

Rephrasing the argument, for each sq meter (some 10 sq ft) of urban farms, and according to these figures, in Madrid you would get:

  • 224 grams of wheat or
  • 975 grams of corn or
  • 2,5 kg of potatoes or
  • 256 grams of grapes or
  • 50 grams of olives

This doesn’t mean that urban agriculture has no sense in Madrid, but that its real production capacity must well assessed, and that it is important to understand that its benefits are not only in food production, encompassing also social and environmental aspects.

Headquarters and Awards

We the architects are a singular profession: by morning you can have mud up to your knees in a building site, and on the same afternoon be with the most powerful in sophisticated environments. It is up to us to define the best possible solution, even if sometimes the needed resources are far from being provided. And we can be a useful scapegoat for many people (that as always in life can even have some point in occasions). Sure, all of the above only applies to us…

Architects tend to constitute associative bodies that defend what they perceive as their rights, and these associations have a certain legal status. In Spain these entities are the Architect’s Colleges, and in Madrid we have COAM. The deep economic trouble, mostly linked here in Spain to the real estate bubble (with a direct impact on our business, with a sizeable proportion of Madrid’s architects unemployed) has had a clear impact on the organization.

As often, even for non architect- related entities, COAM decided to move to new headquarters a short time before the bubble exploded, with all the associated costs. The long term impact of this operation on COAM’s finances (which faces regulatory changes that can become a much bigger problem) remains to be seen, but we can at least say that something good has been given to Madrid. The building seems well built and is well integrated with the street, but the main point to me is that it integrates, with a semi-public quality (enhanced by sharing the building with public equipments), a courtyard with an attractive landscaping. Madrid and other Spanish cities have lost over time, among other qualities, that of its courtyards as silent spaces with the presence of orchards and gardens, and here, even if there are no big trees, there are clearly positive elements. The project (by the architect Gonzalo Moure) integrates also other uses, as a public swimming pool with good views.

These new headquarters opened some months ago, but to be honest yesterday night was my first visit, due to the COAM annual awards. The visit was in part purpose driven (our Proyecto Madrid Centro was awarded), but also interesting.

The Headquarters, or La Sede (so named in Spanish in the corporative image) is worth a walk, on 63,calle Hortaleza, with architecture- related exhibitions and cultural activities.


Proyecto Madrid Centro (3)

The Strategic Project proposes an alternative, radical but suitable for a gradual low cost deployment, to the need to limit the unrestricted vehicle access to the city core without harming the accessibility as an essential quality of centrality. The main streets grid guarantees the public transit and automobile access to the whole of the urban space, but the secondary grid restricts the access to residents, creating so a complementary network in which pedestrian well-being, bike accessibility, trees and economic and retail activities become the main elements.

The new urban cell is also the coherent scale to reorganize the citizen access to neighborhood scale public facilities, a powerful asset to correct geographic differences.

Proyecto Madrid Centro (2)

The quality of urban spaces can spark the transformation of the city, and this is only possible by a better space allocation to cars, pedestrians and bicycles, taking back a relevant part of the streets for uses that contribute to a better life quality without compromising economic vitality.

The street is a reference for buildings, the place where mobility occurs, and, through retail on sidewalks, the basis for an interaction between the public and private realms. Working on the street design allows a new approach to its organization layout and also to that of the buildings that define its space.

The project proposes to configure new “urban cells” (1) that are based on two essential ideas:

–          Separate through traffic from resident’s access, by concentrating the first on a limited number of throughfares

–          An evolution from a current 70% of public space for cars to just 30%.

The concept of urban cell has been used in several projects by Salvador Rueda, Chairman of the Urban Ecology Agency of Barcelona, a member of the planning team (led by Ezquiaga, Herreros and Perez Arroyo).

Proyecto Madrid Centro (1)

Next week will begin a series on the Proyecto Madrid Centro.

The project can be consulted on:

Some numbers about Madrid (2)

Madrid has a dense public transportation network. An essential element is the metro (rapid transit) network, opened in 1919 and counting today 12 lines, 296 km of track and 238 stations. The network is managed by the Regional Government, and is integrated in a Regional Transportation Consortium that has a unified fare system.  In 2010 metro sold 630 million tickets, the highest figure among the elements of the transportation system.

As in most rapid transit systems, it is focused on core- periphery relations; the network extensions have reinforced the nodal role of the historical city core through the links among confluent lines. Not having a fixed limit for the core center, and taking as a reference the limit of the scope of the Proyecto Madrid Centro, 48% of that area is at less than 300 m of a metro station. That figure is similaire to that in Paris; Manhattan seems to present a similar figure. Mumbai, a city that plans to introduce a rapid transit system in the next years, uses the rail network as the backbone of its public transportation system, with a less dense coverage. Buenos Aires combines a low density rapid transit network with the railroads. The following maps show the described networks of those cities at the same scale, as well as the 300 m radius from the stations.

The network finds its best efficiency through its exchanges with other public and private transportations modes. The city is served by several high speed and conventional rail lines, long distance buses and the Barajas airport; the metropolitan scale transportation rests on the suburban rail network, along conventional rail tracks, and some recent extensions of the metro network.

Line 12 (also known as Metrosur) (A) is noteworthy among these extensions. It is a circle line linking the southern metropolitan municipalities (historically those less favored in economical terms). It is linked to the rest of the network through the suburban trains and a single connection to a metro line.

Three tram lines have been added recently to the network. One covers the new residential developments on the northern part of the Madrid municipality (B), and the two others cover the low density developments to the southwest (C,D); a still reduced occupation rate at the northern housing areas and low densities on the southwest make for a complex economic management.

Some references:

Some numbers about Madrid (1)

These are some numbers related to the density of the urban core of Madrid, based on gross floor areas as tabulated in the land registry in 2010. The area covered is the scope of the Proyecto Madrid Centro, including 36.833 lots with an agregated area of 33,829 millions sq m and an agregated gross floor area of 101,434 million sq meters; the average floor-area ratio is 2,99.

The first map shows the gross floor area of each lot, in sq m

This map shows the location of the 10 lots with the highest gross floor area; for those knowing Madrid, they are sometimes conventional buildings, but they are located on very large fiscal lots.

The floor-area ratio map shows that the highest ratios are on average on the dense extensions of the 19th and 20th centuries

The ten highest floor-area ratios correspond generally to large department stores or towers

Added gross floor area of  the lots adjoining the Gran Vía, a large avenue (1.300 m long) open through the central core at the begining of the 20th century.

Added gross floor area of  the lots adjoining the Puerta del Sol square (225 m on its long axis), the central point of the urban core.

Added gross floor area of  the lots adjoining the retailing core of Madrid (the commercial streets linking the Puerta del Sol to the Gran Vía), an area with a combined land area of some 150.000 sq m.

Added gross floor area of  the lots included in Azca, the northern business district on the Castellana Avenue (the number is set to grow due to the reconstruction of an arsoned office tower), an area with a combined land area of some 190.000 sq m..

Floor-area ratio in Azca is not substantially higher than in the retailing core of the city, but a different architecture and management scheme has produced a completely different tissue.