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The scene / Cerdà’s grid, Barcelona

Progressive urban planner Ildefons Cerdà designed Barcelona’s Eixample extension in the mid-19th century as a geometric antidote to the old town’s congested neighbourhoods

1 The area is characterised by standardised quadrangle blocks built on a strict grid. Cerdà’s original vision was for the central courtyards to be gardens, while two of the four sides of each building were to be limited in height to allow light to penetrate – but these costly measures were never created.

2 Each block has angled corners, which characterise the whole district. Called chaflanes, they were inspired by the city’s steam tram and its long turning radius. Removing the corners of the buildings enabled the trams to move through the district more quickly.

3 Cerdà originally planned two diagonal main avenues to run in parallel. Only Avenue Diagonal was built, yet it remains one the city’s most important streets, bisecting east from west, and measuring around 11km long and 50m wide.

4 Antoni Gaudí’s Sagrada Família is Barcelona’s most celebrated building. Begun by the architect in 1883, it is famously still being built today.

5 Wealthy clients in this new, well-heeled district meant plenty of work for Gaudí. His Casa Battló (1906) was a dramatic reworking of an ordinary apartment block, while La Pedrera (1912) uses Cerdà’s quadrangle form, but creates a wibbly-wobbly building that is the antithesis to Cerdà’s rational vision.

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Men who made cities

Georges-Eugène Haussmann
Baron Haussmann’s new plan for Paris in the 1860s involved tearing up the old, twisting streets and replacing them with wide, tree-lined boulevards. The plan cost a staggering 2.5 billion francs, causing a backlash that forced Napoleon III to fire his favourite urban planner in 1870. Yet he’s one of the most copied of all time, inspiring America’s City Beautiful movement in the 1890s and 1900s.

Robert Moses
New York City’s “master builder” of the mid-20th century remodelled post-war New York as a city of high towers and vast freeways, building 16 bridges and shaping Long Island. He fell out of favour in the 1960s, when intimate neighbourhoods became the vogue.   
Jan Gehl
Perhaps the “anti-Moses,” Gehl proposes small changes to orient cities away from cars towards pedestrians and cyclists. Having transformed Copenhagen over 40 years, he’s now working on “Copenhagenising” the world.   


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