Urban retail

Rules and variations (5)

plaza2 plaza

A grand square, some 12.000 sq m (3 acres), built some centuries ago by a powerful monarch: where, it is pointless here, why, it is obvious, but how, therein lies the rub.

The king was mighty and powerful, projecting that power beyond the seas; but even this power was not enough to impose his absolute will on the people living in the city where his court was. So he did what kings did at that time: he imposed a regular geometry for the square, but this regularity was not extended to the surroundings. This transition from regularity to clutter is solved through a regular layout of windows in the elevation, and through ground floor arcades.

Zoom to right now, as this square has become, as many its European sister spaces, a tourism magnet. And that regularity trick somehow still works. Shops and watering holes for visitors now mostly occupy ground floor, and upper levels are mainly homes. This is an attractive space, in part due to its contrast to the neighbouring areas, despite a somehow harsh surface.

Ground floor. 1: arcades, 2: shops, 3: restaurants and cafes, 4: storage, 5: public offices

Ground floor. 1: arcades, 2: shops, 3: restaurants and cafes, 4: storage, 5: public offices

One of the high levels. 1: appartments, 2: offices, 3:   teaching, 4: public adminitration

One of the high levels. 1: appartments, 2: offices, 3: teaching, 4: public adminitration

Some of the building use data in the diagrams are not exactly what exists nowadays in the square, but the overall situation is that one.

Rules and variations (4)

When Môrice Leroux, a disciple of Tony Garnier, builds between 1927 and 1934 his “gratte-ciel” (literally “sky-scrapers”) he defines rules that are in Sharp contrast to the surrounding areas.

Barcelona (19)The charms


Open since September 25, 2013, the Mercat dels Encants tries to do with Barcelona’s flea market what Haussmann did at Les Halles with the Paris market: put a large umbrella (here reflecting and golden) over all the stalls. The solution given by architects here (B720- Fermín Vazquez) seems to be a success. It is by the Stapler, on the Plaza de las Glorias, and the Tapas stalls on the upper part are a success.

encants2 encants3 encants4 encants5

Big in Paris (3)



Here is an interesting part of Paris. To the East you can see St Sulpice church, a high example of French classical architecture; with some 17.000 sq m of built surface, a grand and complex monument. The urban tissue is quite dense, with a rather irregular street pattern. Boulevard Raspail somehow blurs the legibility of that area in the XIXth century; city blocks west of that line, with so few buildings, are in fact baroque palaces, mainly along the Rue de Babylone. On the same Rue de Babylone, at Place Le Corbusier (!), close to Boulevard Raspail, you have a quite dense building: Le Bon Marché, a pionneer department store, which I think is even more interesting as architecture than the ones around Opera Garnier. I even worked there for a week under the roofs, in an architectur practice. With some 34.000 sq m of built up area, a building worth visiting.

Biblio (56) Retail in Brussels

Biblio 56-combrux

The regional observatory on retail in Brussels has published its 2011 report on the status quo in the metropolitan area. An interesting view of the situation in the capital of Europe… which is far from stable, as in most of Europe.


Calle Sánchez Barcaiztegui

sanchez barcaiztegui 1

Calle Sánchez Barcaiztegui, in Madrid, is some 600 m long, but the section I’m going to write about is just some 200 m. A supermarket, some shops, a load of cars, and trees whose dimensions seem quite reduce for the bulk of the buildings. Are these trees coherent with that street? (this is a question, and not a rhetorical one, as these trees should theoretically grow).

barcaiz-5 Barcaiz-3 Barcaiz-2 Barcaiz-1

Calle Serrano (Madrid)

Serrano: 1,3 km of centrality, 31 m wide

Serrano: 1,3 km of centrality, 31 m wide

Serrano is one of the thoroughfares of the barrio de Salamanca, the Madrid extension of the XIXth century which is today one of the most powerful central areas of the city in economic terms and as an icon. It is a street in which choice, selected goods (apparel, shoes, luxury) shops flock, as well as high end office space. Its location near the Castellana, but with a width substantially better for retail and other activities, and the presence of an also sizeable retail base in adjacent streets, from the luxury of Ortega y Gasset to more stratified price ranges, lead to a concentration that can be compared to that of a large edge-city mall. One of the most interesting sections, even if asymmetric (no buildings to the west) is that of Plaza Colón, which concentrates some of the most exclusive shops (ant the images of this post).

Serrano has been refurbished with works ending in 2010; on street parking has been eliminated (creating a large underground parking), a bike path has been incorporated to the sidewalk, and the design of the floor surfaces, tree pits, benches and other elements is specific.

serrano-2 Serrano-1
serrano-4 Serrano-3

The Fifth Avenue

Fifth avenue BID: 1,2 km of central street. The red outline is that of the BID.

Fifth avenue BID: 1,2 km of central street. The red outline is that of the BID.

The fifth avenue is very, very long; avenues in Manhattan go from north to south in the island, and this is longer than 10 km. Along this distance there are many neighborhoods and diverse settings, and here I’m interested in the Fifth Avenue Bussiness Improvement District, one among a series of such public- private partnerships for the maintenance and retail promotion. Other parts of the avenue are included in BIDs, but this one is the most iconic for the image this street conveys to the world.

The BID encompasses a section of 1,2 km of the fifth avenue and a variable depth on lateral streets; for instance, the Rockefeller Center, drawn on the upper map with a hatched black rectangle, is not completely into the BID, while the 57th st section goes from Madison Avenue to the Sixth. This shows that the perception of space and its influence areas by retailers is adapted to specific factors, not related to geometric regularity.

Fifth avenue is slightly more that 28 m wide. There are three lanes in a single direction (towards downtown) and a bus lane. This leaves 6 m sidewalks. No doubt, this street is associated usually to luxury, but sidewalks are of concrete, without great detailing, but for some tree grids (there are few trees) as those of the Rockefeller Center. There are also remarkably few underground infrastructure access plates.


alcorque rockef aceras fifth