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Urban Plazas of Madrid, Spain

By Julio Cedano

It has been less than a year since my study abroad trip to Spain.  Studying abroad gave me the opportunity to learn from a city and its culture, through observation and annotation.  Spain is an eccentric country embracing new qualities and ideas, with many spoken languages, people, arts, and architecture coming together, respectfully, to create a wonderful and inviting place.  The city of Madrid became my home for the month of July 2011.  

The main facades in Plaza Jacinto Benavente begin to give the plaza its closure.

I became entranced by the organization of the city and streets and began to quickly examine how the city worked.  The density of pedestrians, buildings, and vehicular traffic in Madrid was a major part of its structure; the closely knit districts made it possible and easy to understand and move from location to location.  

The city plaza, an open urban public space, such as a city square, becomes the key to this way of getting around.   Open space, whether green or not, is an important city feature for the people of Madrid.   These urban plazas become tools for way finding around the city; they create a web of city street connections to one another that guide the individual towards major locations within or beyond the city.  

This diagram begins to show the disconnection and separation of open spaces in the plaza.

In a city like Madrid, where the congestion of people, buildings, and vehicles are constantly surrounding the individual, these open spaces become an intervention between the pedestrian and the city.   They help slow down both pedestrian and vehicular traffic, while at the same time providing the pedestrian with a place to sit, gather, eat, and watch others. Usually defined by historic buildings, a typical Spanish city plaza is enclosed by four facades that look inwards and provide street level amenities to the public.

The enclosure of the plaza blocks outside noise and views.  Only street corridors that create the entry and exit points allow for the pedestrian to see what lies beyond. Plazas and open spaces are an essential element to any city and its layout.  They aid in keeping organization within a non gridded city, such as Madrid, or more relevant, Boston.  However, not all plazas are successful, follow the link below to see the top 10 best and worst around the world. http://www.theatlanticcities.com/design/2011/10/best-and-worst-worlds-public-plazas-and-squares/360/#slide5