Public spaces define Barcelona. They act, and have always acted, as reflections of the city, highlighting areas where anyone can go to socialise, eat, exchange ideas and go about their daily life. In a way they are similar to the Roman ideology of a public forum or stage, almost like a theatre where people can express their views and opinions, and, most importantly - be heard. Barcelona is similar to other European cities such as Paris, Venice and Florence in this way of utilising it’s public spaces – however this is the area in which Barcelona differs from London, where public spaces are usually seen to be areas reserved for solely for tourists. Barcelona has always been a ‘street city’1 – its planning and the negative space it provides are crucial and hugely influential to it’s inhabitants, conducting the way they live and interact. After Franco’s death in 1975, the first thing that Mayor Narcis Serra did was organise the large urban public space projects in an attempt to encourage the suppressed Catalan culture to blossom once again in the outside space of the city. This essay will explore three examples of public spaces in Barcelona throughout history - Eixample, Parc Guell and Barceloneta.
The earliest of these 3 examples is Eixample – an area built in the late nineteenth century, just outside of the Roman city of Barcino. As the industrial revolution blossomed and mechanisation of the countryside occurred, the towns attracted the unemployed who were searching for jobs. The port was also creating large amounts of job opportunities and the employees were moving to Barcelona to be near their work. The area was becoming overpopulated and crowded and it was clear that there needed to be an expansion of residential areas beyond Placa de Catalunya. In order for this to happen, most of the Roman Walls from c15 BC were torn down.
The Catalan engineer, Ildefons Cerda presented his renovation plan in a competition held by the Ajuntament in 1859. He proposed to urbanise the land outside the old walls. Antoni Rovira i Tras’s plan of long straight streets radiating out fan-like from Plaça Catalunya was originally preferred but orders came from Madrid that the plan to be adopted was that of Cerda.
It was important to Cerda that one should consider the social factors as a fundamental aspect of city planning. His plan was different to that of the existing city and was instead ‘based on layouts of streets and blocks from elsewhere in the world’2. The plan was also based on both prior and on-going experimental investigations of the existing city’s drawbacks, it was clear that Cerda was learning from the mistakes of the past. Instead of the tiny medieval streets and hovels of Barcino, a regulated and serried plan was in need. The intention was to relieve oppressive conditions for the working poor but ‘high on the liberals’ agenda was delivery of the city from appalling public health conditions’3 This was to make sure that there was no repetition of the 1854 Cholera epidemic where 6,000 were killed because of the easy spread of disease in the cramped location and hot summer weather. It was also hoped that the ‘orderliness of the Eixample’4 would reflect order in it’s people and that the social discontent of the 1850’s would not reoccur. It was hoped there would be no more street fighting and that there could be control over any riots that may take place.
Cerda transformed the area outside the old perimeter walls into a grid of octagonal blocks. The grids intended to guarantee hygiene, circulation and egalitarianism. There were 5 different administrative districts, each made of 20 blocks containing all the community shops and services. It’s rigorous rule structure means it makes little reference to the old city even though this is opposite to what the people of Barcelona wanted. They wanted to maintain the style of the existing city by having…