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

Starters of urban change (3) Horses, cars and rooms

A garage door in a small appartment building in Spain

A garage door in a small appartment building in Spain

At the dawn of the XXth century the car appears. Up until then people move around cities walking or by horse. Urban families with horses or other transportation animals, usually expensive, were a minority. The advent of mass car and its expansion through all the social layers implies a new dimensional problem; a horse is quite smaller than a car, and even a horse vehicle can be more flexible in dimension.

A horse box can be some 3×3 m, as the animal is seldom more than 2 m long. If you leave some horses temporarily tied to a post in the street, they occupy even smaller spaces; if you consider carts, things can be a little different. Alongside cars, bikes appear with an even more reduced footprint.

A current car can be some 4 to 5 meter long, with a total width of 2 m considering lateral mirrors. The biggest difference when compared to the horse in urban terms is that the animal usually belonged to a firm or a family with a firm, while automobiles are now in almost each family, and they feel the need to have them near their homes. So going from horses to cars is not so much a public space congestion due to moving elements, as you can see in historical photos from before the car that street where packed with all sort of contraptions; it is rather how to park a much higher number of vehicles in a distributed way through the city.

Around 1990 only the rich had a carriage; most homes had no space for vehicles. The first bylaws requiring a parking space associated with a home are usually from the 1960s-1970s, when cars became really massive in Europe and North America. And here comes architectural typology; in single home areas, with large lots, the garage finds easily its place as an ancillary building, or you park on streets that, due to the low density, have no great problem. The biggest problem comes with vertical homes. Using the block core is a solution, but one that comes at the cost of the demise of that core as a residual space. Burying the garage needs ramps of a certain length, and space is not always there. Adapting older buildings, mainly ones on small lots, is often impossible.

Today there are two visions, in a moment in which (at least in Europe or North America… and well, mostly nowhere…) horses are no longer an alternative. Some call to retain the current quotas defining a mandatory parking provision related to the number of homes, even if sometimes the same administration that enforces that rule later allows developers to sell to different buyers parking lots and apartments, so creating a pressure on on-street parking as some prefer to avoid the high cost of an in-building space. This option leads to a persistence in the creation of a car-centric infrastructure. Meanwhile, some demand the end of such mandatory quotas; this would not be a prohibition of in-building parking, but as it would no longer be a mandatory space, it would be added to the planning-allocated buildable floor area, so developers should choose between apartment space and parking lots, giving a different voluntary quota to different neighborhoods.

In short, a technological evolution that has changed many things in cities, including typologies.

Form and figures (7) Irregularity and project


1906. Noisy le Grand, some 13 km east of Paris




A new, somewhat artificial, combination of city block and open blocks, in a wider urban core project for a metropolitan municipality. Almost exclusively housing, but by the market square, near supermarkets and a big regional mall


Form and figures (6) Regularity and densification


The images in this post correspond to a Spanish city; but I will not say which one, as this is not relevant; in a certain way, it could be anywhere in the world, as urban tissues evolve over time, as it is so well explained in the Biblio post of this week.

The extension grid, conceived in a given moment for a height and a building type (here individual homes on two heights, with a lot courtyard on each and reduced dimensions) is substantially densified through the use of multifamily housing, bigger lots (everyone wants his parking slot to be in the building) and with 3 times the original height. As the city block is narrow, no central courtyard was present and none is expected to appear now with such densities. Double aspect apartments are also far from possible, and in general the housing units are far from optimal. But this density allows a feasible retail base in the buildings, a chance to walk to work, or other advantages of density. Take two more elements: the city is an organism with a substantial inertia, as buildings can easily stay for 50 or 100 years, and the urban planning rules can change several times over that period, so chances are you will never see all the buildings in the block with the same height…


So we face an urban landscape whose plan view can be regular, but in which separative walls between lots and height differences can be not temporary, but permanent features; a cartoon artist, Ibañez, always rendered as a background images with these height changes and fractured skylines so common in the Spanish cities of the last century. But this is not exclusive of Spain: if you are in Paris, some areas as the southern XVth district show well the brutal stop to “business as usual” that WWI meant, with city blocks in which changes in height and regulation are clearly visible…


Forms and figures (5) Opening the block

Opening the block has been a recurrent idea since the begining of the 1900s. But how and how much? As ever, Rotterdam is a zoo full of missing links…

Opening through a setback in the façade plane: the street gets diluded

Opening through a setback in the façade plane: the street gets diluded

Opening through a setback from an internal division: the street keeps its shape, and the block is equally open

Opening through a setback from an internal division: the street keeps its shape, and the block is equally open

Please, as previously, if the animated gif does not display properly, try opening it in a different window

Biblio (49). The evolution of the urban tissues. Impact of the urban frame and architectural form

Biblio 49-evolutivité tissus urbains

This publication by the Institute for Regional and Urban Planning of the Region Ile de France concerns a relevant matter: how will the urban tissues conceived now according to contemporary ideas evolve in the future. It is known that when you visit the Ensanche in Barcelona you are seeing a much denser  tissue, quite different from what was designed in 1860, and a similar thing has happened in nearly all cities. Authors state that it is possible to embed into the urban project flexibility elements to allow a better future evolution. Their analysis concerns three items:

–           Urban frame (streets grid, size and arrangement of lots), property structure and public space.

–           Architectural form, including uses, bulk and architectural typologies adapted to uses.

–           The juridical aspects coming from diverse norms and the relation between properties.

An annex includes a study of real cases in the region.

Biblio 49-evolutivité tissus urbains-interior

Form and figures (3) Setbacks and fences


If the upper animated gif is not visible in your browser, click on it for an independent view

Usually the setback from the lot line is limited. Making the setback equal to the backyard does not seem so smart, as 2 small gardens are probably less fun than having a larger land tract. If the setback increases to reduce the backyard to the smallest dimension, good treet would make for a better landscape street but the “freedom” is lost to do whatever you want in a space hidden from the street (but not from your neighbors or google earth…). But some do it, ending with a parking or a storage in the façade…

A case in Madrid

A case in Madrid

Form and figures (2) Floor area ratio 1 on an urban development zone

3jul 2013-1m2m2sectorBuildings can be developed on a net lot, as in the previous case; i.e., without changing the initial lot, or changing its shape but without changing the overall area. But in some cases there is a need to include in the operation not just the lots land, but also that which will be needed for non private uses, according to the legal binding conditions in each case.

In Spain, for instance, if you are building on previously undeveloped land, you must create the streets and allow for the location of gardens and other public facilities that will be used by the new dwellers (in Spain it is usually compulsory to locate public gardens, even if all homes are individual and with their own private gardens). There is also a certain amount of on –street parking, which requires also a certain space. Each planning law and each plan set a different quota for each of these surfaces.

To produce a rapid back of the envelope calculation, you can consider that a floor area ratio of 1 requires a surface for public facilities and streets that is the same as that of private lots. So, if FAR is 1 overall, FAR on the net lots, which will be just 50% of the land, will be 2, as usually any building on public facilities is not taken into account (FAR is calculated for floor spaces that are lucrative for the developer). So, you will not understand the full meaning of FAR unless you know the scope on which it is calculated…. And it must be acknowledged (there form based codes are right) that the figure itself doest not allow to kwnow the resulting urban form: just reminding yesterday and today’s posts, 1 sq m/sq m as measured on net lots allows for individual housing on rows, but 1 sq m/sq m (or 1 sq ft/ sq ft, which is absolutely the same thing) on a larger area usually asks for a different urban morphology.

Form and figures (1) Floor area ratio 1 on a net lot

A form based code has usually some numbers behind, explaining the formal result. The following images show how the same floor-area ratio can have different consequences in formal terms.

fbc-A-parcsolas-10p6fren25fon-0pl-1 m2m2

As a begining: 20 lots, 10 for each street frontage, with 6×25 m (150 sq m), a common real estate product (at least in Europe). The sidewalk is not counted on these calculations, having considered it is a part of the public right of way.

A floor area ratio of 1 would mean covering the whole lot with 1 level


If half that surface is put on top of the other half, gardens appear. Still 20 homes with 150 sq m of built-up area, but much better as there can be windows…

fbc-D-parc+viv-5p12fren25fon-2pl- 1m2m2

If lots have twice the lot line length (12×25 m, 300 sq m lots), you reduce the number of homes by half, each with 300 sq m as built up area. Open space is on the lateral setbacks, but it is not necesarily attractive…


If lots become 20×25 m, with a floor area of 500 sq m, you get just 6 lots, and each home, with 500 sq m of built up area, is in the center of its garden… but 500 sq m are a bit too much for such lots, or it is perharps better to think about multifamily housing (each floor has 250 sq m).


The same layout with 500 sq m lots can become quite different with 4 floors, each with 125 sq m, so  two appartments can fit inside. 48 homes on the same land initially subdivided for 20…