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…
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.
El Viso as seen from the south, according to cadastral data
El Viso is a residential area built in Madrid in 1933-1936 according to the 1925 Low Coast Housing Act. It never really was a worker’s neighborhood, as it soon became an area for middle classes and intellectuals.
El Viso. Lot area (in sq m). Red circles are proportional to the residential floor area for each lot
Nowadays it is a kind of anomaly just by the denser area of Paseo de la Habana- Castellana. The original terraced homes have changed, gaining some levels here and ther, and some are now the location for other uses. However, the layout and the feeling of low density are still there. You can judge yourself thanks to google street view.
El Viso as seen from the east, according to cadastral data. On the background the AZCA towers show their presence.
Central Olivenza. Reference grid: 100 m
Olivenza is a small city in the province of Badajoz, Spain. Until 1801 it was a Portuguese city, and the border is now at a short distance.
This border position is the reason for a series of walls that have protected the city, leaving a still visible trace in the current urban fabric.
The core of the walled zone is organized around the first castle and the main church, with a group of four rather regular blocks. The subsequent urban growth reached a larger wall.
Getting a look at the blocks on the southern edge of the walled area there is a certain degree of regularity, with some 35 m in width and slightly over 100 m in length, and a structure of streets going towards the core of some 5 m in width. Block area is usually between 4.000 and 5.000 sq m (about an acre for Imperial System fans), and lot lines are usually over 6 m. Heights are usually less than 4 levels. The rather narrow block makes courts rather irregular, with not much continuity.
And white architecture, with “calçada portugesa” as paving… A protected area which is well preserved.
What do Germans think about when they think of energy, but also urban dynamics? a publication by their national programme for urban planning.
A façade on the Calle de Alcalá, Madrid
When you think about façades you think about buildings (one by one, taken as separate items) ; if you think in terms about bocks, the building façade is in a context, be it planar or not…
The façade is in the context of its plan, but also in that of a corner, or related to others in the same street but on the next block. And it is also in the context of whatever happens on the street, be it cars, cranes, horses, ships, you name it…
The façade is just a face of the reality, as it is often rather mute when it comes to describe how deep the building is, or how it relates to the core of the block.
A plan of the same block in Calle de Alcalá (the façade is the one from the white part)
Façades around the corner of Menendez Pelayo and Menorca, Madrid
Façades around the corner of Ibiza and Menendez Pelayo, Madrid. A wider street, a diferent relation
UNESCO published this text, by Alain Borie and François Denieul, in 1984. The World Heritage Convention was enacted in 1972, and the first properties were inscribed in 1978, so this is a rather early text in the production of the “world heritage” concept in its urban derivations.
This is a classical manual, based on the decomposition of the urban tissues in systems: lots, streets, buildings, open spaces… a lot of images in the final part.
According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, a block is “an area of land surrounded by four streets in a city”. It is one of the less specific definitions among the languages I have consulted, but it gives a number of four streets, so there is a hint of a quadrangular shape somewhere. The Oxford dictionary, despite a more complex urban layout in Britain, says “a group of buildings bounded by four streets”, but it also recognizes that in America this applies to an area (no need for buildings)… bound by four streets.
What is relevant in terms of architecture and urban planning in a block?
- Size, minimal in middle age cities or Genoa, and enormous in Berlin and other cities.
- Treatment of courts or internal spaces, when they exist
- Permeability between street and court
- The way the street and the lateral façades relate: continuous or not, with varying setbacks by level…
- The shape of angles
- Differences in height between buildings
These are the subjects for the next weeks.
Elisabeth Essaïn presented in 2006 her PHD in Architecture before the Paris 8 University, as a work on the 1935 Moscow Plan. This post is based on a special issue of the Annales de la Recherche Urbaine in 2012.
The plan adjusts, according to the context of that time, without having to cope with the complexities of the private property of land or buildings. The city block- primary street couple becomes a central element of that plan. The plan proposes a substantial extension of the city, with city blocks growing from an average of 3 hectares to some 10 to 15 (some 7,5 acres to between 25 and 38, for imperial system readers). It is in fact an experience with superblocks, related in their size to public transportation, and in this sense it is not that far away from other European experiments at that time.
The PHD dissertation also includes a vision of the complex political scenario, with purges and persecution, to which the Moscow architects were no strangers.
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.