Sunday, October 25, 2009

CCCB, Barcelona

Centra de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona

In 1859 an architect named Ildelfons Cerdà created a plan for Barcelona's Eixample district. The Eixample, translating to "extension" in Catalan, expanded the medieval city of Barcelona after the ancient city walls were torn down. It's an enormous field of rectangular blocks in a continuously repeating layout, containing around a quarter of Barcelona's population.

In an impressively curated presentation, the CCCB is celebrating the 150th anniversary of Cerdà's plans with extensive plans, models, and all around kick-ass information design. Info-graphic junkies, brace yourselves.

The CCCB explains:

This exhibition immerses itself in today's reality to discover and interpret given forms of urban organization. It sets out to reinterpret the Cerdà plan and its initial ideas, discover the underlying urbanistic and social values, and explain its more general importance as a constantly evolving part of the city.

The exhibit presented everything from underground sewage systems to acceptable quadrant designs for housing blocks. Cerdà was a genius, and maybe every urban planner is too, I just never thought about how complex urban design actually was. I guess it's sort of like graphic design: if it's successful, you don't even notice the effort. The main difference of course being that I design pieces of paper, and Cerdà designed a city.

Cerdà designed the entire district in equal-sized octagonal blocks, where the streets broaden at every intersection to allow greater visibility and better ventilation. He also aligned every block so it received the same amount of sunlight.

There were so many original hand-drawn maps from the 19th century I thought my brain was going to explode. Here are some of my favorites.

The last few rooms of the exhibit expanded from the Eixample to general urban planning.

There were five or six types of urban design "themes" which are applied to pre-existing cities. Two I found most interesting were La ciutat Acumulativa (Cumulative City) and La ciudat Superposada (Superimposed City). An example of a Cumulative City plan is San Francisco, where two grids - above and below Market Street - meet in relative cohesion. New York and Barcelona are examples of the Superimposed City, where a sensical grid skips over a non-sensical historical area - the West Village in Manhattan and the Old City in Barcelona.

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