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ARCH 412 FALL 2011

PUBLIC SPACE AND THE CONTEMPORARY EUROPEAN CITY: PARC DE LA CREUETA DEL COLL

LINNEA GRANQUIST ANNA PLYLER


O V E R V I E W . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3

A N A L Y S I S . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8

A P P L I C A T I O N . . . . . . . . . . . 1 1

A P P L I C A T I O N . . . . . . . . . . . 1 9

C O N C L U S I O N . . . . . . . . . . . . 2 8


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OVERVIEW It seems strange that "hidden" could be among the most appropriate adjectives used to describe a 1.68 hectare park that occupies one of the most prominent hills rising out of Barcelona. But whether by the design of the architects or some magic of the neighborhood (or maybe it's just not getting mentioned in many tourism guidebooks), the Parc de la Creueta del Coll remains a quietly wellkept secret known mainly to the locals.

LOCATION

Gracia district/Vallcarca and El Coll neighborhoods

CITY CONTEXT

One of Barcelona's "three green hills, along with Carmel and Parc Guell.

GRACIA


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HISTORY & DEVELOPMENT Circumstances in the seventies favored the development of Parc de la Creueta del Coll. The site, an abandoned quarry, had lots of space, and the end of the Franco regime meant significant changes to the way developers approached urban renewal. With the Olympics looming, democratically-elected city councils were ready to spend money to improve public spaces in the city, from the design of new parks to the commissioning of public works of art. After an initial controversy over who owned the abandoned site and a discussion over whether it would be a location for apartment blocks, the MBM team (architects Josep Martorell, Oriol Bohigas, and David Mackay) designed the park from 1981 to 1983 before it was opened to the public in 1986.

The chief attraction of the park is a large swimming pool, made distinctive by its irregular shape and screen of palm trees (it's handicap-accessible as well.)


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FACILITIES

Playgrounds/Basketball/Ping pong/Bocce ball Picnic area/Bar/Benches/Free WiFi/Water fountains


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PUBLIC ART In the scheme of attractions offered up by the city of Barcelona, Parc de la Creueta del Coll occupies basically the same niche as Parc Guell but can't really compete with the GaudĂ­ connection. Neither does it try-its attraction lies in the quieter, community feel of a place to be experienced rather than seen.

But the dedicated tourist will still be rewarded by a trek to the park, as it contains several pieces of public sculpture. The first and most obvious piece is a tall monolithic sculpture by Ellsworth Kelly that greets visitors at the main gate, titled Totem. Made of Corten steel, it tapers so that the top is wider than the base and produces a sense of dynamic imbalance.

There is another more subtle sculpture at the side entrance called Sol I Lluna by Montserrat Altet. The ceramist transformed the old quarry gatehouse where the locals used to gather into a monument of its former function; it still stands but is blocked in with his celestial-themed ceramic work.


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PUBLIC ART The sculpture that commands the park, however, is the 54-ton "Elogi d'Aigua" by Eduardo Chillida. Questioning the nature of space is a major theme in most of the Basque artist's work, and in this case it is important that the sculpture is reflected in the pool over which it is suspended. The "Elogi d'Aigua"(which translates as "In Praise of Water," an aptly named piece for a park based around a swimming pool) unexpectedly treats a heavy object as if it were weightless, but it collapsed in 1998. Today it hangs in its old position and the repair work can be seen in the different colors of concrete making up the sculpture.

"I'VE DONE HALF THE SCULPTURE, THE OTHER HALF IS MADE OF WATER."-EDUARDO CHILLIDA


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ANALYSIS ENTRANCES Parc de la Creueta del Coll is a carefully designed park, but the fact is that a space with such a large square meterage in a densely residential area is bound to have more access points than the architects intended. This is unavoidable short of walling off the entire property, but various other factors do their job to reduce the number of entrances to more or less seven. More could probably be found, but it would require a lot of creativity-the park manages to stay secluded behind homes, businesses, walls, and impassably steep hills.

7

6

1 2

3

UNPAVED

PAVED

RESIDENTIAL

TOPOGRAPHICAL

5

4


1

ENTRANCES - INTENDED DESTINATIONS

9

DESIGNED PARK

ENTRANCES -

7

1 INTENDED 4

5

DESTINATIONS

DESIGNED PARK

1

OTHER BUILDINGS

7

4

2 3

6 2 5

UNDESIGNED PARK

3

6 2 5

UNDESIGNED PARK

OTHER BUILDINGS

7

4

3

6

ENTRANCES - INCLINE UNDESIGNED PARK

OTHER BUILDINGS

5 3 4 6 1 7 ENTRANCES - INCLINE 2 5 3 4 6 1 7 ENTRANCES - INCLINE2 5 3 4 6 1 7 2

ENTRANCES - GROUNDCOVER PAVED

2

UNPAVED

4

5

ENTRANCES - GROUNDCOVER PAVED

2

7 4

UNPAVED

6 5

ENTRANCES - GROUNDCOVER

1

PAVED

STAIRS

2

7 4

1

STAIRS

7

UNPAVED

6 3 5 6 3


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ANALYSIS DESIGNED AND UNDESIGNED When brainstorming what to study within the space, looking at the designed verses undesigned emerged as an obvious choice. Creueta lends itself to this analysis because it is essentially divided down the middle by a steep hill into highly designed and highly undesigned halves.

DESIGNED spaces ultimately take existing context and

alter it in some way. Alteration can be approached in many different ways. It can take the existing context and work closely with it or largely ignore the context when designing-or anywhere in between.

UNDESIGNED spaces are unaltered and therefore retain support of the existing context.

We decided to approach our study of designed verses undesigned through independent experiential analysis. Each of us went on a personal journey through the park to collect information. One experience goes from a designed entrance to an undesigned exit and the other, the opposite.


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APPLICATION DESIGNED TO UNDESIGNED During my journey through Parc de la Creueta del Coll, it struck me that this was one of the times that it was not just desirable, but imperative, that I conduct my research solo. There I was, the user of a public space, and my only directives were my own personal whims interacting with the language built into the space by the designers twenty five years ago. Although I was a bit different from the average user because I specifically payed attention to the design, it communicates to all users equally, whatever their level of consciousness of it. The way they integrate it into their personal journeys will be uniquely their own.

CONTEXT Early November/Wednesday/16:30-18:00/Mild and cloudy METRO L5 (La Teixonera/El Coll) This metro stop has the distinction of having its two exits more spaced apart than any other station in the Barcelona network. One, the eastern exit, is a quick walk down the street from the entrance to Parc de la Creueta del Coll. The second exit, however, is 400 meters to the west. Of course I unknowingly took this second exit and ended up completely disoriented-the streets of the neighborhood follow their own logic and not the CerdĂ  plan. It required a good deal of zigzagging and guesswork, but after stumbling around for fifteen minutes I finally recognized my bearings and was able to proceed to the park.


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PARC

ARRIVAL AT THE PARK Street access to the park manages to be obvious, yet hidden. Approached from the north, the main entrance is tucked behind a blind curve and suddenly reveals itself as gap in the stone wall running beside the sidewalk. The only prior hint of its existence is the information sign signifying public spaces in the city of Barcelona, and I can't help but wonder if its inclusion may be subverting the intention of the designers.

RC

PA

RC

PA

Once one has successfully taken note of the entrance there can be no denying its existence, thanks to the tall Totem sculpture clearly visible and standing about ten meters up the path. This path, however nicely made of pavers, is a rather steep uphill grade and I wonder about its accessibility for the elderly. There are no users on the path.


13 INSIDE PARC DE LA CREUETA DEL COLL Once I reach the top of the hill, the large park is revealed before me- well, sort of. A large natural boulder stands behind Totem (perhaps as a monument to the old quarry function of the space) and it also shields the rest of the park from view. As I walk around it, there are several path options available to me: an incline and some stairs branching away to my right; but I elect to head into the main space and get a feel for the central functions of the park. There are more people here: young parents socializing, children playing, a girl making use of the paved areas to ride her little bike, dog walkers, a group of well-dressed people standing around for some reason I can't ascertain. I even notice a preteen and mother who appear to be taking a shortcut through the park on their way home from school. All in all there are about twenty people here, but it feels like a lot less due to the size of the park and the different zones of usage-the well-dressed people for example are standing near the Chillida sculpture and don't seem to be crowding the playground with the families. Sitting down on a bench, I try to map out these different usages, but I then realize that working in a plan view is going to be much more difficult than I imagined. The park begins with the simplest possible language: a sculpture standing in the middle of a circle. But once the usages become more complex (bar, seating area, playground, swimming pool) so does the geometry. I can at best only guess at the irregular shape of the swimming pool; in any case, it cradles areas of different usage like the palm island, meaning that as I sit on my bench and look out, it's easier for me to see through layers of usage right in front of me than it is for me to deduce a clearly defined picture Ă  la satellite image.


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PA

RC

Luckily my wish for a visual orientation seems to have been anticipated by the designers! Although the playground does look tempting, I go back to those first paths I saw with the stairs in hopes of getting a better view of the park. Of course my foreknowledge of the park has inevitably tainted the pureness of this experience, but I can assume that an outsider at this point would have noticed Chillida's Elogi d'Aigua for the first time. It hangs as far as possible from the main entrance and is hidden by a screen of palms. A giant, heavy concrete sculpture suspended in the air is something so out of the ordinary that even the least curious person would be inevitably drawn to it, in the meantime being forced to navigate around the swimming pool, the playground, numerous sitting areas, and the palm island. It's an ingenious merging of art and architecture to achieve a common end: move people through the space.

PA

RC

RC

PA


15 I however am still trying to get a good look at the park. I head up the stairs and look out, only to find that as I gain information about the geometry of the park, I lose information about what's actually happening inside of it. The first mezzanine level hugs the hillside and encircles the pool, providing a much better view of the overall shape of the park below, but the people and activities within are successfully hidden behind the leafy trees interspersed throughout. The playground, sculpture, and bar all maintain their privacy.

I continue up through the first mezzanine and into the second. Again, I gain perspective on the general shape of the park but lose even more information behind the screen of trees occupying the first mezzanine. At this point my only companions are a man and his dog; I can still hear the people in the park below but feel effectively separated from them by our difference in level and also the fact that a large water feature (the pool) weighs constantly in my mind between us. Still, at this point there is no reason to go back because I've finally seen something that gives me a goal: the cliff! Although there are still some benches, the pavers stop here in a clear signal that this is a place for resting and travel is at an end. But there is still a dirt path that appears to wind up towards the cliff, so I continue my upward trek.


16 Once I reach the next level, the park is all but forgotten in the tangle of treetops below and I'm completely distracted by the view that extends clear to the sea. There is an official picnic area here for those who want to enjoy the cityscape to the east and the beauty of the massive cliff just next to them on the west. I'm not one of the very old or very young who frequent this park, though, and I want to climb that cliff instead of look at it. It's frowned upon, but I have no choice but to trek off into the wilderness. The hill is difficult, but it's easy to follow the path left for me by other adventurous spirits-there is a point, however, where I realize it's become too steep to consider turning back.

"Prohibited"? Not to me!


17 I reach the top of the ridge quickly, where the only sign of human activity is a simple wooden fence running along the edge. It functions less as a safety element (the most dangerous part of my journey, climbing the hill, is over) and more as a guide, leading along the hollowed-out rim of the quarry up to the summit of the mountain. Here the views of the city are unparalleled, and I am richly rewarded for my trouble before deciding to head down the back side of the hill in the direction of Tibidabo.

LEAVING THE PARK Dusk is falling as I descend and the limit in vision increases my sense of hearing-the voices of the children in the park, constant up until this point, are replaced by cars zooming and dogs barking, all brought to me on a fresh breeze. There is no straightforward way down the hill; all the paths are dirt and zigzag back and forth, reminding me of my journey through the streets of Gracia on my way to this park. I finally know I've reached civilization when I cross a rusty chain (another reminder that I've been in a forbidden area for the past leg of my journey) and see drainage ways added alongside the gravel paths. I begin to see people again, all walking their dogs through the twilight (five humans total and eight dogs.) But these people are simply in the know, because there's no marked entrance to the park on this side of the hill. I walk down one final path, wide enough for a vehicle, which takes me behind some residences and finally leads me into a street intersection in a neighborhood of nice houses tucked away behind innumerable high-security gates. This is a completely private area, silently guarding the secret expanse of public space I have just spent the past hour in. There is no city of Barcelona park sign to be found.


18 CONCLUSIONS I explored this park driven solely by my own desires in communication with the design, and that conversation shaped this specific journey from designed to undesigned. My own insistence on always having my bearings through understanding of the space was challenged by the devices MBM Architects used to increase privacy of the space. I wanted to know the shapes and layouts of the programmed space, and they threw up trees to thwart my nosiness! But as the saying goes, "when one door closes, another one opens," and they provided me with opportunities to climb higher. I get the better perspective that I want, and the architects get me to move through the space. This method is almost too successful, because the juncture between designed and undesigned spaces becomes awkward when the design fades away completely and then prohibits me from pursuing my goal. Users have been ignoring the designers' intentions and climbing the cliff for years, and in a way one could say it almost becomes more exciting due to the lack of design. I see the exclusion of the cliff not as a failure on the part of the architects, but as more of a missed opportunity.

The Parc de la Creueta del Coll can't be understood by plan drawings and diagrams; it must be understood through experience. That experience is a game, an interplay between growing curiosity of the user and increasing revelations granted by the designers.


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APPLICATION UNDESIGNED TO DESIGNED

Wednesday around 14:30; overcast I started my experience with Creueta del Coll as I arrived at metro stop Penitents. I found myself exiting up 3 flights of escalators, getting my first indication of a changed landscape. Sure enough, I found sloping streets and abrupt drops in elevation. I started my uphill journey to the park greeted by a stream of rambunctious school children and their parents. I thought maybe I would find some at the park, too. As I neared the entrance to the park, there was no indication that I was doing so. I seemed to just stumble upon an unrelated dirt, back-road. This is the primary back entrance of many entrances that access the park, but aren't marked with official signage. As I ascended, I slightly felt as if I was invading privacy, for the road was lined on one side with back porches overlooking me and, on the other, their personal vehicles. But this quickly gave way, and a vehicle-accessible dirt path lined with lush greenery emerged; I am now in the park.


20 Right away, I noticed an unofficial foot path breakoff towards the top of the hill. I am passed by 2 work trucks; so far no one else has been spotted in the park except maintenance workers. After the trucks were gone, I was left by myself on the pathway; I took a minute to absorb the space. The feeling was one of being removed from the bustling city, now below me. I heard the somewhat muffled sound of traffic, but it also felt quiet and tranquil, with the overtone of birds chirping. I saw views of the city below.

I encountered my first park user, a young male with a dog off-leash. With this entrance being the primary access to the rough, back-half of the park, it is frequented by users that are interested in the open landscape of the hillside rather than the park amenities-this being a lot of dog walkers. With all the rain lately, I noticed that the park must deal with drainage. There were unofficial drainage crevices running down the hillside and muddy puddles in the pathway. In the distance, the path made a sharp turn to the left at the edge of the mountainside. I was left with a suspenseful drop off-all I see is sky. There was a feeling of the unknown.


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I approached to see the hillside crashing down at the edge of the path. I made the turn and realized that I was now joined with a primary, more designed pathway. There was official drainage; they placed a small prefab concrete ditch along the side of the path that is rather ineffective, with deep water crevices running alongside it. I found that the ditch was awkwardly placed with rather uninviting looking benches on the other side of it, so that visitors must cross the divide to sit down.


22 Besides the added drainage and benches, I saw trashcans and landscaping. Although there was more effort put into the design of this path, I found it less appealing than the path I was just on. It felt too wide and sparse, as if they came in with a bulldozer cut through the slope of the hillside to make this flat way. It lacked the naturally occurring trees that lined the other path, and instead added a few scrawny trees spaced at ridged intervals. It didn't feel good to walk this path, so I moved on towards less interfered with paths that go up the hillside. I encountered another young male with a dog, on leash, coming down from the top. I came to a smaller pathway that leads up the hillside. It had a chain across it indicating no vehicle access. I saw 2 maintenance workers piddling around, not doing much, down the path. On this path the naturally occurring trees reappear. Though it feels quite un-designed, I saw a lone trashcan and some supplemental pine trees to fill in the preexisting-a much less intrusive approach than bulldozing the space flat and adding show landscaping. From here, you can see the distinctive wooden fencing that lines the crest of the mountain. Getting distracted by this, I broke off from the main path and moved onto an unofficial little foot trail that took me to the top.


23 From the top I looked down into the main designed portion of the park-I didn't see a soul. No school children to be found. It felt strange to be on the lesser known half of the park, overlooking what should be the bustling designed portion of the space, and not see anyone. Granted, the weather wasn't exactly provoking. It feels removed, cold and desolate at the top, but also exciting because of the elevation and the view.

I followed the path along until I got to the end of the crest and it started to move down the hill to a lower portion of the park. I found an intermediary space as I proceeded down to the lower level. Here there was a natural rock cove, which appeared to be used as an unofficial hangout spot. It did seem inviting. I went down further and found myself at the lower side portion of the park, but not in the main designed park. This area is highly designed, unlike the rough, natural half of the park I had been journeying through. Here the paths changed from natural to stone covered with added landscaping lining the edges. The aesthetic was a natural one, with the design based off of the slope of the landscape, with natural stone, organic forms and wild-looking landscaping. I found this approach to designing a space pleasing and enjoyed it.


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The stone paths winded their way down, past the artwork Sol i Lluna, and ended up at a flat area covered in pavers. The area was semi-circle in shape and was wrapped with benches and included a fountain. Here there is an official entrance to the park, complete with signage. The geometry of the space was forced into the landscape, as well as the flatness of it. I didn't find this part of the space as sensible as the stone paths.


25 I didn't exit the park here, but skirted around the edge and headed towards the main designed, lower portion of the park, which is cradled inside the mountain. As I was making my way there I noticed a fence that could be used to separate this side designed area from the main designed park, an indication of the isolation aspect that the main designed space entailed through its ridged design approach. The park is dominated by a circular design, defined on the edges with barriers. I found this method to be lacking in transition, making it seem forced and abrupt. I moved through the barriers into the circular park. Again, I found no one in the park. I moved along the circular edge towards the main entrance/exit to the park. I felt like the circular shape was domineering of the landscape, it plowed right through a large boulder without taking it into consideration.

As I neared the exit I finally encountered some people. I witnessed 2 young females using the park as a cutthrough, entering on the side entrance previously mentioned, and exiting at the main entrance; they could have stayed on the street level, but I supposed they decided to have a change in scenery. I also spotted another young male with a dog enter the park at the main entrance and instead of going into the circular designed space, he


26 moved straight up the hillside into the terraces on the edge of circular design. Next, I saw an elderly man enter and do the same thing. I exited the park and took some time to process my experience through the park from the un-designed to designed. CONCLUSION Overall, I found the analysis of designed vs. un-designed to be really pertinent to Creueta; the entire park is a constant struggle between these two aspects. It is practically divided down the middle by the mountain into designed and un-designed halves. Not only is there this larger example of the struggle, but there are many smaller instances to be analyzed, such as the fight between official pathways and the unofficial pathways that run throughout, and also official spaces to hangout in verses unofficial spots that have been appropriated as hangout spots. I got the impression that people are using the park how they want, and that is many times not in accordance with how it has been designed to be utilized. I find this discrepancy credited to a fundamental difference in design approach-whether or not the natural landscape was supported through the design, or not. Un-designed aspects of the park worked with landscape, which makes sense since if it's not designed then the only thing that exists is natural landscape. Whereas, designed portions take the natural landscape and alter it in some way. This alteration can work with the landscape or choose to do its own thing, without as much thought given to the landscape. In the instance of the terraces, which people seemed to enjoy, I would like to note how these are designed, but in a way that took the slope of the hillside into account, and which also broke the ridged circular geometry that the rest of the designed portion followed. In the designed side-portion of the park with the Sol I Lluna artwork I feel the successful part of this was also the part which designed with the landscape in mind, whereas the less successful part of it did not. In the case of the uninviting main pathway in the back of


27 the park: this space was mulled flat by a bulldozer, which is obviously not in agreement with the landscape; I credit this approach to its lack of success. It seems to me that the natural, un-designed spaces were intrinsically appealing to people. This can be seen in the heavy usage of the back, natural half of the park, where people have created trails all over and places to relax within the natural landscape. Even though this half of the park has not had nearly as much done to it as the designed half, it still gets just as many, or possibly more, users. Much money was spent in the highly designed half of the park to attract people through various amenities (playground, pool, bar, etc.) and through art. Yet, during my experience through the park it seemed as if that didn't really matter to people. No one was there admiring any of those things, they were enjoying the landscapewhether through a design which supported it, or just the landscape itself. I do realize, though, that there are certainly times when these things will be used and are used, but I argue that the real attraction of Creueta del Coll is its unique mountain landscape, and therefore any designed portion added to it should be in support of this landscape if it hopes to be most successful.


28 CONCLUSION The two experiments we designed took us down different roads that generated different ideas. Many are in harmony and some others are not, but together they complete a portrait of the Parc de la Creueta del Coll. The body of research that exists on this park focuses almost exclusively on the designed portion; even so, it was difficult to draw definitive conclusions on the success of the space. Occupancy levels were different in each of our experiences and the factors behind that are difficult to determine. Regardless, it's safe to analyze how comfortable the design made us feel personally. A key factor in this might have been the sequence within which we reached it-for Linnea, coming from the undesigned hillside made it somewhat of a disappointing destination, and for Anna it was more of a transitory space between the entrance and the hill. We both found the undesigned space to be pleasant and exciting, and apparently so did the many people we encountered who used it despite its lack of amenities. But the only decision designers can really make regarding "undesigned" space is where its boundaries are placed. The evidence gathered from this park points to the fact that undesigned spaces are inherently more successful than designed spaces, leaving architects with the question of how to design a non-design. Ultimately, what we find at the bottom of Parc de la Creueta del Coll is a paradox.


Public Space and the Contemporary European City: Parc de la Creueta del Coll