|Designing Urban Regeneration
Bohigas is the planner and architect responsible for the regeneration
of Barcelona into one of the world's most popular destinations. In this
feature, taken from a lecture held at the London School of Economics
and Political Science, he discusses his philosophy of urban planning
and restitution. Beginning with the question "What is a city?", Bohigas
explores the factors that, for him, constitute the city: density, identity,
communication and collective life.
The Unchanging city
remember an interview with the architect Renzo Piano a few years ago
when someone asked him: "What is the city of the future?" Over the last
two years, this question has been asked of architects all over the world.
Renzo Piano's answer was: "I think the city of the future will be exactly
like the Renaissance Italian city. The city will not change. It is a
very important physical and social entity, so that if it were changed,
it is not a city."
Yet most of our
cities are sick because they have been treated very badly. Problems
ranging from pollution, the centre-periphery dichotomy to the problem
of individual possession of land and so on have all been ignored or
treated badly in European cities. The solution is not to invent another
system and to eliminate the cities, or to imagine another system and
to live in an artificial community. The real challenge is to arrange
and repair the existing cities, to use the technology to improve the
quality of the city while preserving the integrity of the traditional
form of the city. It is still possible for the moment and one of the
problems for politicians, engineers, planners and architects is to work
out how to cure these diseased cities.
What are the
right conditions for the city to continue being a city? I think it is
very important to have the appropriate degree of density, to have spaces
appropriate to collective living, to foster the creation and strengthening
of identities that bond the social fabric and to encourage the development
and modernisation of communications so that the other conditions are
sustainable. Quality of life depends on the satisfactory attainment
of these four conditions: density, collective life, identities and communications.
For me a city
is consolidated by the organisation of structures clearly separate from
the country. A territory covered by buildings constitutes the city.
It is really important to distinguish between city and country. I am
completely against this idea of the dispersed city, because I think
the dispersed city is not really a city; it is a cotermination between
city and country. The city is a very limited space in which the concentration
and density of life and structure is quite clear. Without this density
it is impossible to have information and accessibility, which are the
two most important characteristics of the urban structure.
The public space,
whether open or built-up, is really the city. It is not the architecture
or the dwellings or the architectural elements that configure the reality
of the city. But in order for the public space to be the container of
collective life it must be comprehensible and legible--the form of the
city must have some relation with its traditional structure. I think
the only way to understand and to give a real social sign to public
space if you can, is to have a reference to the traditional space of
the city. The modern city like all cities is a structure made up of
streets, squares, urban gardens, urban blocks--the traditional forms
are the only forms who can give the same capacity of collective life.
When I talk about the traditional forms I don't mean the formal model,
I mean the continuity of big historical typologies. Another problem
with collective life is one of homogeneity.
I think the social
identity of a territory is fundamental for collective life. It is possible
to have global identity in a very big city, but I think real collective
identity has a very small dimension. Understanding identity in social
groups is an important route to understanding the city--not as a general
system but as a collection of different systems throughout the neighbourhoods,
quarters or streets--depending on the structure of each city. We decided
to view Barcelona not as a whole but as a collection of different quarters.
From the point of view of planning this was important, because we were
absolutely against the idea of master plans. The master plan is a way
of factoring in the globalisation of the city but without considering
the individual identities of each quarter. For that reason we decided
not to do a master plan for Barcelona but to complete small architectural
projects and to understand that the master plan was just the culmination
of all of these small solutions.
Density and size
are fundamental features of a city, yet they can be the cause of great
difficulties in the development of cities. Density and size have also
to contend with the impact of new technologies. We have to understand
how technology can reconstruct the city. These four points are very
important. The problem of identity, communication, collective life and
density are very great--and the key to preserving the value in the traditional
structures of our cities.
I arrived in Barcelona as a planning director in 1980. After four years in this position, my associates and myself began the building of the Olympic village among other projects in Barcelona. The year 1980 was a very important time because it was just three or four years after the beginnings of democracy in Spain. I had my first meeting with Barcelona's first democratic mayor. We decided that we had to invent the democratic urbanity in Barcelona, but of course we didn't have any experience of that. There were a number of routes we could have pursued. Firstly, we had to decide whether to design a master plan for the city or not. We decided not to follow a master plan, but to begin with smaller projects that could be realised immediately. In two years we set out 150 projects and half of them were built. The next decision concerned the expansion of the city. Either the city could be expanded or the traditional city could be reconstructed. We decided to reconstruct the real city, preserving its old identity.
Another set of alternatives was to reconstruct the city starting from public space or starting from the housing problems. Architecture is the element that defines public space and so the reconstruction, transformation and modification of the city must begin in the public space. This discussion was very prominent and important in universities throughout Europe at that time. The tension between urban planning and urban projects were a central part of this discussion. By aiming at small realisable projects that could be built immediately, we felt that we were ensuring a sense of public participation. Local projects and local reconstructions were how people could understand and participate in the future of their own city.
The London School of Economics and Political Science.