by MaryDena Apodaca-Cahalane, Candidate, MCRP ’16
“I needed to examine everything that had been written on architecture from Vitruvius to Leonce Renaud; everything on law from Solomon to Bentham; everything on the study of society from Plato to Prouhon; everything on sanitation from Hippocrates to the present day; everything on statistics from Moses to the present; on geography…; on political economy…; on morals or religion…; on philosophy…; etc., etc.”
Incorporating multiple disciplines and developing a well-rounded, all-encompassing approach is the practice of perfection in modern-day planning; such an approach can be better referred to as comprehensive planning. Although comprehensive planning is realistically seen more as the ideal rather than actual case when referencing planning today, planners in general find difficulty in denying the tremendous potential and effectiveness inherent to comprehensive planning.
Ildefons Cerdà (1815-1876) is considered to be one of the fathers of “comprehensive city improvements through physical planning” and, essentially, modern-day planning itself. As illustrated in his words (quoted above), Cerdà set a precedent in both planning and theory which emphasized the importance of combining the multitude of dynamics that comprise a city: studies and surveys to better understand an area’s conditions, sewage systems, water access, ventilation and light circulation within and between blocks, street width, housing, health, distribution of services, transportation flow, public space, the relationship between urban and rural functions, and equitable economic opportunity and social standing. Although the consideration of every element in a city’s DNA is complicated, fairly time-consuming, and frankly thought almost unimaginable, Cerdà viewed planning through this immense intricacy and developed his plans, designs, and theories around such a panoramic sight. He approached planning in a way that married the microcosmic with the macrocosmic frameworks of a city, thereby, playing pioneer to more far-reaching, long-term oriented planning.
This paper will begin by exploring the life of Cerdà through his educational and professional backgrounds, as well as the factors or phenomena that influenced him. Then, a detailed description will be provided of his central, self-defining work in relation to the historical context and the social, economic, and political environment that either inspired or constrained his developments. To conclude, this paper will take a moment to stand and ponder on how Cerdà viewed the world and, accordingly, how his methods and technique passed the test of time and shaped planning today.
Who was Cerdà? – Background
Ildefons Cerdà i Sunyer was born in 1815 in Catalunya, a rural area north of Barcelona, Spain, where he was raised on his family’s estate. He attended a professional school in Madrid and graduated in 1841 with a degree in Civil Engineering – he specialized in a new branch of civil engineering at the time, which was known as “Ingeniero de Caminos, Canales y Puertos…literally translated as ‘engineer of roads, canals and ports’”. In addition to his educational background, Cerdà immersed himself in the political arena. He was a national legislator from 1851-1854 and formed strong political ties with the Ministry of Development and the Spanish Royalty, which proved instrumental to the impact he played later regarding the Expansion of Barcelona.
Inspired by the rise of science, technology, and rationalism during the nineteenth century, Cerdà became a strong proponent of theory, albeit a certain form of theory based on extensive thought and meticulous analysis. He realized theories possessed an inherent weakness centered around personal judgment and individual perception; consequently, he aimed to make theories more practical and applicable as problem-solving tools. Arturo Soria y Puig illustrates the significance Cerdà’s formulation of theories had in his literature, view of cities, and his planning: “Cerdà was a man of action who realised that he needed as strict a theory as possible in order to be more efficient and to give his actual plans greater scope…[he] was fortunate in being able to theorise without dogmatism, since he realised the difficulty of putting theoretical ideas into practice, while also being able to put his ideas into practice efficiently because he was able to get to the bottom of problems”. Cerdà wrote and published several theories on the structure and development of cities, ruralization, and invented the concept and term of urbanization (a term we presently know as commonplace to planning).
Ruralization (the subject of Cerdà’s last known theory) was a new branch of planning foreign to the profession at the time and was entirely conceived by Cerdà. Cerdà defined ruralization or “’rurización’” as “’general principles to be followed in the establishment, development, transformation and improvement of rural regions’”, thereby, applying his urban notion to the rural context. Cerdà believed a nation should play host and facilitator to the unity of all types of territory, whether located in a developed zone or in the countryside or hinterland. Urbanization, on the other hand, was drawn out from Cerdà’s most well-known and master theoretical work, titled the “General Theory of Urbanization” – Cerdà ultimately created a science out of the study of towns and cities and emphasized the need for statistics, data collection, and fact when planning and designing every function imaginable in the social, economic, political, and environmental elements that compose towns and cities. In carrying out planning through the concept of urbanization, Cerdà claimed planners “can find the ‘happy success all the social sciences of practical application’ have had”. By arming him- or herself with the knowledge of context and applying a framework of realism, practicality, and multiple disciplines, Cerdà deemed such a person worthy of and prepared for planning in its most correct and effective form.
Cerdà – Sources of Influence
Cerdà was not only complex as a person, engineer, and theorist, but he was also complex as a planner and brought a revolutionary, eye-opening method to the profession. Although Cerdà’s novel ideas and innovation were essentially products of his own genius, a variety of external factors related to technology and the planning norm prior to his involvement shaped and influenced his individual practice.
Cerdà first set eyes upon a train in 1844 when he came across the railway in France. After witnessing the function and capability of trains as a technology and form of transportation, Cerdà immediately drew a connection to town development. Cerdà perceived trains as driving forces of change in the makeup of a nation; more specifically, he viewed trains as bridges between old and new settlements. Cerdà was not alone in noting the significance of trains – “the suspicion that the train would have a decisive effect on town development was frequently voiced in the 1840s”. The influence trains had on Cerdà’s plans, however, was to a degree not found in other planners’ works at the time. As will be described in a latter section of this paper, Cerdà based his proposed street widths on the incorporation of trains within the transportation systems of towns and cities.
General Planning Practice in Europe and, Specifically, in Spain
In setting the stage for Cerdà, the key time-frame to reference is from the late eighteenth century to the first decades of the nineteenth century. European cities were fairly urbanized at this point and city growth was on a consistent spin; yet, this growth brought concern that shaped the planners of the period. Planners focused on two elements: city centers (and the limits being placed on urban growth) and unoccupied land located within city centers. There was a desire to move toward construction in planning and setting a standard for construction within cities to maintain consistent development. Thus, the physical space and geography of cities were increasingly valued by planners.
Spain was a bit slower than its northern neighbors in urbanizing, yet planning took a similar route. City limits were more well-defined in Spain since several of its cities still contained fortified walls (during this period, several European cities were still enclosed around defensive walls). The same interventionist approach found in planning throughout Europe was likewise found in Spain: “…Barcelona, too,…witnessed an increase in planned interventions and speculative development on the city limits…[n]ew attention was also paid to improving the city’s waterfront”. Being a Spaniard, Cerdà was fully immersed in the Spanish context of urbanism and planning and found he possessed a contradictory perspective on planning not just in his home country but in Europe overall. Cerdà recognized the need for urban growth to accommodate the rise of industrialization and, jointly, for societies to advance and progress. Nevertheless, he believed planning efforts were better concentrated toward creating new cities that grew as an extension of the present cities and expanding into the unoccupied land outside of city centers and city borders, which meant, for certain cities, urbanizing outside self-defining walls.
The Historical and Political Environment
During the first half of the nineteenth century, Spain experimented with expanding cities into their peripheries, which was enabled by the availability of land, a solid road system, and a viable network of communication externally. The Spanish Royalty, however, aimed to protect rather than improve or expand cities and passed a Royal Order in 1846 which “outlined a series of requisites…to ensure that large and medium-sized cities had geometric floor plans to accommodate future growth”. Essentially, the Spanish Royalty supported the design of a successful grid within cities as a way of making inner-city development both manageable and more appealing in hopes to divert planners’ attention away from the periphery. By 1855, Cerdà was, simultaneously, gaining a public audience and developing well-established political ties. His influence was eventually revealed through the Town Expansion Act of 1864 or “Ley de ensanche de poblaciones” which set the ground for a series of extension projects in Spanish cities.
Despite his 1864 achievement, Cerdà encountered political drawbacks that kept his works from being considered and implemented earlier. Spanish planning was deeply divided between two professions, architecture and engineering. Architects and engineers not only clashed in terms of planning approach and technique but also in socioeconomic affiliation. According to Eduardo Aibar and Wiebe Bijker, “engineers w[ere] associated with the industrial revolution and thus the emerging class of the industrialist bourgeoisie…architects, on the other side, remained affiliated to the older aristocratic class of land owners”. Politically, engineers were more progressive and architects were conservative, which shaped their individual views of cities and how cities should function according to specific interests and needs.
The professional divide between engineers and architects may have been reduced to a degree during Spain’s move toward the expansion of its cities in the first half of the nineteenth century (since both parties worked under the same aim), but the planning methods of each further solidified their irrefutable differences. Architects advocated a hierarchical extension of the city; in other words, “a concentric distribution of social classes, from a residential center, suitable for the high bourgeoisie, to the outskirts intended for the industry and the workers’ housing”. Whereas, engineers supported more of an equitable extension facilitated and reinforced through a strong grid system for street and block development. Cerdà, being a civil engineer, sided with his comrades’ planning approach (while adding his own fundamental practices and impact) and so met opposition from both architects and the conservative government that came to power in 1856.
Cerdà and the Expansion of Spain – A Review of His Planning Works
Cities by the 1850s in Spain and Europe were characterized by density, congestion, terrible supply of water, very poor sanitation, nearly non-existent sewage systems, and disease outbreaks. In Spain, for example, its highest recorded city population density during this period was “856 inhabitants per hectare…[and] the average living space for workers was about 10 m² per person”. Cerdà’s knowledge and in-depth surveys and studies of such conditions inspired and generated his multidisciplinary planning practices. He saw expansion, referred to as “ensanche”, as a remedy to the poor state of cities, which ultimately meant the planning and construction of new cities.
The Expansion of Barcelona
Cerdà’s masterwork and the optimum illustration of his ensanche method is the city of Barcelona. In 1859, Cerdà assembled a plan to develop Barcelona beyond its walls and to connect it with its neighboring towns, thereby creating an entirely new city; this followed soon after the decade-long removal of Barcelona’s walls which was completed in 1856. Cerdà’s 1859 plan, titled “Plano de los Alrededores de la Ciudad de Barcelona y Proyecto de su Reforma y Ensanche (Map of the Outskirts of the City of Barcelona and Project [Plan] for its Internal Reform and Expansion)”, was quite complex, for he tackled and planned for the most precise of details, in addition to the foundational basics of a city. He applied a very scientific process to his planning and used statistical analysis he had done of Barcelona to guide him through his designs and solutions. Cerdà, moreover, built his plans on what he considered to be the four fundamental bases of city reform or expansion: political, legal, economic, and administrative – he believed that only by identifying and understanding these bases in the context of city development could a planner convert his or her ideas into realistic and useful plans.
Cerdà’s basic layout for Barcelona consisted of radial streets extending through and out from the Old City and intersecting with a surrounding grid system within the New City (the ensanche segment). While the Old City encompassed 192 hectares, Cerdà’s plan aimed to add 1,969 hectares, converting the Old City into the core of Barcelona and the New City into a vast connection with neighboring towns.
The strictly defined grid of Cerdà’s plan contained wide streets measuring 20 to 30 meters with a uniform repetition of square blocks containing a unique Cerdà design: cut corners, as chamfers of sorts, to accommodate the movement of larger vehicles. Cerdà’s specific reason for the cut corners (which created more octagonal blocks) was to allow the mobility of trains within the city of Barcelona – he anticipated Barcelona’s growth with the rise of industrialization and thought the infrastructure of its streets and blocks needed to be configured and built in ways that facilitated free-flowing traffic and the efficient distribution of goods and materials through large-scale transportation. Cerdà also added spacious avenues about 50 to 80 meters wide to Barcelona’s layout in order to facilitate direct access to important geographical points, such as the port (center of trade) and the city’s gates.
Cerdà’s Barcelona demonstrates an exemplary grid system – as described by Ángel Martín-Ramos, Barcelona’s grid contained “non-hierarchical access to all parts of the city, thereby preventing differences in the urban condition…”. Cerdà manifested a new bree d of grid based on the uniformity of correctly- and strategically-designed components: wide streets, ample intersections, and large spacious blocks. He viewed the grid as the foundation of a city’s core functions and believed, if poorly designed with the wrong measurements, a city’s capacity to grow and provide for its residents would be nonexistent. Accordingly, since the grid provided the ground for mobility (whether of people, traffic, or goods), it also determined the development of land and property values, housing, availability of services, health, and open space.
Cerdà’s grid, furthermore, planned for a highly efficient distribution of resources and services. For the approximated population of 250,000 (Old City and New City combined), Cerdà proposed the even distribution of “33 schools, three hospitals located on the edge of the city for hygienic conditions, eight parks, 10 markets and 12 administrative buildings”. How did Cerdà plan to achieve this distribution? Through his grid and its inherent organization and self-sufficiency i.e. layout. When designing Barcelona’s grid, Cerdà was quick to concern himself with distance and, essentially, the location of services in relation to residents – he aimed for a very egalitarian approach and desired every inhabitant of Barcelona, whether of the wealthy or working class, to have equal access. Overall, Cerdà mapped out centers of resource to be at most within 30 minutes of the majority of the population – to be exact, within 30 minutes, 78% of the population would be covered by hospitals and 94% by markets. In carrying out such a meticulous grid design, Cerdà’s Barcelona was truly planned for the well-being of all within its socioeconomically diverse population.
Intervias – Blocks
Another significant and influential aspect to Cerdà’s Barcelona Plan was his concept and design of “intervias…[meaning] ‘interways’”. Intervias were Cerdà’s version of blocks and their configuration and use of space. He did not view blocks in terms of public and privates uses; instead, Cerdà designed blocks according to surface type, which is why we have his hybrid of blocks, intervias, and not just blocks today. Cerdà focused on two surface types: “’continuous surface areas’ – the streets – and ‘discontinuous areas’ which included ‘all empty or full blocks determined by the combination of streets”. He considered the spatial products of both roads and buildings and planned Barcelona’s development around the construction of the block, which he proposed would be laid out with a set of buildings and also empty space to fill with green spaces and internal paths for pedestrian/resident use and circulation of air for health. As for shape, Cerdà gave preference to square rather than rectangular blocks to further solidify his equitable distribution of services, maintain flow of traffic, and to eliminate the association of land size and value with socioeconomic characteristics. Cerdà’s intervía dimensions were proposed at 113 meters in length and at a scale of four stories, which indicate a very human-level structure.
The Famous Formula
Being a civil engineer, it comes as no surprise that Cerdà also developed empirical formulas to create and justify his Barcelona Plan and his planning in general. Cerdà sought to answer two questions, in addressing urbanism and the conditions of urban areas: “…how building new roads, sanitary infrastructure and municipal equipment could be financed[?] and…how housing prices could be adjusted to different wages[?]”. Both questions reflect his egalitarian framework and his awareness of the various economic, social, and political factors that affect and run a city, which explains his creation of a formula to help with planning according to all those elements. Cerdà’s famous formula was like a city calculator. He found a way to calculate block lengths, street widths, land size occupied by a single resident, and even the number of people per household, for example. Cerdà’s formula, therefore, enabled him to quantify his plans and to more accurately design the layout of his cities.
Assessing Cerdà’s Planning: Contributions to Planning History and Practice
Cerdà’s planning contributions to planning history and practice can easily be assessed in several pages; but for the sake of identifying and highlighting the most substantial and influential, this section will focus on Cerdà as a pioneer to modern-day comprehensive planning and regional planning and as the inventor of the ensanche. The ensanche, in fact, became a plan repeatedly implemented in major cities throughout Spain and played example to the grid and block designs of cities in Europe and North America.
Comprehensive Planning in Its Purest Form
In agreement with numerous planners who have examined Cerdà’s works, Michael Neuman recognizes Cerdà’s brilliance and claims he “revolutionized the way we analyze and intervene in urban space”. Cerdà, irrefutably, approached planning in a multidisciplinary way and through several levels and scales – he tackled and encompassed a multitude of components varying from types of housing to street and block infrastructure to social and economic divides to necessary resources and their location to parks. Additionally, he envisioned underground designs, such as sewage systems, drainage, gas distribution, and even rail. Cerdà was long-term oriented and took future growth and change into consideration, which resulted in his exemplary form of comprehensive planning. He generated urban balance quite useful to planning practice – he designed blocks that were not only conducive to housing but also commercial functions, which created space for both the workplace and home, and he designed his streets and locality of services in a way that balanced both vehicular transportation and pedestrian mobility.
The Ensanche Legacy
Cerdà’s ensanche became a tool of versatility for cities in Spain and Europe. As fortifications i.e. walls came down and the era of the Old City came to a close, expansion was at the forefront of concern for planners and ensanches allowed them to address the issue of city extension. Cerdà’s original ensanche design and principles jointly assembled a method for opening up cities – the grid provided a network of streets as extensive as desired and streets translated into opportunities for mobility and construction; more streets meant more possibilities. The ensanche housed all of Cerdà’s urban solutions, as seen in Barcelona and later in Madrid, Valencia, and Bilbao for instance: “…regularity, technical efficiency, absence of hierarchy…[which] organise urban growth”. Cerdà’s ensanche inspired planners to design in a way that was diverse and organized, which yields higher density and the sustainability of increased activity.
Lastly, Cerdà has also been noted as a pioneer of regional planning and design, a highly relevant and well-established practice today. During his final years, Cerdà took an interest in territories and catered his planning around this focus. He revisited Barcelona from more of a political standpoint, for he was a member of its government. Barcelona was considered to be a province at this point in time and Cerdà proposed organizing it “…into 10 administrative units called ‘regional confederations of councils’”. Cerdà believed in establishing networks between territories, whether in the form of shared transportation corridors or urban hubs or centers; thus, his proposed restructuring of Barcelona as a province into councils was not just political – he noted “….topographic, geographic, population, land use, transportation…infrastructure, public facility, [and] economic” reasons as well. Cerdà planned for the development of individual territories or regions through a network or connectivity lens and so set the foundation for planners who examine different areas and the ways in which they overlap and are interrelated.
Cerdà was truly the founder of comprehensive planning. His theories, scientific analyses, and intricate designs centered around every line, shape, and function imaginable to the urban environment, and his practical yet innovative plans bridged and involved several disciplines and scales. Cerdà, unquestionably, bestowed planners with the secret ingredients for versatile and highly effective planning, thus enabling an evolution within the profession capable of withstanding urban challenges.
Aibar, Eduardo and Wiebe E. Bijker. “Constructing a City: The Cerdà Plan for the Extension of Barcelona.” Science, Technology, & Human Values, Vol. 22, No. 1 (1997): 3-30.
Martín-Ramos, Ángel. 2012. “The Cerdà effect on city modernisation.” TPR: Town Planning Review 83, no. 6 (2012): 695-716.
Neuman, Michael. “Ildefons Cerdà and the future of spatial planning: The network urbanism of a city planning pioneer.” TPR: Town Planning Review 82, no. 2 (2011): 117-143.
Pallares-Barbera, Montserrat, Anna Badia, and Jordi Duch. “Cerdà and Barcelona: The need for a new city and service provision.” Urbani Izziv 22, no. 2 (2011): 122-136.
Soria Y Puig, Arturo. “Ildefonso Cerdà’s General Theory of ‘Urbanización’.” The Town Planning Review, Vol. 66, No. 1 (1995): 15-39.
 Arturo Soria y Puig, “Ildefonso Cerdà’s General Theory of ‘Urbanización’”, The Town Planning Review, Vol.66, No. 1 (January 1995): 18, doi: http://www.jstor.org.proxy.libraries.rutgers.edu/stabe/40113676.
 Ibid., 15.
 Michael Neuman, “Ildefons Cerdà and the future of spatial planning: The network urbanism of a city planning pioneer”, TPR: Town Planning Review 82, no. 2 (2011): 117.
 Ibid., 120.
 Soria y Puig, “Ildefonso Cerdà’s General Theory of ‘Urbanización’”, 17.
 Ibid., 38.
 Neuman, “Ildefons Cerdà and the future of spatial planning: The network urbanism of a city planning pioneer”, 137.
 Soria y Puig, “Ildefonso Cerdà’s General Theory of ‘Urbanización’”, 18.
 Ángel Martín-Ramos, “The Cerdà effect on city modernisation,” TPR: Town Planning Review 83, no. 6 (2012): 696-697.
 Ibid., 697.
 Ibid., 698.
 Ibid., 699.
 Eduardo Aibar and Wiebe E. Bijker, “Constructing a City: The Cerdà Plan for the Extension of Barcelona,” Science, Technology, & Human Values, Vol. 22, No. 1 (1997): 13, doi: http://www.jstor.org.proxy.libraries.rutgers.edu/stable/689964.
 Ibid., 11.
 Ibid., 7.
 Ibid., 5.
 Martín-Ramos, “The Cerdà effect on city modernisation,” 700.
 Neuman, “Ildefons Cerdà and the future of spatial planning: The network urbanism of a city planning pioneer”, 124.
 Soria y Puig, “Ildefonso Cerdà’s General Theory of ‘Urbanización’”, 20.
 Montserrat Pallares-Barbera, Anna Badia, and Jordi Duch, “Cerdà and Barcelona: The need for a new city and service provision,” Urbani Izziv 22, no. 2 (2011): 126. Reference Appendix A.
 Eduardo Aibar and Wiebe E. Bijker, “Constructing a City: The Cerdà Plan for the Extension of Barcelona,” 14. Reference Appendix B.
 Martín-Ramos, “The Cerdà effect on city modernisation,” 707.
 Montserrat Pallares-Barbera, Anna Badia, and Jordi Duch, “Cerdà and Barcelona: The need for a new city and service provision,” 131.
 Ibid., 133. Reference Appendix C.
 Soria y Puig, “Ildefonso Cerdà’s General Theory of ‘Urbanización’”, 33.
 Ibid., 34.
 Montserrat Pallares-Barbera, Anna Badia, and Jordi Duch, “Cerdà and Barcelona: The need for a new city and service provision,” 125.
 Ibid. Reference Appendix D to see an image of Cerdà’s Formula and its components.
 Neuman, “Ildefons Cerdà and the future of spatial planning: The network urbanism of a city planning pioneer”, 125.
 Ibid., 130.
 Martín-Ramos, “The Cerdà effect on city modernisation,” 706.
 Neuman, “Ildefons Cerdà and the future of spatial planning: The network urbanism of a city planning pioneer”, 135.