Written by Zoe Fanshawe- 116102527
In the 18th century, Barcelona was restricted to a small citadel around a harbour on the Mediterranean sea and concentrated between the fort’s walls. Construction beyond the walls was forbidden for military reasons.
By the mid-19th century, Barcelona became overpopulated, an estimated 40 000 people lived in the small medieval town. The population also suffered from bad sanitation due to industrial pollution and lack of sewerage leading to a short life expectancy.
Unlike Paris under Haussmann’s influence, Barcelona’s “Cituat Vella” was not entirely modified. Sections of the walls were deemed unnecessary and only a few streets in the old town were widened and straightened, the most famous being the pedestrianised La Rambla in the late 18th century with its central walkway and public buildings making it the city’s most significant street.
In 1855, Ildefonso Cerda, a Catalan civil engineer, had an ambitious plan for the city which was accepted in 1859. Indeed, having been asked to leave the medieval town intact for conservation reasons, he established extension plans or “ensanche” in Spanish. Barcelona’s built area grew rapidly around the medieval town but, in contrast to the old town, in an orderly and egalitarian manner.
The most noticeable point of this plan is the square grid pattern crossed by long diagonals to facilitate traffic flow but Cerda went further to enable movement within the city: each block of houses had, not only the exact same measurements, but also rounded corners allowing big vehicles and even steam engines to circulate without blocking the boulevards and railway tracks.
Furthermore, as well as his desire for Barcelona’s population to be mobile, Cerda also focused on hygiene issues. The city was to be liveable, not just a place where the population tries to survive. He wished for a green city with small parks throughout l’Eixample. Cerda wanted the population to benefit from luminous housing, aesthetic architecture and wide, clean streets. Unfortunately, in later years, concessions were made for profitability and density reasons.
Planning and urban growth in Southern Europe, Mansell Publishing, 1984