Buenos Aires
Design Studio

Interstitial urban territories

The Ensanche is a board. It is the joint, the filling, the amalgam that has to unite a network of satellite cities with their metropolis to create a new urban fabric, a new system that is recognized as a reborn Barcelona. The Ensanche is a refoundation of the city.

The Ensanche extends like a continuous stain that covers all the interstices between old Barcelona and the satellite cities, recognizing the pattern that has defined a large part of these fabrics (the same as the Roman city: perpendicular to the sea), fixing through she is a system flexible, sensitive and powerful enough to surrender to everything that surrounds her without losing personality.

The main repetition unit of the Ensanche is the block. This is structured through a grid of 133 meters from axis to axis that defines in the center of the grid a square of 113 meters on each side chamfered at its corners. This octagon forms the outer perimeter of the block. The block is defined by a building crown another 20 meters deep that defines an interior space and an exterior, the street. A city of fronts and rears with secret gardens, with the capacity to house almost any type of equipment: from factories to gardens to schools.

The blocks are chamfered at their four corners by a distance defined by the radius of gyration of a tram, leaving enough flexibility to lay it out all over the fabric if desired. These crossroads, which, taken separately, are larger than a square in Gràcia, impose a rhythm of light and shadow on the passerby, who will pass every few meters from a street shaded by the facades and vegetation to a sun-drenched esplanade that leaves four main facades oriented to the four cardinal points. This defines the typical perimeter of the Barcelona block, with its capacity for difference, with its specific rhythm, with its ability to create recognizable architectures, with character.

Ildefonso Cerdà’s Ensanche is understood from the way it organizes its voids: two grids, one of crosses with chamfers and one of block lungs. If the lungs of the block determine the emptiness of the community of the block, the chamfered intersections constitute public squares, exchange and relationship nodes within the fabric. The enormous size that this project must cover makes Cerdà consider larger groups of aggregation units that negotiate the grain of the apple with the whole of the city. Thus, 25-block neighborhoods with a civic center, 100-block districts served by a market, and 400-block sectors with a cemetery, a slaughterhouse, and a hospital appear. This system has been respected enough to still be recognizable in contemporary Barcelona. The grid of crosses configures octagons that vary in width and number of sides, regularly or irregularly, depending on the hierarchy of streets to which they belong. Thus giving scale to the modernist grid: block, neighborhood, district and sector. The projects consolidate the octagons of the plan, revaluing the gaps as urban organizers.