City Planning 101: Ildefons Cerdà

Ildefons Cerdà (1815-1876) was a (socialist) nineteenth-century planner of note. In his two volume Teoría general de la urbanización / General Theory of Urbanization (from 1867; the link is to tome I on googlebooks) Cerdà invoked the organic metaphor of the city prevalent at the time–writing things like:

“Introducing the scalpel into the most intimate and recondite areas of the social and urban organism, one discovers the original cause alive and in action, the fecund seed of the grave illness that corrodes the entrails of humanity” (1867: 16–17, my translation).

Urban Scholar Richard Sennett touches upon this metaphor in his bookThe Craftsman (2008) where he writes of the connection between the city and knowledge of the human body:

“The scalpel had permitted anatomists to study the circulation of the blood: that knowledge, applied to the circulation of movement in streets, suggested that streets worked like arteries and veins” (2008: 204).

In his design Cerdà privileged (created?) the “xamfrà” (chamfer in English) or truncated corner. As scholar Joan Ramon Resina writes “The xamfrà is the palpable sign of Cerdà’s subordination of living space to movement” (Barcelona’s Vocation of Modernity 22).

The pictures below show: Cerdà, an image of Cerdà’s Eixample pushing beyond the gangly streets of Barcelona’s medieval walls, a building set on one of Barcelona’s characteristic xamfrà corners, and strangely, a brand of cava named after the planner’s truncated corner (gotta market that culture…).

For a great visual meditation on Barcelona’s urban environment, change and modernity, see the film En construcción by José Luis Guerín–and a fantastic article by Abigail Loxham on the subject.

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