Cerdà and the Barcelona of the Future

by Melissa García Lamarca

Celebrating 150 years of the engineer Ildefons Cerdà’s characteristic design of l'Eixample, Barcelona’s urban expansion, the Contemporary Cultural Centre of Barcelona (CCCB) has an extensive and detailed exhibit running until the end of February 2010. It makes up just one of dozens of exhibitions, debates, urban tours and more underway since August 2009 until mid-2010 as part of the year of Cerdà, exploring the DNA of Barcelona’s urban form, organised by Barcelona’s City Council.

Approved in 1859, the concept and subsequent implementation of l’Eixample, the characteristic design pattern to expand the city from its compact historic centre, shifted Barcelona into the most significant urbanistic period in the city in the past two centuries. The layout uses a basic grid of streets and a territorial system of avenues, creating octagonal blocks with inner courtyards under which lay a complex transport and service network, creating in essence a structure that has unified Barcelona’s urban territory and development. The exhibition looks at the evolution of this urban transformation through the decades into a detailed examination of present-day reality, a place where 300,000 currently live and 260,000 work.

This extensive exhibit has over 200 plans, models, statistics, audiovisuals and installations that aim to give a multi-dimensional understanding of how l’Eixample functions, including a tour through similar urbanistic models around the world. If you can’t make it to Barcelona to see the exhibit, it is definitely worthwhile to check out the on-line photo exhibit or the virtual tour.

Credits: Images from Melissa García Lamarca.


  1. i'd love to be able to see this. thank you for the report, and for linking to the photos and virtual tour. Cerdà’s idea of octagonal blocks with inner courtyards sounds really interesting. courtyards can be such a nice feature for city blocks. there must be a lot of good insight to be found in the implementation and evolution of this plan. how would you characterize the transportation network today?

  2. Hello and my apologies for the delayed response to your question. I am glad you enjoyed the report and especially the virtual tour and photos, I too was impressed with these features.
    The inner courtyards are indeed a great feature, although from what I understand they are not used as best they could (i.e. many are paved over and are not used as courtyards per se); however the street space created at intersections for example is really great and something unique, providing a different experience walking through the streets. Check out this site for a great historical view on Cerdà from an urban design perspective: http://tiny.cc/etttO.

    In terms of the transportation network today, Barcelona has a fairly extensive underground system (the second largest in Spain after Madrid), with several new lines under construction or expansion. There is also an extensive bus system, funicular railway to Montjuïc and also integrated commuter train lines to move in and out of the city to surrounding areas in Catalunya. Hope this gives you a reasonable sense, cheers!

  3. thank you!! i wasn't able to access the link but i will search for it, your response is very helpful. always interested in learning more about cerdà and barcelona.


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