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.

Advertisements

Barcelona on/off Film

Barcelona–the city with (as scholar Joan Ramon Resina titles his 2008 book) the “vocation of modernity”–has been the star of a number of films. Perhaps none are as visually stunning and recent as Biutiful (2010, starring Javier Bardem but featuring an incredible, numerous cast, directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu).

Substantially changed by planner Ildefons Cerdà’s nineteenth-century geometrical vision for the city (above, the plan dates from 1859), Barcelona experienced subsequent changes in 1888, in 1929, and in preparation for the Olympic Games in 1992.

The more recent changes are also analyzed in depth as part of Donald McNeill’s 1999 book Urban Change and the European Left, and the areas at the center of these new late XXth-century changes have a predominant role (even if they appear only infrequently) in the film Biutiful–where the triumphant, international vision of Barcelona as a model for contemporary urban planning is splendidly juxtaposed to the underworld of sweatshop labor and exploitation upon which many of Barcelona’s successes rely.

Definitely a must-see film for students of urban cultural studies.