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In retrofitting the modernist housing estates of the
El Besòs i El Maresme neighborhoods, this
project aims to redeem the intent and spirit of the modern movement whose dreams have been
overshadowed by the narrative of degradation. The dreams of recent past are as relevant today as
they were in the 1950’s when the construction of the housing estates responded to profound social
and urban changes with the hope that high-density living would liberate open space on the ground
for gardens in the spirit of a true public space.
The garden has always been an inextricable archetype of human settlement, representing a
domestication that brought stability to life’s endeavors. From the time of nomadic and semi-nomadic
hunter-gatherers, to global migrations of the modern era, gardening has been a tool to adapt new
landscapes, to integrate, and to truly make a place one’s home. Symbolically, the garden has
also long represented order, easing inhabitation against a wild and hostile landscape “beyond the
wall.” Rather than the undefined openness and monotonous character that has come to define
modernism’s failures, this project repositions urban space as a network of productive gardens –
and the city itself as an inhabited garden. The voids of urban planning become opportunities for
micro interventions and new uses of the intermediate space between buildings, with greater publicprivate
gradation and multi-dimensional use of space that reflects the immigrant spirit of the
neighborhood. Inclusive design is expanded to include biodiversity and transforming the city into
a haven for nature and other species. In face of increasing commodification of public space, the
garden provides an opportunity to reimagine collective life, while empowering the neighborhood to
cultivate self-sufficiency and a more dynamic sense of place.


The El Besòs i El Maresme neighborhood sits at the edge of the 22@ former industrial area and
requires a new structure to define the urban fabric and open spaces, extend transformation from
the innovation district, and bridge physical and perceptual boundaries to draw people to the
area. This project takes on the block as a key element and tool to better define the space of the
public garden. Drawing from the Barcelona Superblock system for green hubs and squares,
as well as the Sudoeste del Besos estate’s original aim of linking with the Cerdà Plan of 1859,
public life as well as ecological transformation is first organized along newly pedestrianoriented
corridors that extend from Barcelona’s center. Though later “super islands” sometimes
featured an interior common or public space, this project aims to extend the grid and reclaim
the street-square characteristic of Cerdà’s blocks to better establish connectivity between
El Besòs i El Maresme and the city. The transformed blocks are designed to respond to the
most critical environmental challenges of our time, promoting soft mobilities and increasing
green space and gardens to address biodiversity loss and climate change. Interior pedestrian
streets and intersections become opportunities to consolidate pocket gardens for recreational
and educational activities that foster social interaction and exchange. In this way, every block
becomes a garden block, functioning at the neighborhood scale almost like a compact garden-city.

Re naturalizing the waterfront zone

El Besòs i El Maresme are situated on formerly agricultural land irrigated by channels connected
to the River Besòs, and was eventually formed as a peripheral area outside of the traditional city.
While this area faces challenges in integrating socially and urbanistically, its low-lying site is also prone
to flooding and other environmental problems. This project transforms challenging and underused
land for new agricultural programs, and also daylights the former Horta stream along Rambla
de Prim, recalling the neighborhood’s landscape heritage as the Bosquet de Sant Martí with its fields
of crops, vineyards, and fruit trees fed by the Horta stream. This solution takes advantage of existing
fertile soil conditions, improving the land’s social and ecological functions as a productive
landscape that benefits the local economy while infiltrating water to mitigate flooding in builtup
areas. To make Barcelona a “living city”, nature is also integrated through habitat, bringing
other species as a living feature to the city. This project establishes a new ecological corridor,
re-wilding parts of the Parc de Diagonal mar, the planned green corridor along Rambla
de Prim, and Parc del Besòs and connecting them with new introverted green spaces within
the inner blocks to create a continuous corridor that betterserves
the region’s biodiversity.
The new ecological corridor, like the new green corridor along Rambla de Prim, are designed
to replace traditional urban features like large paved plazas, parking areas, and commercial strips
with new urban features that have more ecological and inclusive social value. By reducing
pavement, these areas no longer act as a barrier to the movement of species and facilitate the
infiltration of rainwater to better support plants and habitat. In addition, these spaces are
recovered for residents to enjoy with reduced pollution, noise, and interference from private
vehicles. It creates open-ended opportunities for contact between human and nonhuman
residents, enriching appreciation for biodiversity and care for the natural environment.

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At the neighborhood scale, defining and improving public space is critical to making El Besòs
i El Maresme safer, more inclusive, and more livable for all. In line with the neighborhood’s
history as a settlement for new immigrants, the project promotes social coherence through
opportunities for passive interaction as well as new economic activities that empower
residents for active daily living, self-sufficiency, and celebration of cultural diversity.
Agricultural and ecological features enhance social connections between people, transforming
public space and the neighborhood as a whole. Breaking down undifferentiated open spaces
and the structure of the superblock, this project uses small-scale landscape modules to
generate diversity of open and semi-enclosed conditions.
Third lanscape including inner intersections, street corridors, and unused spaces near rail and
highways can be transformed into rain gardens, tree nurseries, orchards, and even pasture
to integrate them as active landscapes within the neighborhood. Pocket “in-between” spaces
become productive container gardens, kitchen gardens, and composting sites, or sensory
gardens and playgrounds for residents to use and enjoy. Open spaces adjacent to social
services and commercial hubs become prime opportunities for unique educational farms and
recreational programs that will attract visitors to the neighborhood.

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Buildings Toolbox – Typology and Interventions
The housing estates of El Besòs i El Maresme are a distinctive artifact, and serve as a powerful testament to a twentieth century moment dedicated to solving urgent social problems and safe, affordable housing for all. These modernist projects are often criticized for being monotonous, offering no sense of belonging, and further concentrating crime and poverty within the city. However, these challenges cannot be blamed on the buildings themselves, but reflect the lack of investment in the intermediate spaces between buildings and the integration of private life with the context of the neighborhood and city. This project proposes a toolbox of interventions to extend the domestic space and improve the dialogue between built-up and open spaces. Simple operations can transform the character of the buildings, improve their thermal performance, and bring diverse uses for the community to enhance both public and private life. While the housing towers were initially designed to maximize density, new interventions would allow critical and underused spaces to be reinvented for better uses.
The proposed toolbox includes interventions that improve living conditions by extending domestic space. Even from the outside, this allows the neighborhood to show signs of everyday inhabitation, inventiveness and adaptation, and cultural diversity. This offsets the dominance of the towers as the pedestrian experience becomes filled with individual balconies, gardens, furniture, and other evidence of life. The toolbox also includes climate adaptations with improved ventilation through cutting height from buildings or excavating their inner courtyards. Added double facades and green roofs improve microclimate and air quality for residents within.
This project aims above all to foster a sense of community, which is achieved through both public space and architectural interventions. Interventions add or reinvent spaces in-between buildings and on rooftops to offer places for interaction and active recreation for the community. In particular, there is new provision of green space and opportunities to grow food that promote cultural vitality and self-sufficiency. Activating the ground floor as a common space brings life to the streets and the neighborhood as a whole while an inviting façade and new vertical connections increases the dialogue between residents. Finally, tthe extroverted character of a façade facing the street is offset by a more introverted interior façade that also has quiet spaces for small gatherings, connection to nature, and habitat for urban biodiversity.

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