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Eixample or the Expansion of Modern Barcelona

Eixample district is probably the most iconic in Barcelona and also the most diverse in terms of shopping, restaurants and nightlife. Its grid-like layout is the symbol of the modern Barcelona we know today.

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Area

Eixample is home to Antoni Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia, Casa Mila and Casa Batlló, and is one of the most dynamic and confortable areas to live in, mainly because there’s always a restaurant, shop, supermarket or bar at walking distance. Paseo de Gracia is one of its most important avenues.

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Until 1827, Paseo de Gràcia was named Camí de Jesús and joined the city of Barcelona with the neighboring town of Gràcia. With the demolition of the walls in 1854 and the start of the Eixample five years later, following the design by Ildefons Cerdà, Paseo de Gràcia became hugely important. Initially single family homes with gardens were built there, and coffee shops, theatres, restaurants and dance halls sprang up, making it the preferred leisure area for the bourgeoisie. Later on, after the 1888 World Fair was held in Barcelona, these homes were replaced by four-storey buildings with shops on the ground floors. Slowly but surely, the bourgeoisie began to move into this street, and competed to employ the most famous architects to build or remodel the buildings that contained their flats, which were usually on the lower floors. The ground floors of the new buildings housed pharmacies, cinemas, restaurants, stores and grocer’s shops. (source). That is why we can now admire examples of the Modernist style that dominated the buildings along Paseo de Gràcia at the time.

The Expansion of the City

Before the walls of the Old City quarter of Barcelona were demolished, small towns were scattered across the surrounding countryside. With the arrival of the Industrial Revolution, the population grew dramatically and in 1855 the City Hall called out for a public competition in order to solve the city’s need for growth. Ildefons Cerdà, a civil engineer, won the project for the Eixample (catalan word for expansion), a huge undertaking that would construct the new Barcelona.

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Cerdà envisioned this new Barcelona with a high regard for the people’s need for leisure and plenty of social spaces and designed his plan according to sunlight (NE-SV) and natural ventilation.

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Sagrada Familia and the new urban grid starting to be constructed, in the beginning of the 20th century

Cut-off corners and octogonal blocks

As a result of Cerdà’s plans the Expansion of Barcelona is today a grid-like pattern that fills the area between the city walls and the former surrounding towns. The grid made of some 900 seemingly similar city blocks, characterized by a unique 45 degree cut of the corners. The angled corners allowed the streets to broaden at every intersection making for greater visibility, and fluid traffic in all directions. The streets were to broaden at each intersection and the corners were cut off to allow horse-drawn wagons to make turns more easily.

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Even though Cerdà’s plans didn’t turn out quite the way he had hoped as architects did follow his grid plan, but ignored many of the specifics. The intersections weren’t designed as his drawings indicated, though they are spacious, garden areas were eliminated, and the neighborhood became a haven for the wealthy rather than a place that would attract all classes. What Eixample did become was a pleasant neighborhood full of wonderful Modernista architecture, primarily the works of Antoni Gaudí, the most famous name of the Spanish Art Nouveau movement. You can also find buildings in Eixample designed by Modernist architects like Puig i Cadafalch and Domenec i Muntaner. That’s what makes the area a must-see for architectural aficionados who are visiting Barcelona, but nearly anyone will enjoy a walking tour of the area.

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Casa Milà (La Pedrera, also on Passeig de Gràcia) was built for Roser Segimón and her husband Pere Milà. Roser Segimon was the wealthy widow of Josep Guardiola, an Indiano or Americano, or former colonist returned from South America, had made his fortune with a coffee plantation in Guatemala. Her second husband, Pere Milà was a developer known for his flamboyant lifestyle.
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The Batlló family who have now their house as one of the most visited sites in Barcelona, Casa Batlló on Passeig de Gràcia, was very well known in Barcelona for their contribution to the textile industry in the city. Mr. Josep Batlló I Casanovas was a textile industrialist who owned a few factories in the city. Mr. Batlló married Amalia Godo Belaunzaran, from the family that founded the newspaper La Vanguardia.
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The painter Ramón Casas, belonging to the Catalan high bourgeoisie, commissioned the architect Antoni Rovira i Rabassa (1845-1919), the realization of this building where he moved to live. The project dates back to 1898 and the façade was executed in magnificently carved stone. The adornments on the balconies are admired, especially the corrido on the first floor, as well as the façade finishes with the same decoration repeated on a row of small windows corresponding to the last floor of the building. The main floor where Casas lived was occupied by the company Vinçon, but you can still see part of the decoration in ceramic and the forge made by Modernist artists Josep Orriols and the Flinch brothers respectively. It is right next to La Pedrera on Paseo de Gràcia.

Manzana (source)

 

At the core of Cerdà’s master plan was the creation of the manzana – a city block structure that had been meticulously studied and detailed. Originally, each manzana was to be built up on only 2 or 3 sides, with a depth of 20 metres and a height of 16. The length of each side would measure 113.3 m with a precise area of 12,370 sq m. In between the 2 or 3 built-up sides a recreational green space would allow for a maximum amount of sunlight and ventilation to penetrate every unit in the manzana while simultaneously providing a green belt for the entire city in all cardinal directions.

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Unique to Cerdà’s manzana was the 45 degree chamfer of each corner of the city block. Cerda believed that the steam tram would come to dominate the future of transport in Barcelona, and as such the 45 degree chamfer was designed to accommodate for the tram’s turning radius.

The streets would be built to a width of 20 metres with 5 meters dedicated on each side for pedestrians (with the exception of Gran Via which was to be 50 metres wide and Passeig de Gracia which was to be 60 metres wide).

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Paseo de San Joan in the beginning of the 20th century

The plan included a network oriented approach to city design where the street layout and grid plan was optimized to accommodate the mobility of pedestrians, horse drawn carriage and stream tram and infrastructural works such as gas supply lines, large capacity rain sewers and effective waste disposal lines.

In short, Cerdà invented “urbanisation” – a word(and discipline) that didn’t exist in Spanish or Catalan, nor English or French, and which he codified in his General Theory of Urbanisation in 1867 (the Guardian)

 

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