folch i torres square, barcelona
Ciutat Vella and Eixample are two districts of Barcelona that are significantly different, not only in terms of their urban morphology but also because of their social composition, their commercial activity or the role they play in the city as a whole. Within Ciutat Vella, Raval is, moreover, the neighbourhood with the highest percentage of population at risk of exclusion and the highest number of problems of coexistence among groups. It is, therefore, where public space has a more significant role in the articulation of coexistence.
The Folch i Torres square is located on the edge of the Raval, just next to the Eixample, of which it is separated by the Ronda de Sant Pau, halfway between two worlds that are substantially different.
Located in a lot where the women's prison of Barcelona was located until 1936, it was the object of a redevelopment at the end of the 1980s. This led to the creation of a large sandy area, located at the level of the
Reina Amàlia street, and a paved terrace with a dense robinia plantation, at the level of the Ronda de Sant Pau, about 3 m above the previous one. The difference between the two levels was saved by a wall that included
an ornamental fountain.
>This organization of the space, quite logical at first glance, had been transformed over the years into an accumulation of elements where uses were being located based on opportunity rather than on organizational coherence, so that the basketball court ended literally next to the children playground, or the petanque court right at the opposite end of the centre for elderly people.
It had also become a segregated space, which neighbours perceived as Raval’s last frontier. Even if the Eixample is just across the street, the feeling was that it was extremely far away, "behind" the wall with the fountain and the wooded mass. To reach it, it was necessary to take the stairs of Lleialtat Street or a semi-hidden ramp on one of the sides. The feeling of being next to another world with which there was little opportunity for dialogue was increasingly intense.
The project reverses the situation with two fundamental project decisions: the creation of a continuous topography that saves the gap between Reina Amàlia Street and Sant Pau Street with a slope of around 3%, and the articulation of a compositional mechanism of bands that allows organizing the multiplicity of uses with coherence.
This came out through a participatory process in which residents in the area voiced out their points of view and commented of the proposals that were being made. Local authorities were particularly keen on ensuring that the full process was transparent, open to all involved parties and within their planned estimate.
The objective was to transform the square into an element of contact between both urban areas and an opportunity to articulate the various confluences, in order to stop it being a cul-de-sac and become the gateway to Raval.
Divided into two vaguely triangular halves, it concentrates the most active areas – children playgrounds, petanque, circulations ... - near the residential facades of Lleialtat and Reina Amàlia streets, and creates a quieter area in front of the facade of the Milà i Fontanals secondary school. The new basketball court that can be also used for the festive activities of the neighbourhood is located near Ronda Sant Pau.
A great diagonal step way -highlighted by lamps of a bigger size than in the rest of the square- connects the corner of Lleialtat and Reina Amàlia with Ronda de Sant Pau, becoming the main axis that articulates the new relationship between the Raval and the Eixample.
Vegetation plays a fundamental role in the new image of the space through the combination of trees and plants that bloom at different times of the year. The square thus becomes a changing scenario throughout the seasons, a calendar of the neighbourhood that consolidates day by day its symbolic aspect as a city space.
The result is a square that opens to the outside and becomes a gateway to Raval; a space that takes care of the balance between the various users; where everyone can walk or sit quietly to chat or read; where multitudinous events can be organized; where the smallest ones may enjoy inclusive playgrounds, the youngsters a basketball court and the eldest petanque courts; a space of coexistence where, in short, the various groups of residents can find their place and interrelate.