Stage 5: Francesc Macià Square

Francesc Macia Square* (Barcelona) 1926

By Nicolau M. Rubio i Tuduri

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“The study of that garden and of the complex of the crossroads gave rise to the whole urban system of the area in question with its symmetrically slanting avenues at each side of the Diagonal, as well as the connecting up of one of them with the Turo system.
I understand that the garden of the said Square is at the present time the one that public taste prefers.
Two ideas, a technical one and an artistic one, are fused in it. The latter comes from the name Urgell which, being that of the street which comes to rest there, it seemed it should also have been given to the square and garden. In fact, it is the name of the Count of Urgell. The unlucky one. A sense of melancholy, —vague, a lot of water has run under the bridge since the period in which the count was unhappy—, it must have pervaded the garden; better said, a pathetic peace, that of a reclining meadow, of sleeping waters, a few cypresses holding a sentimental dialogue midst the trees. This is how it was made, and it is worthy of note that all the names that have been given to the square, including the present one of Calvo Sotelo (1), have not been removed from the idea of “misfortune”, that inspired the creation of the garden.
From the technical point of view, a particular effect had to be produced: to hide, with masses of vegetation, the dislocation of alignments which, in the two directions, the knocking off centre of the new avenue’s visual axis produced. The task demanded a technical attention which might well have put an end to the melancholic sentiment which has been referred to above.
I believe that the garden in Calvo Sotelo Square conjures up a landscape which responds to the Latin spirit. I also feel that it cannot be explained by means of arguments, just as it cannot be denied with other arguments either. The rest of the Diagonal gardens were meant to spread out in a sash of the same width, as far as the Royal Palace. The danger of monotony was obvious. We were obliged to work at avoiding this.
Instead of planting the sash in a continuous fashion, it seemed better to cut it by means of small intercalated squares. The continuous garden would have responded, technically speaking, to the idea of a longitudinal walk. But, as we saw earlier, the Barcelona problem as regards a lack of gardens to rest in requires the setting up of such gardens wherever possible. Thus the solution, single and varied, in the gardening of our avenue. Each piece of planted sash is of a different length; each small square too. But, moreover, what has been planted differs from one garden to the other. Because, indeed, each small square with its two beds, forms an individualized garden.
With the above solution or, rather, group of solutions, the city dweller who wishes to rest finds his appropriate niche, and he can change it every day, whilst the passer-by files past a succession of “scenes” or landscapes which are fairly varied; which may constitute an incentive to go for a walk. Of course monumental unity suffers. How often must we content ourselves with choosing between two evils!
Many of those partial gardens are reduced to trees: pine trees in a copse, for instance, or masses of Cupresus macrocarpa, etc. But others present concentrated landscapes. In one of them an attempt was made to imitate a meadow in the Catalan mountains, with stones and plants which are typical of the area. Over there, a scene of cypresses, orange and laurel trees, and other plants that are representative of the Mediterranean garden, can be seen. A flowerbed contains plants which are clipped in the topiary fashion. Over there, some palm tree “scenes”.
At the crossroads with the Avenue of Carles III, the general planting system is interrupted to give way to an ordinary garden, neither better nor worse than many municipal gardens to be found in large cities. In front of the Pedralbes Palace, the inexorable rectilinear form of the alignments along the “Diagonal” is not softened by any widening. We had to imagine something which would “appear” to create that widening. Meanwhile, we conquered, almost by live force, the traffic space next to the facade. Later we planned the large grassy areas, void of bulky plants. Our great concern lay in hiding the Palace wall, so that as far as was possible the gardens within the Palace were visually joined to those without, on the Avenue.
From the Royal Palace on, a change should take place. We felt, that is, those of us who were working on the great Diagonal artery in Barcelona over the years 1926-1930, that although it was important to maintain the unity of the avenue, not differentiating the constitutive parts would be a mistake. The Royal Palace could then be considered as a partial end to the walk. The Avenue became “more garden” after it.
The Parks Department had a greater influence on this new part of the “Diagonal” than on the previous part. Any average observer will notice it. Plantings occupy both sides of the roadway. The pavement became narrower and, instead, a fairly large park-type path was planned, the one that weaves in and out of the gardens today. The sash belonging to these gardens is much wider than along the rest of the avenue; and it is treated as a whole, like a continuous landscape.
(‘) A piece from “Jardines públicos de Barcelona”. (Unpublished.) (1) Now known as Francesc Macia.


The structure of the new landscape offered to us by Rubio in this square is an explosion of the urban “clearing in the wood”.