The Spanish Colonial Town: Planning Flexibility in Spite of the Grid

June 12, 2014
12 June 2014

In a span of two centuries America saw the foundation of the largest number of cities ever established in such a short period of timeFrom the six European countries involved in the American venture - namely Portugal, Spain, France, England, Denmark and Holland - only Spain felt the importance of trading from organized communities and created a set of planning guidelines to consider when building the new towns. The guidelines did not only provide an action plan to establish new towns but also a plan to grow them sustainably through the years.

The guidelines for the planning of the new cities were developed in a 70 year span in a process that included constant feedback from the new territories. 

Once Columbus set sail, Queen Isabella's instructions on how to settle in any potential new territory began to unfold. Her first (loose) instructions went 1501 to Fray Nicolás de Ovando, the governor of Hispaniola (Dominican Republic): "Since it is paramount to found towns on the island and it is not possible to give specific instructions from here, get a feel yourself for the places in the island, and choose the more suitable sites according to the qualities of the land and the inhabitants". (1)

1513 King Ferdinand got more specific in the "Instrucciones" to Pedrarias Dávila before his expedition to the province of Castilla del Oro (coast of Central America): "Let the city lots be regular from the start, so once they are marked out the town will appeared well ordered as to the place which is left for a plaza, the site for the church, and the sequence of the streets; for in places newly established proper order can be given from the start." (2)

Emperor Charles V continued the mission and issued several instructions to this end, like the "General Instructions for the Founding of Cities in the Indies" from 1521 the "Instructions to Hernán Cortés" from 1523 (3) and the "Imperial Provisions" from 1526 (4). 

These instructions culminated in the "Ordinances Concerning Discoveries, Settlements and Pacification of the Indies" ("Ordenanzas de Descubrimiento, Nueva Población y Pacificación de las Indias") issued on July 13th 1573 by King Philip II, a complete set of urban guidelines with 100+ decrees concerning the founding of new towns (see below)

It is interesting though, that despite the late drafting of these Ordinances, its content had been in use since the arrival of the first settlers who had already built 200 new towns between 1500 and 1573. Valerie Fraser's view on this is that there was "some sort of cultural memory, an inherited, almost instinctive knowledge in town planning" early settlers were drawing on. (6)

The first urban centres began in Hispaniola (Dominican Republic) and then progressively expanded around the Caribbean and to Central America. Santo Domingo was the first town, built in 1502, followed by San Juan (1509), Santiago de Cuba (1514), Havana (1515), Veracruz (1519), Panamá la Antigua (1519), Santa Marta (1525) and Cartagena (1533) These early towns already show the basic aspects of the Spanish colonial town: a compact layout, a main square and a city grid laid out with respect to the cardinal points.

Santo Domingo,  Hispaniola (Dominican Republic) | est. 1502
San Juan, Puerto Rico | est. 1509
Havana, Cuba | est. 1515
Veracruz, Mexico | est. 1519
Old Panama City, Panama | est. 1519
Cartagena, Colombia | est. 1533
Once the model got consolidated in the Caribbean, it spread throughout South America where the mostly orthogonal city grid became a checkerboard system with square blocks. 

The "ordered" village by Juan de Matienzo, 1567
Lima, Peru | est. 1536

Santiago, Chile | est. 1541

Bogota, Colombia | est. 1553

Caracas, Venezuela | est. 1567
Buenos Aires, Argentina | est. 1580

Nueva Guatemala de la Asunción, Guatemala | est. 1776
The 1573 Ordinances, a document that according to Axel I. Mundigo has left a "formidable physical imprint and social heritage" (7), are about:

* Consensus with locals and a masterplan 

110. (...) On arriving at the place where the new settlement is to be founded - which according to our will and disposition shall be one that is vacant and that can be occupied without doing harm to the Indians and natives or with their free consent - a plan for the site is to be made, dividing it into squares, streets, and building lots, using cord and ruler, beginning with the main square from which streets are to run to the gates and principal roads and leaving sufficient open space so that even if the town grows, it can always spread in the same manner. (...)

* A healthy location:

111. Having made the selection of the site where the town is to be built, it must, as already stated, be in an elevated and healthy location; [be] with means of fortification; [have] fertile soil and with plenty of land for farming and pasturage; have fuel, timber, and resources; [have] fresh water, a native population, ease of transport, access and exit; [and be] open to the north wind; and, if on the coast, due consideration should be paid to the quality of the harbour and that the sea does not lie to the south or west; and if possible not near lagoons or marshes in which poisonous animals and polluted air and water breed.

* A space for gatherings and social activities:

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 centre 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. 

* A defined urban fabric:

113. The size of the plazas 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. (...)

114. From the plaza shall begin four principal streets. (...)

115. Around the plaza as well as along the four principal streets which begin there, there shall be portals, for these are of considerable convenience to the merchants who generally gather there; (...)

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

118. Here and there in the town, smaller plazas of good proportion shall be laid out (...).

129. Within the town, a commons shall be delimited, large enough that although the population may experience a rapid expansion, there will always be sufficient space where the people may go to for recreation and take their cattle to pasture without them making any damage.

* Mixed uses:

119. For the temple of the principal church, parish, or monastery, there shall be assigned specific lots; (...)

121. (...)  the hospital for the poor and those sick of noncontagious diseases shall be built near the temple and its cloister; and the hospital for the sick with contagious diseases shall be built in such a way that no harmful wind blowing through it may cause harm to the rest of the town. If the latter be built in an elevated place, so much the better.

122. The site and building lots for slaughter houses, fisheries, tanneries, and other business which produce filth shall be so placed that the filth can easily be disposed of.

126. The plaza (...) shall be used for the buildings of the church and royal houses and for city use, but shops and houses for the merchants should be built first, to which all the settlers of the town shall contribute, and a moderate tax shall be imposed on goods so that these buildings may be built.

 * Equal land distribution:

127. The other building lots shall be distributed by lottery to the settlers, continuing with the lots closer to the main plaza, and the lots that are left shall be held by us for assignment to those who shall later become settlers (...).

103. (...) The person responsible for the town must select urban lots, farm, and pasture lands for the person willing to populate the town, who shall receive the amount of peonias and caballerías on which he is willing and able to build as long as no one is awarded more than five peonias nor three caballerias if given the latter.

* Beautiful architecture:

134. They shall try as far as possible to have the buildings all of one type for the sake of the beauty of the town.

La Candelaria Historic District | Bogotá
Colonial House | Bogotá
La Candelaria Historic District | Bogotá
San Felipe (Casco Antiguo) | Panama City
San Felipe (Casco Antiguo) | Panama City
Main Plaza in Antigua, Guatemala | Photo J. Zanella  

The Spanish Crown believed that an open, ordered and beautiful town confers its inhabitants what they called polity, i.e. a set of virtues and values that grant the ability to live a dignified and happy life. 

Whereas it is difficult to assess if polity was indeed created, a sure fact is that the 16th century Spanish colonial city model remains an invaluable addition in the quest for a better living.

(1) Instructions to Fray Nicolás de Ovando | 16 Sept 1501 | De la ciudad ortogonal aragonesa a la cuadricula hipanoamericana como proceso de innovacion-difusion, condicionado por la utopia  | Vicente Bielza de Ory | Universidad de Barcelona 2002, note 16
(2) Instructions to Pedrarias Dávila | 2 August 1513 | City Walls: The Urban Enceinte in Global Perspective, note 61, p136 & in La ciudad en un cruce de caminos: Panamá y sus orígenes urbanos p73
(3) Instructions to Hernán Cortés | 26 June 1523
(4) Ordinance by Emperor Charles V | 1526 | Los origenes del urbanismo novohispano, Xavier Cortes Rocha
(5) Ordinances Concerning Discoveries, Settlements and Pacification by King Philip II | 13 July 1573 
(6) The Architecture of Conquest: Building in the Viceroyalty of Peru 1535-1635 | Valerie Fraser | Cambridge University Press 2009
(7) The City Planning Ordinances of the Laws of the Indies Revisited. Part I: Their Philosophy and Implications | Alex I. Mundigo and Dora P. Crouch | Liverpool University Press 2004 p1 Intro

Urbs Domingo in Hispaniola, John Ogilvy | Barry Lawrence Ruderman Antique Maps Inc. 
Plan of San Juan de Puerto Rico, 1794 by Cosme de Churruca | Barry Lawrence Ruderman Antique Maps Inc.
Map of Havana, 1798 by D. José del Rio | Barry Lawrence Ruderman Antique Maps Inc.
Map of Veracruz, 1777 by D. Sebastián Canel | Biblioteca Nacional de España
Map of Cartagenas de Indias 1550 Unknown
No records for other maps

* City Walls: The Urban Enceinte in Global Perspective | edited by James D. Tracy | Cambridge University Press 2000 * Ciudades Tropicales Sostenibles | Bruno Stagno & Jimena Ugarte | Instituto de Arquitectura Tropical 2006 
* De la ciudad ortogonal aragonesa a la cuadricula hipanoamericana como proceso de innovacion-difusion, condicionado por la utopia  | Vicente Bielza de Ory | Universidad de Barcelona 2002
* La ciudad en un cruce de caminos: Panamá y sus orígenes urbanos | María del Carmen Mena García | Escuela de Estudios Hispano-Americanos 1992
*Normas y leyes de la ciudad hispanoamericana: 1492-1600 | by Francisco de Solano y Pérez-Lila | Consejo Superior d eInvestigación Científica 1995
* Royal Ordinances Concerning the Laying out of New Towns (in Spanish) | Zelia Nuttall | The Hispanic American Historical Review Vol. 4, No. 4, Nov., 1921 
* The Laws of the Indies: Ordinances for the Discovery, Population and Pacification of the Indies | Alex I. Mundigo and Dora P. Crouch | Liverpool University Press 2004
* The City Planning Ordinances of the Laws of the Indies Revisited | Alex I. Mundigo and Dora P. Crouch | Liverpool University Press 2004
by PS unless otherwise stated. Cover picture, Panama City old town

Teresa Margollés: Testing Building's Memories

March 03, 2014

What do we do when 115,000 homes are left behind? Mexican artist Teresa Margollés explores at a solo exhibition at CA2M Madrid the phenomenon of Ciudad Juárez, the border city that saw 220,000 residents displaced by violence in 2010.

The show, called El Testigo / The Witness, is a dystopian journey into the reasons for and results of the town's violence-induced displacement. 
The journey has a chilling start with a work called PM 2010 (2012), a room full of covers from tabloids in Ciudad Juárez. All of them depict acts of brutal violence and evidence what the day-to-day looked like in Ciudad Juárez back in 2010.

The show continues through a corridor with a sound installation called Sounds of Death. The horror of the situation sinks in.

This Property Won't Be Demolished pictures, through a series of colour photographs taken between 2009 and 2013, Ciudad Juárez' derelict buildings, left behind as a result of the displacement.
Margollés takes it further in the following room by making visitors feel dereliction. The Promise is a wall made with 22 tonnes of rubble from a Juárez house. Visitors are encouraged to undo the wall with their hands and turn it back to rubble.
La promesa / The Promise (2012)
The artwork comes with a picture archive and a making-of video: a derelict house in south-east Ciudad Juárez is purchased, carefully demolished, grounded, packed and sent away. 

Archivo La promesa (2011-13) by T. Margollés

Archivo La promesa (2011-13) by T. Margollés

Archivo La promesa (2011-13)

Archivo La promesa (2011-13) by T. Margollés
It's a powerful experience to touch and demolish a full size reconstituted wall. It's a way of connecting to the story with the senses rather than with the mind. Feeling an issue rather than understanding it, is what it takes to care about it. 
Margollés' exploration of the power of presence is as brilliant as her reflection on what makes a town. The show evidences how it takes more than buildings and people to create a livable place, and hints that this more might be a social contract or the willingness of a community to sacrifice some personal liberties in favour of a common good.

To the question of what to do when 115,000 homes are left behind, a visitor of the show would suggest exploring the community's social contract to find and mend the broken.

The Witness, Teresa Margollés | Centro de Arte 2 de Mayo, CA2M, Madrid
| 18 February - 25 May 2014
More on Teresa Margollés in this blog in ARCOMadrid 2013

by AM unless otherwise stated. Cover pictures This Property Won't Be Demolished by Teresa Margollés

ARCOMadrid 2014

February 22, 2014

The 33rd edition of ARCO Madrid Contemporary Art Fair offers in 2014 an experience worked around its visitors. There is an oasis for charging phones, a food court arranged as a German Biergarten with live DJ sessions, an open TV set and a radio station. This is a first. What used to happen behind closed doors, including eating, now finally plays in the open. Lovely art as well.
This year's highlights include the Cornwall Eden Project in the Atacama Desert by Michael Najjar; or Sanja Iveković Sunglasses, a wonderful project resulting from the collaboration with various women's shelters, in which the artist attaches a picture of a model to a personal story of violence and abuse. The beauty of the models takes over the stories of pain and suffering and confers the women a strength that could not have been perceived with the text alone. 
 Below is a selection of artworks. 

Hans-Peter Feldmann, Sonntagsbilder | Mehdi Chouakri Gallery, Berlin

Caio Reisewitz, Pirituba, 2014 | Galeria Luciana Brito, São Paulo
Caio Reisewitz, Joaçaba, 2010 | Galeria Luciana Brito, São Paulo

Los Carpinteros | Ivorypress, Madrid
Michael Najjar, Sands of Mars, 2013 | Galeria Juan Silió, Santander

Miguel Rothschild, Insomnia XIII, 2013 | Kuckei + Kuckei, Berlin
Ralf Ziervogel, Endeneu Rot, 2012 | Kewenig Gallery, Berlin
Sanja Iveković, Sunglasses, 2002-4 | Galería Visor, Valencia

Tomás Saraceno, Sagitarius, 2013 | Andersen's Contemporary, Copenhagen

Tomás Saraceno, Carina, 2013 | Andersen's Contemporary, Copenhagen
Elger Esser, La Grande Be, 2009 | Kewenig Gallery, Berlin
José Dávila, Untitled, 2013 | Galería Travesía Cuatro, Madrid
José Dávila, Untitled, 2013 | Galería Travesía Cuatro, Madrid
Knopp Ferro, Space 21:31, 2014 | Dan Galeria, Sao Paulo
Ian Monroe, Lines of Light 14, 2014 | Galería Casado Santapau, Madrid
Carlos Garaicoa, En Construcción (VI), 2012 | Galería Elba Benítez, Madrid
Luciano Romano, La Città di Marmo, 2010 | Galleria Studio Trisorio, Neaples

Richard Mosse, Lost Fun Zone, 2012 | Galería Leyendecker, Tenerife

Adelita Husni-Bey, Working for a World Free of Poverty, 2014 | Galleria La Veronica, Modica (Sicily)

Opening, ARCO's section for galleries with a life shorter than seven years and with a focus on the youngest art scene, presented very interesting work by Adelita Husni-Bey, and with a great format. It's a  series showing the global economic growth percentages according to IMF data with coloured Lego pieces.

The Solo Projects section focuses this year on Latin America with Manuel Mérida (below) as one of the selected artists. 
Manuel Mérida | Espace Meyer Zafra, Paris

The communal spaces look like this:
Cover picture the Oasis at El País

10 Great Things About Rocinha, Rio's Notorious Favela

February 17, 2014

17 February 2014

There is something special about Rocinha, the dense informal neighbourhood in Rio's South Zone. Newcomers keep arriving and long term residents don't move out despite the infrastructure shortcomings and the security issues of the place. Its convenient location and cheaper rents could explain the phenomenon but there are surely more reasons to add. Personally, I find Rocinha deeply moving and after a closer look, I came out with a few reasons why.

1. The setting

Photo by Globe Traveller

West view to São Corrado

Rocinha has a stunning setting. 

It is a 200ha area on a sea facing hang that spans from the Dois Irmãos peak, the majestic rock you see from Ipanema beach. Not sure what the mountain formation is and whether it radiates the heat it absorbs, in any case you get something coming its direction. 

You get an idea of what the place was like right on top of the neighbourhood, when you are still surrounded by fruit trees and a lush vegetation. Rocinha - ie "little farm" - was once Rio's farm land. In the area around it were the sugar cane fields and coffee plantations. The workers, wanting to live close to their work, built small homes in the thick jungle where Rocinha is located today. The rapid growth of the favela in the early 20th century was due to the growing demand on cheap labour to build the infrastructure of the surrounding neighbourhoods and the lack of housing options.   

2. The people

Rocinha has caring, friendly and proud residents.

"What? You don't take pictures of people?" Luciano, a construction worker, complained. "You are missing out the most important part of Rocinha". And right he was.

According to the IBGE (Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatística) Rocinha has 69,161 residents but Léo, the president of a local residents association sets the number between 180,000 and 220,000.

One of these extraordinary residents, and a game changer, is Lino dos Santos Filho, known as Tio Lino. With the motto "trade your weapon for a brush" he set up Rocinha Mundo da Arte, an organization that teaches music and arts to children with the intention of keeping them away from drug trafficking.

I met Felipe, an 18 year old Tio Lino student who was selling his art, lovely miniatures of Rocinha made with recycled materials. There was a wonderful mix of gratitude and pride in Felipe's explanation of his work.

3. The community

Photo by Rocinha em Foco
Rocinha residents love their community.

They work hard to improve their living conditions and speak up from the many associations they've created.  

They are proud of the community. First thing you hear is that Rocinha is a much safer place in terms of petty crime than the wealthier surrounding areas, where entrance doors are never kept open or kids don't play unattended.

Their care for each other, the strong bonds, the commitment to the group and the protective spirit, something arising in lieu of state care, have also turned out to be a source of happiness. 

4. The music

Picture by Daniel Hoffman
Rocinha loves music.

Especially samba, forró and funk carioca. You can hear it from the windows while walking around and at the weekends at the Baile Funk (funk dance), an event that has grown so popular that even attracts local celebrities. 

Rocinha has also a samba school, Acadêmicos da Rocinha, that is good enough to parade at the Sambodrome during the Rio Carnival.

5. The architecture

Picture by Yann Arthus-Bertrand

Rocinha has beautiful constructions.

2010 Rocinha got a pedestrian bridge designed by the Rio-born architect Oscar Niemeyer who, allegedly, did the work pro bono. Funded with the Growth Acceleration Program (PAC) resources, the bridge links the community with the new sports facilities. 

The same Growth Acceleration Program has financed a lovely social housing complex in the Rua 4. The project by Atelier Metropolitano is built on a former bus depot and houses local residents that have been evicted by the widening of the road (Rua 4). They received the flats for free and will after 5 years get full rights on them.

6. The streets

Rocinha has some lovely streets.

In an extraordinary upgrading operation a small alley, Rua 4, was widened to a 12m landscaped road. Before the works, the alley was 60cms wide and had, according to the Municipal Health Authorities, one of the highest tuberculosis incident rates in the country. The new road is a wonderful space, with brightly painted buildings, small squares and stairs linking the various levels.  Despite it being closed to car traffic, residents and shop keepers love it. According to Rio on Watch there aren't any drug stands (bocas de fumo) or armed guards there either.

7. The squares

Photo by Atelier Metropolitano

There are many public squares in Rocinha.

This is great since (1) organized public space is essential for community building and leisure and (2) it is a bit of a rarity in informal communities where space is scarce and not masterplanned. Most of the favelas I have visited did lack public squares.

8. The leisure activities

Rocinha has plenty.

Besides the dancing, the beach and the stunning hiking, there is also since 2010 a new sports complex. The place has a swimming pool, a gym, sporting courts, a football field, a surf school and a skate ramp. It was built with the purpose of getting kids into sports and forge some Olympic champions.

9. The beach

Photo by Rocinha em Foco

Rocinha shares a public beach.

Just a few minutes walk from Rocinha's São Corrado entrance it's a long stretch of a sandy beach. A wonderful asset regardless of water quality and a place to expand shall high density feel too oppressing.

10. The transport

Picture by Daniel Hoffman
Rocinha has a wonderfully efficient transport system. 

This is something Rocinha shares with other favelas but still worth mentioning. There are vans and motorcycle taxis moving people around in the community for R$2,50. The mototaxis work out brilliantly. There are stands in various spots but you can stop them anywhere. They carry a spare helmet and are quite fun to ride.

All in all, Rocinha has aspects residents should be proud of and planners and community workers, take good note of. Granted, there are other aspects far from ideal and in need of improvement. There are still open sewers, uncollected rubbish piles and a heavily armed police marching around, not to mention the drug gangs and the associated burdens. But this should in no case be a reason for denying Rocinha some of its greatness or stigmatizing its community for the shortcomings they haven't created and aren't responsible for. 

History of Rocinha by Mundo Real

by PS unless otherwise stated

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