Saturday, March 20, 2010

Cerdà + Barcelona

(Cerdà's original plan; the final has only one diagonal street and several other small changes)

{{The invention of a capital}}

This year in Barcelona is Cerdà year, in honor of the civil engineer and architect, Ildefons Cerdà i Sunyer, who redesigned Barcelona in the mid-1800s into the city it is today. On Thursday I went to a very interesting exhibit at the Museu d'Història de Barcelona about the redesign process and how Barcelona was transformed from a closed "military" city with dividing walls to the open, pedestrian-friendly metropolis that it is today. When the civilians finally won out against the military councils to gain approval to tear down the walls, he realized that he had to plan the expansion of the city so it would be a livable and enjoyable place to be, instead of the congested and epidemic-prone town it was before. Inventing completely new ideas and also drawing from the plans of already-successful metropolises such as Paris, he architected the Eixample district of Barcelona, helped to facilitate the integration plan for the surrounding small communities (with connecting streets and tramways), and created an entirely new documentation in Spain about urbanization and city planning.

Cerdà had several key needs in his redesign project. He believed strongly in the need in people for sunlight and ventilation in their homes, the importance of green space in people's surroundings (for him, the ideal house configuration would be a cube with a garden in the center, but of course that would not be possible for most citizens), the need for effective waste disposal to eliminate the danger of diseases, and the necessity for the seamless movement of people, goods, energy, and information. With these concepts in mind, he created the grid-shaped Eixample district, defined by four main roads: Avinguda Diagonal, Gran Via de les Corts Catalanes, Las Ramblas, and Passeig de Gràcia, and dotted with beautiful plazas and open green spaces such as Plaça Catalunya to unite people in space. Plaça Catalunya is unique in that it unites three of the main roads of l'Exiample--Passeig de Gràcia, Gran Via, and Las Ramblas--making it a hub for information and a meeting-point.

Cerdà's made two main plans for the redesign of l'Eixample, and it is the second one that is still seen in the Eixample of today (though, of course, the low buildings are now not all so low). Cerdà faced great opposition from most of the Catalan architects of his time, who even went so far to accuse him of socialism, though they were also the ones who, in the end, designed the spectacular modernist façades of the buildings that made the area particularly famous to tourists.

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