Stage 6. Turó park

The Turó Gardens* (Barcelona) 1934

By Nicolau M. Rubio i Tuduri

I am avoiding the use of “park”. In London, together with the buildings in which they are enclosed, they would be known as squares. Not because they are square in shape but because of their urban purpose. What they are, in fact, is a small green space encrusted in the mass of living area.

For reasons of both size and characteristics, I think that the square constitutes a typical instance of what did not exist in Barcelona and what there should be plenty of. We have already stated how the idea of Cerdà, the author of the “Eixample”, was shipwrecked in the treacherous water of urban sordidness. Cerdà did not project, to say it emphatically, a single square; but he wanted to make every quarter, with its blocks in the “Eixample” area of Barcelona, a garden. But only blocks have been formed, and Barcelona was left without gardens in her quarters and without squares. Let us try to go back to the idea of the square-type urban gardens which separate one set of blocks from another by means of garden spaces.
The land on which the Turó is situated comes from old property which had been made into a fairground and which was very popular during the early years of the century. In 1917, the so-called “Plan de Enlaces” (Connections Plan), laid down that the Turó should be an open space. Up until 1931, one Corporation after another denied itself the pleasure of paying the owners of the Turó the price for this projected open space. The obligation not to build continued. In 1931, the owners agreed to give up a large part of their land free for it to be devoted to open spaces provided that the Corporation suspended the obligation which lay on the rest of the land. Then the urban problem came into the hands of the present author and the square, the centre of which was to be the Turó gardens, was born. The limited nature of the land to which we had to adapt ourselves gave rise to the more or less trapezoidal form in the plan.
If the Corporation had wanted to, it could have paid compensation to the owners and have succeeded in reducing the height of the surrounding blocks. Be that as it may, whoever visits the area will soon become aware of the residential nature of the compound which has been formed. All excess traffic had to be diverted. Here we were counting on two collector roads: Calvet Street, to the east, and Ganduxer Street, to the west. The thoroughfares —not streets— which surround the gardens, are only for the use of people living in the houses next to them. Thus the narrow nature of these thoroughfares is explained. Unfortunately, the fact that the whole length of Ganduxer Street has not yet been finished interferes with the urban purpose of the square. But the inconvenience will pass, and then the Turó gardens, surrounded by extremely homogeneous modern property (the effort made at the right time to create a uniform type in all the façades was unsuccessful), will offer an example of a city solution that, in contrast, will make us understand better than ever just how much material of this kind is missing in Barcelona and what may possibly be missing in the future city, if a solution is not found soon.
As for the gardens, considered in themselves, it should be said that they were conceived with the distribution of the sun in mind, once the surrounding property was built to the height it was going to reach.
Thus, the flowers and most delicate plants occupy the east part of the open space, where the shade from the built-up south-west wing is not cast whilst the west is occupied by plants and other pieces which do not need so much direct sunlight. I think that the visitor’s attention may be drawn by the entrance, where the artistic effect is rich, thanks to the piling up of Cupressus trimmed in conical-trunk fashion. On the right, there is a small garden somewhat sunk into the ground, where water falls from a small decorative pond which marks the beginning of the flowerbed. The figure that adorns the pond in question comes from the old, lost “Jardí del General” (General’s Garden).
Next, behind the pond, the land rises. Two ramps, crowned by lime trees, already a part of the former layout, lead to the upper flowerbed. It is enclosed between two rows of magnolias. At the end of the view, against a backcloth of plants which need moist soil, bronze horses, work of the sculptor Borrell i Nicolau, were placed.
To the right of this more or less even whole, there is room for children’s games, part of it enclosed by high wire netting so that small customers may throw balls freely, without them harming the plants.
The gardens are completed by a grassy area, extremely large, at the north-east angle, the object of which is to ensure an area of relative peace and quiet. People who are reading alone and others chatting together are those who are usually to be found on the seats and benches of the walks that surround the grassy area.
From the previous description it may be deduced that when we planned the Turó gardens, we did not intend to create a geometric or decorative piece. The existence of remarkable groups of old trees limited our possibilities along geometric lines. We thought about the matter for some time. Much more was at stake than the future of a mere open space and very much more than a shallow question of personal prestige. At root, what we were doing was to place on the table of Barcelona’s urban development, and for ten or twenty years ahead, a card which had to be an “ace”.
It will be for God to judge whether we have succeeded.
Today, walking through the Turó gardens, and seeing the’brick facades of the modern blocks appearing among the pine trees, I feel that this is precisely what responds best to the purpose of the project. When the Turó really becomes a square, when the periphery and surroundings are all completed, and above all, when gardens in other quarters appear alongside it, in a constellation, over the districts towards which the city is now growing, these gardens will reveal themselves in their true light and capacity. Then, a fair number of the excess amount of customers who today overwhelm it will have flown towards other more recent and rural parks. Left for the Turó will be those who should stay: the inhabitants of the district itself.
It is to be hoped that the neighbours will not be displeased that, there, in a small space, play areas for children, a garden for flowers, pleasant shade and a relatively quiet grassy area have been prepared for them. Perhaps one of the owners or tenants of the blocks that surround the gardens will struggle against the trees that cover the façades that take a little sun away from them. Others will defend them, let’s hope so; and in these others we trust, as in our best friends.
(*) “Jardines Públicos de Barcelona”. (Unpublished.)


1.   The water-lily pond.