EL Ensanche (The Enlargement of Barcelona)

Nicholas Socrates, 10. 10. 09

Urban Design; Art, City, Society.

EL Ensanche (The Enlargement of Barcelona)

Barcelona is the capital of Cataluña; the Spanish province, and is also the second largest city in Spain for its number of inhabitants. It is also the centre of an agricultural and industrial/manufacturing region.

Mechanization made Barcelona become the first industrial centre in Spain; among its main industries, textile factories, chemical products, regasification of natural gas, colourings, perfumes, automotives and machinery. In addition to all this Barcelona has one of the most important and active ports in Spain.

From the Tibidabo to Montjuic it is observed that the city is made up by three very characteristic nucleus: 1. the Ancient Town Centre which comprises the Gothic District/, reminiscence of the Medieval Barcelona; 2. the cluster towns, and 3. the Ensanche (meaning enlargement), that extends from the Rondas to the suburbs.

L’Eixample is the name given to the second district of Barcelona, which occupies the central part of the city, over a wide area of 7.46 km ² which was designed by Ildefonso Cerdá.

It is the most populated district in Barcelona and throughout Spain in absolute terms (262,485 inhabitants) and the second in relative terms (35,586 inhabitants / km ²).

In the Eixample district is where you can find some of the most famous streets and squares of Barcelona; Paseo de Gracia (Passeig de Gracia), La Rambla de Catalunya (Rambla de Catalunya), the Plaza Catalunya (Plaça de Catalunya ), Avenida Diagonal (Avinguda Diagonal), Calle Aragon (Carrer Arago), Gran Via de las Cortes Catalanes (Gran Via de les Corts Catalanes), Calle Balmes (Carrer Balmes), Ronda de Sant Antoni, Ronda Sant Pere, Passeig de Sant Joan, the Plaza de la Sagrada Familia (Plaça de la Sagrada Familia), Gaudí Square (Plaça Gaudí), and at its ends, the Plaza de las Glorias (Plaça de les Glories Catalanes) and Francesc Macia square (Plaça Francesc Macia).

Also, in the Eixample are numerous tourist attractions such as Temple and the Sagrada Familia, the Casa Mila, Casa Batllo, the Teatre Nacional de Catalunya, L’Auditori, the Plaza de Toros Monumental House Punxes them as well as numerous cinemas, theaters, restaurants, hotels and other entertainment venues.


During the first half of the nineteenth century at the height of the Industrial Revolution, the Medieval town plan, was surrounded by walls. They were later collapsed by the installation of the new-born industries and an expanding population.

The city of Barcelona, like many other European cities, is no stranger to this situation, but in this case, the walls themselves, the political situation and the fact that all land outside the wall was considered a military zone, preventing what could be fitted in around the new industries due to the prohibition of building on that big flat space, which had an exclusive use for agricultural by the farmers (peasants) in Barcelona and nearby towns.

The expanding population and industries moved to areas that at the time were independent municipalities, districts of the city today, such as: Sants Sarrià, Gràcia, Sant Andreu and Sant Martí, the need to communicate with these populations gave rise to a number of tools that today are still part of the urban fabric. Among them is the clearly recognizable Paseo de Gracia communicating the Barcelona (Medieval) centre to the small town; Gracia, and during that time it was not only a means of communication, but a real meeting place, for walking and recreation, road side gardens were created and it was used for other recreational purposes by its inhabitants of Barcelona and by Gracia. It became a regular passenger transport with horse drawn carriages, the forerunner of the current bus lines.

The pressing need for expansion of the city between 1854 and 1856 resulted in the demolition of the walls, thereby leaving open the path leading to the current Barcelona.

In 1855 the City of Barcelona, considered a widening/ expansion project initially designed by Ildefonso Cerdá. The plan identifies a garden city with large open spaces, buildings, separated by wide streets and with no difference between the social classes; all the streets to be equal. This combination of circumstances caused the bourgeoisie of the time who were deeming his proposal as nonsense. There was a clear conflict of interest between the parties. The protests of the bourgeoisie and their political influence no doubtedly wanted to reverse and to reject the plan originally approved.

Having a real need to develop a project for the expansion of the city, the council, in 1859, proposed  a design competition of urban planning. Rovira i Trias, an architect, won the competition. The project is of course more in keeping with the pretensions of the bourgeoisie than Cerda’s plan: the streets were only 12 m wide, and the heights of the buildings were being considered with the possibility of exceeding the heights origanally proposed by Cerda. In Rovira i Trias scheme, there was a clear separation of social classes and buildings have a higher density.

With the adoption of Rovira i Trias draft in 1860, the central government in Madrid imposed few months later, by royal decree, inforcing the plan of Ildefonso Cerda, which began almost immediately, without the protests from the people of Barcelona. However, perhaps the result of intense pressure, Cerdá himself in 1863, tweaked his plan to increase the buildable area.

Although for decades there was resentment by the people of Barcelona and the final result that we know today of the Eixample in Barcelona has undergone many modifications to the originally proposed plan by Cerdá. No one would doubt today that the plan imposed, by decree, was better than the approved in the contest and the rest of those presented.

The Ideology of the Cerdá Plan
The plan around the city of Barcelona and its project for the improvement and expansion by Ildefonso Cerda and Suner (1859). Cerdá considered for their projects, the need for cities that are made for people and poses on all things including health issuses, not limiting this term to physical health, but going beyond this concept, putting forward proposals which take into account mental and social health, which would in turn tackle the nineteenth-century paradigm of laxity in Spain.

These issues raise the needs for buildings which are properly separated and have no greater height than the width of streets. This is justified by the need for the sunlight into the streets without hindrance from the buildings themselves, therefore the streets should be 20 m wide and the height of buildings should not exceed 16 m.

Another issue is the width of these buildings; they should not exceed 14 m and the houses would have to have views to the front and rear facades, which together with the previous question on the width of the streets, allow good ventilation and the presence of the sun in all homes, two issues which are absolutely critical to preserving the health of people.

The city raised by Cerdá, pays particular attention to the issue of recreation, especially with regard to the needs of children and the elderly, in this sense, The city blocks were created, they had to be square, and must be built in on only two of their sides, leaving the rest of the space available for neighborhood gardens and public space, thus the children do not have to travel for their games and the elderly for their walks, on the other hand, the existence of these spaces will decrease accidents by preventing children from playing in the pathways by circulating the carriages.

Within the idea of social health; self-designed sustainable neighborhoods were created, which frames a large park, a municipal market, and balanced distribution of all types of services.

Geometry of the Eixample
From Montjuïc to the river Besos and from the medieval city limits to the former neighboring towns, Cerdá designed a regular grid formation by the longitudinal axes of its streets, separated by a distance of 133.3 m, the regularity of the grid is unperturbed over the entire urban layout and justified, again, in terms of its equality, not only between social classes, but also in the comfort and ease of the transit of people and vehicles.

The scheme of sunlight for the city blocks. The routes run in directions parallel to the sea, and perpendicular each other, this makes the orientation of the vertices of the square coincide with the cardinal points, so that all sides have direct sunlight throughout the day, implying once again the importance that the designer, Cerdá gave to the solar phenomenon.

The streets generally have a width of 20 m, with 10 m allocated for the core road of vechile transit, and with 5 m on each side for the pavements, however, and due to varying needs, where needed; some wider roads built disturbing the regular grid of 133.3 m, adequately altering the dimensions of the blocks which are affected by the widening of the roads, for example the Gran Via de las Cortes Catalanes under which the Metro and train circulate, Aragon Street for many years had an outdoor railroad until it was finally buried, Urgell Street and others.

Special mention for the design of the Paseo de Gracia and Rambla de Catalunya, where with respect to the old path of Gracia in relation to the natural stream of spring water, hence the name Promenade,where there are only two consecutive wide roads where actually, attending the screening plan of 133.3 m, there should have been three streets, The Paseo de Gracia, traditionally respecting the old layout, is not exactly parallel to the rest of the streets which makes the city . Also, although are its blocks are square and are chamfers, they show irregularities of trapezoid shape them, also with irregular shaped preserved buildings.

There is a presence of some sort of special character that does not follow the grid layout, but diagonally across it, exists theAvenida Diagonal, Avenida Meridiana, calle Pedro IV, and others, which were drawn respecting the existence of old roads to neighboring towns.

Geometry of City Blocks
Dimensions of city blocks had standard dimensions; given by the above-mentioned distances between the center lines of streets and the very breadth of these pathways, so that by setting a standard width of the tracks at 20 m, the blocks are formed by quadrilaterals of 113.3 m, its vertices truncated form a chamfer of 15 m, giving an area of the block of 1.24 ha, contrary to popular belief that the city blocks have a precise area of 1 hectare.

Cerdà justified the corner of the vertices of city blocks from the point of view that this gives visibility for road traffic and a vision in, which he was absolutely correct.

Design and grouping of the city blocks. Within the space of each block, Cerdá conceived two basic ways to design the buildings, one had two parallel blocks located on opposite sides, leaving inside a large rectangular space for garden and the other had two blocks united in a “L” located on two adjacent sides of the block, leaving the rest also a great space for a garden square.

The sequence of blocks of the first type, resulted in a large garden running through the streets longitudinal and the grouping of 4 blocks. The second ´L shaped´ type, when properly prepared, formed a large square, with two perpendicular streets and together with its four gardens in one.

Evolution of the City Blocks
At this stage of the project, and given the difficulties he had in terms of opposition to it by the people of Barcelona, soon arguments and speculative activities, trying to get more space built, appeared. The first was that if the streets were 20 feet wide, he could increase the width of the buildings at the same distance. Then to have in the centre of the blocks; low buildings, designed in most cases for small workshops and cottage industries, which with it sadly caused the disappearance of most of the central gardens.  As a last resort to increase the built volume area the two sides of the blocks came together and buildings were constructed that united, completely closing, the cities blocks.

Evolution of the height of the buildings seemed here would end the speculative process, but a new argument was added to it. If the streets were 20 feet wide, would be sufficiant if the buildings have a height of 20 m instead of 16 m, since when the sun is at 45 degrees, illuminating all buildings, in its entirety, without any building overshadowing its neighbour. This argument coupled with the low roof construction resulted in winning two stories more high.

Finally, taking into account some of the above theory. If you build on the existing building, one floor, but to retreat to the interior facade of the building as much as the height of this floor, you get increased space constructed without affecting the shadow of the building to adjacent buildings when the sun is at 45 degrees, therefore the attic floor and the penthouse was built by removing the interior facade as much back, as the height of this floor.


One Response to “EL Ensanche (The Enlargement of Barcelona)”

  1. Fishing Umbrella Says:

    well, there are so many tourist attractions that you find on asia and europe. i would really love to travel a lot ;:,

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