Academic journal article The Town Planning Review

The Cerdà Effect on City Modernisation

Academic journal article The Town Planning Review

The Cerdà Effect on City Modernisation

Article excerpt

With his plan for the ensanche, or extension, of Barcelona, Cerdà presented a practical way of shaping the new city, with a healthy density and uniform accessibility that he advocated. This marked a new phase for cities, throwing them wide open to the future. Cerdà expressed his ideas with such authority that the concept of ensanche came to be accepted enthusiastically in many other cities facing similar problems at the time, and the construction of ensanches became widespread. At the start of the twenty-first century, these ensanches, now important urban areas in the cities they helped to develop, viewed as a representative sample, present a reality that continues to stimulate open reflection about the arguments of the fluctuating foundations underlying the art of constructing cities.

Keywords: nineteenth-century urban design, Ildefons Cerdà, Spanish ensanches, modern cities, contemporary elements of urban central areas

The celebration of Cerdà - to mark the 150th anniversary of his project to extend Barcelona, which took the form of numerous important events in the city from 2009 to 2010 and was reported in the specialist press all over the world (Neuman, 2011) - was a suitable response, on the part of the current generation, to all who study the scope of his legacy or actually benefit from his work every day.

However, it would be unjust not to recognise the broader and truer extent of his contribution, which has lefta lasting imprint in many Spanish cities that were eager to build their own new town, with recourse to the new laws and Cerdà's generous teachings, but with scant resources available in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Cerdà helped to bring about momentous change, turning nineteenthcentury Spain from a country of cramped cities, burdened by the weight of history, into one of new, spacious cities, intent on recognising and celebrating the complexity of rich, subtle processes of urbanisation, which this unique engineer introduced into the habits of the time, as though they were quite natural.

The purpose of this paper is to highlight Cerdà's far-reaching influence on his times, characterising a period of renovation for many Spanish cities and his contribution to modernisation. It comprises critical reflection on the characteristics of the urban processes that took place and on the present-day relevance of the intrinsic qualities of these urban fabrics, which are, today, important components of numerous, central urban areas.

The paper, therefore, begins with a presentation of the urban and political context in which Cerdà found himself, and it then goes on to refer to the ensanche city extensions that were undertaken in Spain, taking his work as their influence. This examination brings an overall approach to the phenomenon as a specific urbanistic operation and is also based on the study of 20 ensanches that were designed and built between 1859 and the second decade of the twentieth century.

Cerdà in the context of his times

Widespread wars and political conflicts in various areas of Spain in the early decades of the nineteenth century tended to overshadow the progress that was being made in the country's cities, which had already begun, late in the previous century. Although Spain was proportionally less urbanised than its northern European neighbours, its cities were changing in a similar fashion, developing different signs and phenomena and recognising the spatial economy as a new resource. For some, city growth brought with it a concern that the loss of customs and values, of accepted points of reference and resources would be detrimental. Consequently, it was the city limits that attracted the attention of planners, who were keen on gradually building up the gaps between construction and unoccupied plots in the centre and establishing criteria for regular construction, in relation to the street layout. This was the situation in both Madrid and Barcelona - as Spain's foremost cities. …

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