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The catalyst of cities: A study of Spanish plazas and revitalization of the city center

The catalyst of cities: A study of Spanish plazas and revitalization of the city center

Documentation by:

Arianna Daisy Delgado A masters research project presented to the Graduate School of Architecture and Community Design at the University of South Florida in partial fulfillment of the requirements of the degree of Master of Architecture

Thesis Chair:

Daniel Powers Associate Professor USF SACD

Thesis Committee:

Taryn Sabia Research Faculty USF SACD

Josue Robles Research Faculty USF SACD

Date of Approval: December 2016


I am dedicating this document to my parents Aurora and Jorge Delgado, my sisters Isabella and Eleonora, and my fiancĂŠ Riley Trumble.


I would like to thank all of my colleagues for their constant source of energy and inspiration, without whom studio life would not be the same. I would like to personally thank all of my professors Robert Hudson, Brandon Hicks, Nancy Sanders, Robert MacLeod, Mark Weston, Daniel Powers, Taryn Sabia, and Josue Robles for guiding me through my architectural education at SACD. A special thank you to Professor Daniel Powers for being the most influential mentor I could have, and always pushing me to further my understanding of architecture and design.

Table of Contents:

Page 8

List of Figures

Page 12

Problem Statement

Page 13


Page 14

Project Description & Goals

Page 16

Research and Design Methods

Page 19

Project Concept

Page 20

Historical Precedence

Page 24

Design Factors

Page 26

Case Studies


St.Augustine, Florida


Santa Fe, New Mexico


Pensacola, Florida


San Antonio, Texas


Los Angeles, California

Page 40

Site Location

Page 42

Surrounding Architecture

Page 47

Site Analysis

Page 52

Program Analysis

Page 54

Mapping the Town

Page 57

Parti Studies

Page 62

Massing Studies


Massing Study: One


Massing Study: Two


Massing Study: Three

Page 76

A Speculation of Program

Page 79

Final Parti Selection

Page 84

Master Plan

Page 87

Final Model

Page 98

Seasonal Renderings



Page 106

Works Cited

List of Figures: All images, models, and drawings by author except where noted

p. 15 p. 16 p. 18 p. 20 p. 27 p. 27

Figure 1 Figure 2 Figure 3 Figure 4 Figure 5 Figure 6

First Spanish Settlement Drawing Experiential Memory Map of St. Augustine Florida Coastal Condition Original Photo taken in St. Augustine Original Photo taken in St. Augustine Plaza Image


p. 27 p. 27 p. 27 P. 28 P. 29

Figure 7 Figure 8 Figure 9 Figure 10 Figure 11

Plaza Image Plaza Image,_florida Plaza Image Stamen Map of St.Augustine, Florida Plaza Image

photoa_ lbum/san-agustin-06.jpg?itok=4K13fDSw

P. 29 P. 29 P. 30 P. 31 P. 31

Figure 12 Figure 13 Figure 14 Figure 15 Figure 16

Plaza Image Plaza Image eritage/photos/st.%20augustine9_ .jpg Stamen Map of Santa Fe, New Mexico Plaza Image exico/photographs700/santa-fe-plaza.jpg Plaza Image


P. 31 Figure 17

Plaza Image mexico

P. 32 P. 33 P. 33 P. 33

Figure 18 Figure 19 Figure 20 Figure 21

Stamen Map of Pensacola, Florida Plaza Image Plaza Image Plaza Image


P. 34 Figure 22 P. 35 Figure 23

Stamen Map of San Antonio, Texas Plaza Image


P. 35 Figure 24 P. 35 Figure 25

Plaza Image Plaza Image

P. 36 Figure 26 P. 37 Figure 27

Stamen Map of Los Angeles, California Plaza Image

Antonio, S. (2012). San Antonio architecture: Traditions and visions. Place of publication not identified: Trinity University Press.


P. 37 Figure 28 Page08

Plaza Image

P. 37 Figure 29

Plaza Image


P. 38 P. 40 P. 40 P. 40 P. 40 P. 40 P. 41 P. 42 P. 43 P. 43 P. 43 P. 44 P. 45 P. 45 P. 45 P. 46 P. 47 P. 48 P. 48 P. 48

Figure 30 Figure 31 Figure 32 Figure 33 Figure 34 Figure 35 Figure 36 Figure 37 Figure 38 Figure 39 Figure 40 Figure 41` Figure 42 Figure 43 Figure 44 Figure 45 Figure 46 Figure 47 Figure 48 Figure 49

Stamen Aerial Map of Connecticut and Rhode Island Original Photo taken in Mystic, Connecticut Original Photo taken in Mystic, Connecticut Original Photo taken in Mystic, Connecticut Original Photo taken in Mystic, Connecticut Original Photo taken in Mystic, Connecticut Stamen Aerial Map of Northeastern United States Town Image treet,_New_LondonC _ T.jpg Original Photo taken in Mystic, Connecticut Original Photo taken in Mystic, Connecticut Original Photo taken in Mystic, Connecticut Original Photo taken in Mystic, Connecticut Original Photo taken in Mystic, Connecticut Original Photo taken in Mystic, Connecticut Original Photo taken in Mystic, Connecticut Mapping of Groton Stamen Aerial Map of Longhill Drive Town Image _ autilusS_ SN571.JPG Town Image Town Image


P. 49 Figure 50

Town Image

P. 51 P. 55 P. 56 P. 58 P. 58 P. 58 P. 59 P. 59 P. 59

Google Aerial Map with Site Mapping the Town: Public Services and Community Events Set of Parti Studies Parti Model: Origin Parti Model: Datum Parti Model: Enclosure Parti Model: Proportion Parti Model: Intersection Parti Model: Threshold view

Figure 51 Figure 52 Figure 53 Figure 54 Figure 55 Figure 56 Figure 57 Figure 58 Figure 59


List of Figures:

P. 60 P. 60 P. 60 P. 62 P. 59 P. 65 P. 66 P. 66 P. 68 P. 69 P. 70 P. 70 P. 72 P. 73 P. 74 P. 74 P. 76 P. 77 P. 77 P. 77 P. 78 P. 79 P. 80 P. 82 P. 82 P. 82 P. 83 P. 84 P. 86 P. 87 P. 88 P. 90 P. 90 P. 90 Page10

Figure 60 Figure 61 Figure 62 Figure 63 Figure 64 Figure 65 Figure 66 Figure 67 Figure 68 Figure 69 Figure 70 Figure 71 Figure 72 Figure 73 Figure 74 Figure 75 Figure 76 Figure 77 Figure 78 Figure 79 Figure 80 Figure 81 Figure 82 Figure 83 Figure 84 Figure 85 Figure 86 Figure 87 Figure 88 Figure 89 Figure 90 Figure 91 Figure 92 Figure 93

Parti Model: Grid Parti Model: Portal Parti Model: Hierarchy Massing Studies 1 - 3 Massing Study One Massing Study One in the Site Plan View Massing Study One in the Site Massing Study One in the Site Massing Study Two Massing Study Two in the Site Plan View Massing Study Two in the Site Massing Study Two in the Site Massing Study Three Massing Study Three in the Site Plan View Massing Study Three in the Site Massing Study Three in the Site A Speculation of Program Set of Three A Speculation of Program One A Speculation of Program Two A Speculation of Program Three Final Parti Selection Plan View Final Parti Selection Image Final Parti Selection Image Final Parti Selection Image Final Parti Selection Image Final Parti Selection Image Final Parti Selection Image Master Plan Final Model Image Final Model Image Final Model Image Final Model Image Detail: Plaza Final Model Image Detail: Plaza Final Model Image Detail: Plaza

P. 91 P. 92 P. 93 P. 93 P. 93 P. 94 P. 96 P. 96 P. 96 P. 97 P. 99 P. 100 P. 101 P. 102 P. 109

Figure 94 Figure 95 Figure 96 Figure 97 Figure 98 Figure 99 Figure 100 Figure 101 Figure 102 Figure 103 Figure 104 Figure 105 Figure 106 Figure 107 Figure 108

Final Model Image Storefronts Final Model Image Final Model Image Detail: Business Incubator Final Model Image Detail: Business Incubator Final Model Image Detail: Business Incubator Final Model Image Final Model Image Detail: Tansit Station Final Model Image Detail: Tansit Station Final Model Image Final Model Image Winter Time Plaza Rendering Spring Time Plaza Rendering Summer Time Plaza Rendering Fall Time Plaza Rendering Line with Three Corners: The Beginning


Problem Statement:

Due to the creation of new cities and the rebuilding of existing cities, the public space has become subordinate and less visible in urban downtowns. It is critical to refocus our attention to the plaza and to begin creating large open spaces within established and new cities. In “The Death and Life of Great American Cities, ”Jane Jacobs says, “When distance and convenience sets in; the small, the various and the personal wither away.” It is necessary that we allow the plaza to reclaim its rightful place within the city, giving public space back to the people and the city.



The city structure and organization found in Spanish cities reflects the social nature of the Spanish culture. Within the city, the plaza has always been the major cultural and social space. These social spaces not only act as a cultural center for the community, but also as a second “front yard� for the community. These open areas add complexity and richness to the environment surrounding them. The importance of this feature is demonstrated by the integration of these spaces within every Spanish-influenced city grid. One book which was brought by all conquistadors to the Americas was the Law of the Indies. This was the official handbook for Spanish city structure in the New World. From these laws, a major central plaza was an inherent part of Spain’s early American cities. The historic nature of the plaza can be reused in order to begin to rekindle existing cities in America today. By reverting back to these historic concepts we can learn and adapt our current cities to better incorporate the pedestrian and the concept of social interaction. By analyzing early Spanish settlements in the United States and the Law of the Indies, I will define the essential pieces to creating a successful social space. Once I isolate these elements within the plaza, I will look to the Northeastern coast of the United States. I will use what I learn from these case studies to create a catalyst for the city of Groton, Connecticut. This catalyst aims to redesign a portion of Long hill Drive, and to create a new pedestrian friendly street which will reactivate this city center. Within the catalyst design, a plaza mayor will be proposed along with peripheral plazas, a commuter train stop, a community center, and small business incubators. These new proposals will aim to rekindle a strong sense of community and propose a new approach to reactivating cities and city structure.


Project Goals & Description:

The goal of this master’s project is to develop an urban negotiation between the public and private realm. Through the research of some of the very first Spanish plazas and more recent plazas within the United States, this project aims to create guidelines and design criteria for the new public space. The masters project will begin with the analysis of five plazas and their physical and social features. These established plazas will inform the design guidelines and criteria to better understand the heart and starting point of many cities.

1. St. Augustine, Florida “Plaza de la Constitucion” 1565 2. Santa Fe, New Mexico “Santa Fe Plaza” 1610 3. Pensicola, FL “Plaza Ferdinand VII “1698 4. San Antonio, Texas “Plaza de Las Islas” 1731 5. Los Angeles, California “Plaza of El Pueblo de La Reina de Los Angeles“ 1781

Since the beginning of the planned city, the concept of an open space has been prevalent. One of the first written examples of Spanish city planning can be found in the Law of the Indies. The origin and center of any Spanish city was the plaza. This was written along with other design criteria in order to give the city a certain organizational and logical design. Each city was designed around this plaza and located among its surroundings. With the main plaza as the heart of the city and peripheral plazas located throughout, cities were able to grow according to their needs and flourish over time.


Figure 1


Research and Design methods:

Precedent Studies Precedent research combined with five case studies will be used in the analysis of the materialization of the Laws of the Indies. Studying the real world application of these laws will further the knowledge and understanding of the city structure. This scope of knowledge will influence the design of this masters project.


Figure 2

Speculative Studies Speculative studies of a design will take place through a series of explorations on plaza configurations. A proposal for a new plaza system and associated blocks will be created for the chosen site. This proposal will use the concepts learned in the precedent studies to challenge and explore the concept of social spaces in already existing cities. This new plaza design will act as the catalyst in an under utilized space to begin to reactivate the street and surrounding areas.


Figure 3 Page18

Project Concept:

The concept behind this masters project is to take the design regulations and elements found in the Spanish Laws of the Indies along with the intangible cultural and social elements discovered, and to re-apply them to a modern city in order to regenerate a stronger sense of community. The proposed plaza design will act as the catalyst for the city and begin the re-imagination of under utilized parking lots to create outdoor social spaces for the surrounding community. This master’s project will provide a design for a main plaza and transit center, along with a community center, small business incubators, and secondary social spaces.


Historical Precedence:

The Spanish Law of the Indies was composed of a set of documents written from 1512 to 1573. With each new volume, clarifications and new laws were introduced. These laws dealt with a range of topics within settlements, from the interaction between the natives and the Spanish to actual city plans. An attempt of a compilation of these documents was made in 1680 in the Recopilaciรณn de las Leyes de los Reinos de Indias. This document contains all of the laws written from 1512 to 1573. There have been a few additions to the complete set of the Law of the Indies issued by the Spanish crown. The very first laws issued were The Laws of Burgos. These laws were issued on Dec. 27, 1512, by King Ferdinand II. In an effort to fix some inadequacies of the Laws of Burgos, The New Laws of the Indies were written in 1542 by King Charles I. The final iteration of these laws was written in 1573 by King Phillip II. These laws were written to help establish the creation and design of cities in the New World. All aspects of the city, from the origin and location of the plaza to the street grid, were thoroughly planned and formally written before any city was established. This masters project begins with the translation of ten of the selected laws found within Las Recopilaciรณn de las Leyes de los Reinos de Indias. Once these laws were translated to English, a further analysis of the origins of these laws begins to explore the logic behind the Spanish Laws of the Indies.

Figure 4 Page20

Historical Precedence:

Translated from the republication of the Spanish Laws of the Indies, three city planning ordinances were chosen, along with seven plaza design ordinances. These ten ordinances were chosen from the document based on their relevance to the design of the Plaza.. These ordinances will be used as the basis for the design elements which will be distilled after thorough analysis.

City Planning Ordinances 37. And they should have good access and outlet by sea and by land, and also good roads and passage by water, in order that they may be entered and departed easily with commerce, while bringing relief and establishing defenses. 39. The site and position of the towns should be selected in places where water is nearby and where it would be possible to demolish neighboring towns and properties in order to take advantage of the materials that are essential for building; and, [these sites and positions should be suitable] also for farming, cultivation, and pasturation, so as to avoid excessive work and cost, since any of the above would be costly if they were far. 40. Do not select sites that are too high up because these are affected by winds, and access and service to these are difficult, nor in lowlands, which tend to be unhealthy; choose places of medium elevation that enjoy good winds, especially from the north and south, and if there were mountains or hills, these should be in the west or in the east, and it there should be a need to build in high places, do it in areas not subjected to fogs; take note of the terrain and its accidental features and in case that there should be a need to build on the banks of a river, it should be on the eastern bank, so when the sun rises it strikes the town first, then the water.


Historical Precedence:

Plaza Design 112. The main plaza is to be the starting point for the town; if the town is situated on the sea coast, it should be placed at the landing place of the port, but inland it should be at the center of the town. The plaza should be square or rectangular, in which case it should have at least one and a half its width for length inasmuch as this shape is best for fiestas in which horses are used and for any other fiestas that should be held. 113. The size of the plaza shall be proportioned to the number of inhabitants, taking into consideration the fact that in Indian towns, inasmuch as they are new, the intention is that they will increase, and thus the plaza should be decided upon taking into consideration the growth the town may experience. [The Plaza] shall be not less that two hundred feet wide and three hundred feet long, nor larger than eight hundred feet long and five hundred and thirty feet wide. A good proportion is six hundred feet long and four hundred wide. 114. From the plaza shall begin four principal street: One [shall be] from the middle of each side, and two streets from each corner of the plaza; the four corners of the plaza shall face the four principal winds, because in this manner, the streets running from the plaza will not be exposed to the four principal winds, which would cause much inconvenience. 115. Around the plaza as well as along the four principal streets which begin there shall be portals, for these are of considerable convenience to the merchants who generally gather there; the eight streets running from the plaza at the four corners shall open on the plaza without encountering these porticoes, which shall be kept back in order that there may be sidewalks even with the streets and plaza.


Historical Precedence:

116. In cold places, the streets shall be wide and in hot places narrow; but for purposes of defense in areas where there are horses, it would be better if they are wide.

117. The streets shall run from the main plaza in such manner that even if the town increases considerably in size, it shall not result in some inconvenience that will make ugly what needed to be rebuilt, or endanger its defense or comfort. 118. Here and there in the town, smaller plazas of good proportion shall be laid out, where the temples associated with the principal church, the parish churches, and the monasteries can be built, [in] such [manner] that everything may be distributed in a good proportion for the instruction of religion.

Based upon these ten chosen ordinances, major design decisions were made by the Spaniards. These laws are thought of as a set of regulations which aided in the design and fabrication of the plaza. The analysis of these laws will bring further understanding to the concepts behind their reasoning and design decisions.


Design Factors: Design Terms: Each law was analyzed and aided in the selection of architectural terms to create a vocabulary for a design methodology. These terms will be used to analyze six cities within the United States which were settled by the Spaniards between 1565 and 1781. These are the definitions of each term as defined by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary.

Threshold - The point or level at which something begins or changes

Datum - Something given or admitted especially as a basis for reasoning or inference

Enclosure - An area that is surrounded by a wall, fence, etc. : An enclosed space

Origin - The point or place where something begins or is created : the source or cause of something

Proportion - The relation of one part to another or to the whole with respect to magnitude, quality, or degree

Grid - A network of uniformly spaced horizontal and perpendicular lines

Intersection - The place or point where two or more things come together

Hierarchy - A system in which people or things are placed in a series of levels with different importance or status

Portal - The whole architectural composition surrounding and including the doorways and porches of a church

Proximity - The state of being near


Cultural Design Factors:

The Spanish culture is defined by their interactions between family and friends. This socially-concentric culture creates an inviting environment amongst strangers and family alike. When investigating the Spanish Law of the Indies, it cannot be forgotten that these aspects greatly influence the architecture and urban design within the built city.

Culture -The full range of learned behavior patterns that are acquired by people as members of a society. A culture is a complex, largely interconnected whole that consists of the knowledge, belief, art, law, morals, customs, skills, and habits learned from parents and others in a society. Culture is the primary adaptive mechanism for humans. Fictive kinship -A socially recognized link between individuals, created as an expedient for dealing with special circumstances, such as the bond between a godmother and her godchild. Fictive kinship bonds are based on friendship and other personal relationships rather than marriage and descent. Norms - The conceptions of appropriate and expected behavior that are held by most members of the society. Norms are also referred to as “social norms.� proxemics - The study of interaction distances and other culturally defined uses of space that affect communication. Most people are unaware of the importance of space in communication until they are confronted with someone who uses it differently. Proxemics is a form of paralanguage. Rituals - Stylized and usually repetitive acts that take place at a set time and location. They almost always involve the use of symbolic objects, words, and actions. For example, going to church on Sunday is a common religious ritual for Christians around the world.


Case Studies:

Cities within the United States: The cities below were settled by the Spanish between 1565 and 1781 in the United States. These cities were designed using the Spanish Law of the Indies. Each city has distinctive features which are iconic of Spanish settlements. Further understanding of these cities, beginning with their origins to their current day use, can aid in the new design and implementation of public social spaces.

1. St. Augustine, Florida “Plaza de la Constitucion” 1565 2. Santa Fe, New Mexico “Santa Fe Plaza” 1610 3. Pensicola, Florida 1698 4. San Antonio, Texas “Plaza de Las Islas” 1731 5. Los Angeles, California “Plaza of El Pueblo de La Reina de Los Angeles“ 1781


Figure 5 St. Augustine, Florida

Figure 6 Santa Fe, New Mexico

Figure 7 Pensacola, Florida

Figure 8 San Antonio, Texas

Figure 9 Los Angeles, California Page27

Case Studies: St. Augustine, Florida

In 1513, Juan Ponce de Leon discovered Florida. Upon his second expedition to Florida, Ponce de Leon encountered hostile Indians, was wounded, and later died from his injuries. A subsequent expedition to Florida was made by Panfino de Narvaez in 1528, but once again resulted in an unsuccessful colonization of Florida. On September eighth 1565, Menendez de Aviles took possession of Florida under orders from King Philip II and created the municipality of St. Augustine. However, the town was not platted out until 1603. Consequently, the planning for the town was based on the 1573 Law of the Indies. This Spanish city was the first permanent settlement in the United States.

Located near the Matanzas River, St. Augustine is the first example in North America of a city built using the Law of the Indies. The plaza found in St. Augustine is known as the Plaza de la Constitucion.

Figure 10


The Plaza de la Constitucion can clearly be seen as the heart, and origin, of the city. The concept of a plaza was a major design feature for the city. The plaza was a military training area, commerce area, and the main social space for the entire town. Figure 11

The Spanish found the location of a colony to be a major design aspect. The location of St. Augustine along Florida’s northeast coast, nested along the Matanzas River and behind the now Anastasia Park Preserve, was considered a secure location for the first Spanish settlement. This site is a strategic position for the fortification of the East Coast, as well as for the protection of the previously settled territories throughout the Caribbean. Figure 12

The city grid and block proportions clearly demonstrate the Spanish city structure. The most prevalent aspect was the properly proportioned plaza. The Plaza de la Constitucion was designed so that the length was precisely one half the width. These proportions were thought to bring harmony to the city. Figure 13


Case Studies: Santa Fe, New Mexico

In 1610 Santa Fe, New Mexico was founded by Governor Don Pedro de Peralta. The city was named Villa Real de la Santa Fé de San Francisco de Asis, which in English means Royal City of the Holy Faith of St. Francis of Assisi. The city is located at the foot of the Rocky Mountains and is the second oldest settlement in the United States. Don Pedro de Peralta designated the city as the capital of the province. Santa Fe, New Mexico later became known as the oldest state capital in the United States. The City was designed around the central plaza, Santa Fe Plaza.

The relevance of this historic plaza remains today. Santa Fe plaza continues to serve as the “heart” of the city. While its cultural significance and physical appearance have been transformed throughout the years, it is still a heavily used space.

Figure 14


The city of Santa Fe in turn created its own unique mixture of historic Spanish style and new modern design within its confines. The plaza remains a significant feature not only for its well thought out design, but also for the nostalgia which has become an essential element for the continued use of this space. Figure 15

The human scale and sense of community which this plaza brings are key aspects that make it a welcoming and comfortable open public space. Surrounding the plaza are closed streets, limited vehicular traffic, and a cohesive building style surrounding the open space. By maintaining a safe and pedestrian friendly area around the plaza, this space was brought into the 21st century and remains a popular place for visitors, locals, and surrounding neighbors. Figure 16

To this day, the plaza attracts commerce and trade to the historic downtown, from local stores, to street vendors located around the Palace of the Governors. One of the original intents of the plaza was a trading post for those entering and exiting the city. Although the intent has changed, the necessity for the space has remained. Santa Fe is a fascinating example of a historic plaza which has maintained his original uses and intents while adapting to the modem times. Figure 17


Case Studies: Pensacola, Florida 1698

In 1698, the Spanish founded a fortified town near what is currently known as Fort Barrancas. The Spanish set the foundation for the permanent European settlement of what is now Pensacola, Florida. This settlement located near the Gulf of Mexico is safeguarded by the barrier island of Santa Rosa. The city was placed behind the barrier island in an attempt to protect the settlement from the ongoing battles with Spain’s European rivals and the natives. The Spanish established three military posts in the area. These posts were strategically placed to protect the settlement from invading forces; 1. Presidio Santa Maria de Galve (1698–1719) 2. Presidio Isla de Santa Rosa (1722–1752) 3. Presidio San Miguel de Panzacola (1754–1763)

Figure 18


Pensacola, Florida, known as the City of Five Flags, has a rich history. Throughout its turbulent past a series of forts and plazas were created by all those who attempted to settle the area. These forts were constantly built and destroyed, leading to an interesting accumulation of forty blocks with multiple plazas. These plazas hold many of the same design features as other Spanish settlements. They are the main social spaces around the town, with obilisques and fountains as focal points. Figure 19

The city was laid out in a series of roads, forming a grid around the forts. Due to the constant battles in the area, many of the historic plazas were located inside the forts. Many of these forts no longer exist. However, the plazas have been restored and now take on the more traditional form and placement within the city. They are surrounded by many live oaks, which create a shaded area for locals and visitors to spend time outdoors. Figure 20

Regardless of the architectural style in the area the plaza always remained the focal point and social center. The Spanish influence created buildings with brick, stucco, and interior courtyards, while, the British influence lead to timber construction. This provides evidence that regardless of the historic cultural background, an outdoor public space remains central and creates the opportunity for people to come together and enjoy the city and atmosphere. Figure 21


Case Studies: San Antonio, Texas “Plaza de Las Islas� 1731

San Antonio, Texas was founded by fifteen families from the Canary Islands. These settlers entered the Presidio of San Antonio de Bexar on March 9th, 1731 and declared their right to settle the land located along the San Antonio River. The same year, a town plan was laid on a low hill. It was at this time that the settlement was officially recognized by the Spanish crown. The settlement was planned around what is now La Plaza de las Islas. In 1738, the keystone of the Church of San Fernando was laid. This event marked the first building to be built adjacent to the plaza.

Figure 22


The building of the church and the Plaza de las Islas was the beginning of the Spanish city grid in San Antonio. Once these were established, the government house was placed on the opposite side of the plaza. All of these elements originate from the Spanish Laws of the Indies. However, the Plaza de las Islas is slightly different than many of the other Spanish plazas due to its irregular shape. Although it generally follows the rectangular shape, it does skew and get larger towards one side. Figure 23

The public space began as a simple dirt patch and later on became a paved plaza. Located throughout the plaza are multiple fountains which add vibrance and life to the city center. However, the use of pavers for the plaza along with the hot dry climate of Texas created the issue of heat with no shading. The original intent of the plaza was for gatherings, markets, and entertainment, but the lack of shade and tree cover make these events unpleasant. Figure 24

Redesigning of the plaza has taken place twice and currently faces many issues. In 2008, a redesign was attempted to address the issue of the lack of pedestrian access to the heart of the city. The increase in vehicular traffic through the years cut off pedestrian access to the plaza and caused the space to be scarcely used. The plaza essentially lost its place in the historic downtown. This demonstrates that pedestrian access is critical for social spaces to be properly utilized today. Figure 25


Case Studies: Los Angeles, California “Plaza of El Pueblo de La Reina de Los Angeles“ 1781

Los Pobladores were a group of forty-four settlers who founded the city of El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Ángeles del Río de Porciúncula on September 4, 1781. Even though its original plaza no longer stands, it is commemorated in the historic district of Los Angeles Pueblo Plaza and Olvera Street, the oldest part of current day Los Angeles.

Figure 26


The original plaza no longer exists, but it nevertheless permanently embedded itself in the city grid and culture. The city’s current Los Angeles plaza is not located on the original site due to a change in the flood plane, but maintains the rich history of the land and of the people who settled it. The plaza and historic district to this day bring many visitors to explore and further understand the reasons behind the city grid. Figure 27

The original plaza was a parallelogram at the center of the city grid. The grid was laid out with the arterial roads heading equidistant in the cardinal directions. This design was created so that the winds never swept the roads. This allowed the unimpeded flow of pedestrians to the plaza. Although the new plaza is situated in a different part of town, it is still a social center for the city. Figure 28

With each era of settlers new elements were added to the plaza reflecting the culture of the residents. The plaza is now paved, but the essence of the plaza has not changed throughout the years. With each addition to the Spanish foundation of the plaza, unique and relatable identifying features set apart the Los Angeles plaza from the original. This space gives people a place to gather and interact with one and another. Figure 29




Figure 30


Groton , Connecticut Page39

Site Location: Groton, Connecticut

The site for this masters project is located in Groton, Connecticut. The town of Groton is located in the New London area and is situated along the Thames River. Groton was chosen based upon its geographic location in the Northeastern United States and its small size. This town is known for being the submarine capitol of the world; however, the architecture which creates the town lacks an identity. Due to the location, business, and lack of community identity Groton holds great potential for new development and growth. The New London area is saturated with a rich history and unique New England architecture. Located within Groton is the small community of Mystic. Known for being a historic seaport, Mystic has a strong sense of community with a vibrant downtown. Surrounding Mystic is bustling industry which lacks the sense of identity of its small neighbor. By incorporating the atmosphere of Mystic with the possibility of new development in Groton a strong sense of community and a new approach to suburban America. For this masters project I will propose a new design which will provide a strong sense of community, the opportunity for small businesses to flourish, and a new transit center. This will enable the exploration of a new community design within the Northeastern United States..

Figure 31-35


Figure 36


Surrounding architecture: Mystic, Connecticut

Mystic, Connecticut. A quaint village in the New England area with a rich history and sense of community, that is only a ten minute drive from Groton. From the pictures, one can begin to see the architectural style of the area, red bricks, historic storefronts, wide sidewalks and an active street. Many of these design features are what makes this village feel like home. These features can begin to be introduced in the new street design and plaza for Groton. By combining these historical features, and new more contemporary features a catalyst for the area will be designed bringing more pedestrians to the street.


Figure 37

Figure 38

Figure 39

Figure 40



Figure 41

Figure 42

The village of Mystic holds many festivals year round with many locals, and people from neighboring towns that attend. These festivals are a staple to the community and act as a precedence for future activities within the city. The village is located on the water which was one of the factors associated with the Laws of the Indies. Even though the area was not established by the Spanish there are many factors associated with the land, water and area that make it a viable example for modeling certain aspects. A combination of these aspects and the proposed catalyst will create an active pedestrian street. Figure 43

Figure 44



Figure 45

Site Analysis:

Groton, Connecticut holds potential as a growing industrial city. However, the businesses and apartment complexes in the area utilize very large parking lots which are never fully occupied by the residents. The site for this masters project is located in a ideal location for a more walkable city. The proposed main plaza will be located in the parking lot of the Goodwill. This location is the center for a quarter mile walking radius. Within this radius there is a bank, grocery store, post office, residences, unique cafes, and many other small, local businesses. Most residents who live in Groton work in the town and have a 17 minute drive or less to work. This town has a significant amount of residents living in apartments, according to statistical data 25% of the community are renters. The context which surrounds the site is natural woods, that also surround a large portion of Groton and allow for the possible expansion of the proposed city blocks. Groton has water located to both the West and the East coast. Located within Groton is the town of Mystic which has a rich history and unique architectural style. This is the closest architecturally significant town.

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The photos shown are of the Groton, Connecticut area. The parking lot shown is the chosen location for this master project. As it can be seen in these couple photos the parking area is underutilized and central to the town, this makes it an ideal location for the proposed catalyst. The plaza is located nearby a Goodwill, TjMaxx, and a few other stores. The central location of the plaza, approximately a quarter mile walk radius from the postal service, banks, grocery stores, and retail make it an ideal location for the new main plaza.

Figure 50


The main plaza size was determined by utilizing the Spanish proportions which state that the plaza length should be approximately 1 1/2 times the width. These proportions allow for a walkable block which will allow for the reduction in vehicular traffic and increase in pedestrian access. Below are the possible block sizes. After analyzing and considering the possibility of growth within the community a block size was determined. 200 ft x 300 ft 250 ft x 375 ft 300 ft x 450 ft 350 ft x 525 ft 400 ft x 600 ft The new proposed block will be 250 feet by 375 feet and will have a road passing through the bottom third. With the plaza divided by a road a unique condition occurs creating an interesting pedestrian path using a paved crossing plateau. This connects both the northern and southern parts of the plaza without permanently stopping traffic.


Figure 51


Program Analysis:

This masters project will propose a design solution to the current issue of underutilized spaces within an already established city. These spaces will transform the street into a more pedestrian friendly expirience. The pedestrian brings life and activity to the area, by slowing traffic and giving the street back to the pedestrian the city will begin to grow.

The program for this project will consist of three different design elements. The individual elements of the project, when combined, will create a catalyst for the city. This catalyst consists of a main plaza and secondary peripheral plazas surrounding it. Each design element will address the plaza, a community center, and a small business incubator. When these elements are placed together as a whole, they will form the heart of the city, the plaza mayor. Through this design each of these components will be placed in underutilized parking lots and transform them into viable social spaces. This design allows pedestrians to regain their place on the street.


Three Elements of Design Three different designs will address the need for an integrated social space in under utilized areas. One Plaza element will be designed to act as the urban porch for the community catalyst. Once this has been achieved, there will be two different building elements designed to address the remaining necessities found in a city. There will be a community center element and a small business element. These three elements address the essential features of a functioning city.

The Final Development The redesign will take place in two different scales. A quarter mile walking radius will be redesigned to better suit the need of the pedestrian. This redesign will raise the density along the street while creating smaller plazas for the pedestrian to enjoy. Once this is achieved a more in depth design will take place. Nine parti studies will be made, along with three program studies to allow for further exploration of form and configuration. The design will then focus on the main plaza. Built at a 1 to 20 scale the plaza, community center, and small buisnesses will create an axis connecting to the transit station. Along with a 1 to 20 model a master plan, and rendering will be created to further the design.


Mapping the town:

The map shown depicts the different civic centers and community events which are occurring year round. The orange pinpoints the police station, hospital, school, and civic center all located within Groton. The red locations are those of community events which range from local markets, festivals, parades, hiking points, and food truck rallies. Each of these are crucial to the concept of a community and follow the guidelines of the Law of the Indies in a more contemporary fashion. As can be seen on the map, the chosen location marked by a rectangle is central to all of the events and necessities of the community. As shown previously, the neighboring areas are very much community oriented and can attest for the current residents that there is very much a need for a centralized plaza to further connect the community.


Public Services

Figure 52

ECommunity events



Figure 53

Parti studies:

Each of these parti studies was based on one of the architectural terms previously described. These terms guided this master’s project and concepts in the design of a main plaza and more pedestrian friendly street. Nine parti studies were created to explore nine different configurations with the ideas of massing, plazas, and overhead conditions. The first three models explore the options with four peripheral streets which surround the plaza. The remaining six models explore the concept of the road breaking through the plaza and expanding the pedestrians path across a thoroughfare. Within all nine of the models different configurations crated different architectural solutions to the idea of a catalyst for the community. Although a overhead condition was explored, it was found that for the weather conditions in the Northeastern United States it was not in the best interest of the community due to snow and winter conditions to create an overhead condition.


Origin - The point or place where something begins or is created :

Figure 54

the source or cause of something. This parti explores the concept of the plaza as the heart of the new development. With one rectangular plaza that draws all the focus to the area and the buildings surrounding it, a more comfortable space is created. This draws the pedestrian to linger and spend more time in the plaza.

Datum - Something given or admitted especially as a basis for reasoning

Figure 55

or inference. Within this parti study, there is a void which creates a datum in its absence. The formal plaza is smaller, but the void which surrounds it creates a larger and more informal social space for people to inhabit. The building masses react to the void and create enclosure within the formal limits of the plaza area.

Enclosure - An area that is surrounded by a wall, fence, etc. : An enclosed space. Although there is no formal wall which encloses the area, the

Figure 56 Page58

masses were placed in a way that create a sense of enclosure and more strictly confine the plaza. In some situations, enclosure can create a space which feels safe to the inhabitants. The overhead condition in this study creates enclosure in a third dimension as well.

Proportion -

The relation of one part to another or to the whole with respect to magnitude, quality, or degree. This parti is designed with the ideas of proportion relating to the two spaces divided by the road. These three spaces are all similar in form but vary in size and orientation with an overhead condition fanning out from a single edge. Figure 57

Intersection - The place or point where two or more things come together. The concept of intersection was materialized in this parti study. The plaza becomes the interlocking feature which unites the entire design. The dynamic form of the main plaza is balanced by the simplified forms of the buildings which surround it. The idea of interlocking spaces allow these different forms to interact as one. Figure 58

Threshold - The point or level at which something begins or changes. In this exploration, it is not the building masses or plaza that define the threshold but rather the overhead condition. The masses and plaza are used to guide the pedestrian into the center of the plaza while they cross the threshold which is formed by the dynamic overhead condition. Within this design, the organization of the buildings allow for one main entrance to the plaza, along with a secondary, less prominent access point.

Figure 59 Page59

Grid - A network of uniformly spaced horizontal and perpendicular lines.

Figure 60

The grid was thought of as an underlying design element. A strict grid cannot be seen. However, this grid was used to carefully place angles and extrusions which are combined with a less prominent overhead condition. The design interlocks the plaza with a building but still sits within a traditional grid. The plaza extends to the road and is then continued as a void into the second building mass.

Portal - The whole architectural composition surrounding and including the

Figure 61

doorways and porches of a church. The concept of a portal is removed from the religious aspect and then placed within the historical concept of the plaza as the main social space within a community. This design has a more organic central plaza with rigid masses surrounding it. The acute angle of the mass draws people to a certain point, much like a doorway or portal.

Hierarchy - A system in which people or things are placed in a series of

Figure 62 Page60

levels with different importance or status. Hierarchy is an important feature within any city structure. On a smaller scale the concept remains true and begins to define the organization of surrounding masses. This exploration combines the ideas of exterior and interior spaces and the symbiotic relationship which can be formed within the plaza.


Massing Studies:

The nine parti studies were combined and consolidated into three massing studies. Each of these studies were placed into a larger massing model. The model is a redesigned portion of Longhill Drive. These proposals span across the street and connect both the northern and southern portion of the plaza. Each configuration has the community center placed on the northern end, while the southern portion contains the small business incubator. Page62

Figure 63


Massing Study: One

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The overall massing model redesigns a quarter mile walking radius along Longhill Drive. Within this quarter mile are all of the essentials found within the community: a bank, post office, grocery store, unique food, and businesses. These are staples of a strong community, When this is combined with the concept of a more pedestrian friendly street and more interactive social spaces, Groton has the potential to become more active. The first massing proposal contains a dynamic form for the community center which is architecturally different than the more historical forms found in the area. This is a more contemporary approach to rejuvenating the city. Within the proposals a transit stop for the Shoreline East train is placed along the tracks. This railroad runs east towards New Haven and New York City. With this proposed transit stop, the use of cars within Groton could be lessened.


Massing Study: Two

Figure 68


Figure 69


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Figure 71


The second massing proposal uses hierarchy to transform the plaza into the center of the city. The community center will rise past the currently built buildings, making it the focal point for the community. This proposal has a large formal plaza which breaks free of the historical, rectangular shape and begins to adapt to the proposed surrounding buildings. Along with this plaza, the overall proposal contains a rise in density allowing for more businesses and residences in the area. The orange squares represent the notion of an increase in density for the area. Along with a main plaza, multiple peripheral plazas have been proposed to further strengthen the pedestrians’ place within the community. These peripheral plazas were seen in the Law of the Indies and to this day can be utilized in a contemporary manner to reinforce the ideas of social gatherings.


Massing Study: Three

Figure 72


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Figure 75


The third massing proposal takes a slightly different approach when considering the original intent of the Law of the Indies. Rather than creating a dynamic or extravagant form, this plaza simplifies all of the ideas behind the plaza and creates a more comfortable and historic architectural style. This proposal simply wraps around the plaza, balancing the need for enclosure and public open spaces. With the design of the plaza the street also continues to be modified. The sidewalks are widened to ten feet allowing for a larger volume of pedestrians. Along with this is a raised crossing area to allow for pedestrians to cross the road without the constant fear of high speed vehicular traffic.


A speculation of program:

The program studies seen are an analysis of the distribution of spaces within the community center and small business incubators. Each of these consist of a senior center, a children’s center, a large gathering space, a secondary gathering space, kitchen, restrooms, and individual businesses.


Figure 76

Figure 77

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Figure 80

Final Parti SELECTION:

Once all three parti studies were compared and discussed the third study was chosen to be further developed. This pari takes into account both the historical values found in the Law of the Indies and more contemporary uses and concepts of social spaces. The combination of peripheral plazas, widened sidewalks, a transit station, a community center, small business incubators, and a main plaza create a new urban condition in Groton. This proposal will give the pedestrian reasons to stop, interact, and contribute to the community.

Figure 81 Page79


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Master Plan:




7 2 2





Figure 87



1 on street parking 2 widened sidewalk 3 raised pedestrian crossing 4 small buisnesses 5 community center 6 indoor market 7 Secondary axis 8 Green space 9 Transit/train station 10 Secondary social spaces

Master Plan



Figure 88

Final Model:

The final model is composed of a main plaza, community center, small business incubator, transit station, and additional storefronts on the edge of the street. When combined with landscaping, widened sidewalks, a raised pedestrian crossing, and multi-use spaces surrounding the plaza the street once again will be active. Parallel parking was designed to provide quick access to the local businesses for those who cannot linger. This draws business and invites the community to interact with the plaza in whichever way suits their needs.

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Seasonal Renderings:

Four renders were made, one of each season: Winter, Spring, Summer, and Fall. Throughout the year the plaza changes and adapts for different seasonal needs. During the winter time the plaza has the potential to transform into an ice skating rink. During the spring time the plaza can become an outdoor concert venue. The summer time creates the opportunity for the plaza to be the starting point of a marathon. The plaza can transform into a fall festival during the fall months. The main plaza can be utilized year round for many different opportunity. This multi-use plaza activates the community and draws pedestrians back to the street.


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In today’s architecture and city planning, it can be clearly seen that the public space has become a secondary factor and much less prominent in urban downtowns. Once this came to my attention, it became very clear that we must refocus our attention to the plaza and begin creating large open spaces within established cities. It is vital that we allow the plaza to regain its rightful place within the city, giving public space back to the pedestrian. The Spanish Law of the Indies was a “how to� manual given to the conquistadors for the colonization of the New World. Found within these documents were precise instructions on not only the planned Spanish city structure but also the main plaza. This main plaza was the heart of the city and had many functions that impacted the survival of the colony. By studying and analyzing the Spanish plaza I learned many different design aspects which not only allow the pedestrian to comfortably inhabit the plaza, but also allow the plaza to maintain its prominence in the city for years to come. These concepts can be used in established cities to rekindle the relationship between the pedestrian and social spaces. Many design aspects impact the use of the plaza; however, there are also many cultural factors which are often overseen which play a large role in the use of social spaces. By combining design features and cultural aspects, I learned how to create a functioning social space within an already well-known city. The plaza adds a complexity and sense of home to any city regardless of size. This rigid grid and rectangular plaza adds purpose and richness to the city which surrounds it. Throughout the years, The Law of the Indies has slowly become forgotten by many. If this historically proven document were re-examined, many would begin to see that regardless of what year or country is being discussed there is always the opportunity to learn from what was done in the past. The concept of the plaza and social spaces has withstood the test of time and will always remain relevant in years to come.


When I chose Groton, Connecticut as a site for this master’s project, I did not fully understand the extent of the community’s need for this plaza. Although Groton only has a population of 10,000 people, the amount of individuals who spend their time outdoors, walking through the city, affirms the need for this exploration. The location of the plaza was a key feature of this project. The chosen parking lot is already being utilized as the local meeting point for many of the events occurring in the city. As the project developed, the proposed buildings began to take on characteristics of surrounding towns so that the new design can create the same feeling of “home” while providing an outdoor social space for locals. The community center and small business incubator are designed to anchor the plaza and provide activity to the area. In addition to this new development on the plaza, more small businesses have been added to the street front to further drive people to come to the area. I have learned many things relating to different aspects of creating a comfortable social space. Certain aspects of the city structure such as reduced speed along the thoroughfare, widened sidewalks, and a raised pedestrian crossing, all contribute to the level of activity in the area and level of comfort for the pedestrian. The proposed transit station is a starting point for the community to begin to lessen their need for vehicles. Although a vehicle may still be needed with the proposed train stop within a quarter mile walking radius, more people may be inclined to use the mass transit since it currently runs throughout the state. Through this exploration I have learned the many facets about the use of integrated social spaces throughout a city grid and the importance of historic concepts. Regardless of the year or season, social spaces are necessary to the success of a city.


works cited:

Antonio, S. (2012). San Antonio architecture: Traditions and visions. Place of publication not identified: Trinity University Press. Cultural Anthropology Terms. (n.d.). Retrieved July 14, 2016, from tutorials/cglossary.htm Kostosky, J. (n.d.). San Antonio Main Plaza: Case Study 2011 [Scholarly project]. In Http://www. The Merriam-Webster dictionary. (2005). Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster. Poole, J. B., & Ball, T. (2002). El Pueblo: The historic heart of Los Angeles. Los Angeles: Getty Conservation Institute and the J. Paul Getty Museum. Harboring History in Pensacola. (n.d.). Retrieved July 27, 2016, from http://www.smithsonianmag. com/travel/harboring-history-in-pensacola-125617869/?no-ist



“The heart is the chief feature of a functioning mind” - Frank Lloyd Wright


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USF SACD Master's Project By Arianna Delgado  

Fall 2016

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