The 9-Square Grid returns

To all my Cooper Union vets: what do you think of when you think of “9-square grid?”

Well, what about this? This is a promotional sign for the Superilla, in Barcelona’s Poblenou neighborhood.

Superilla notice in Poblenou.

Though I had seen propaganda about it for many months since arriving last September, the Superilla remained rather isolated in my head. Which is only natural, since a) The Cooper Union is now in my past, and b) everything that happens in Barcelona nowadays is contested to the last political penny and the last bit of data– in other words, not aesthetically or pedagogically. But when I passed that sign in Poblenou, the parallels finally struck me. This was the 9-square grid reborn. This time, wearing the clothing of smart cities.

The Superilla is an urban planning concept which takes a chunk of city blocks, bans vehicular traffic from them, and opens the roads into pedestrian-only zones, creating a new mini-neighborhood. There are numerous examples of this popping up around the world, from Hong Kong to New York City, but Barcelona’s efforts have gone further.

Times Square, NYC, with updated pedestrian plaza, as designed by snøhetta. image via designboom.
Barcelona’s Eixample district. via Google Earth.

The Eixample district, a sprawling grid of 100-meter square blocks, was conceived in the mid 19th century, when cars were being born. Their design took these fledgling new modes of transport into account. 150 years later, however, the Ajuntament de Barcelona took the advice of several BFD urban planners and started scaling back the presence of cars.

It made a lot of practical sense. One of the main benefits of the Superilla is its comfortable scale: at 300 meters a side, walking around it might feel like a medium-sized park. 12 corners per cross-street, and that yields enough opportunity to loaf, bump into strangers, or pass a small business. Mobility experts also tout the 3-street module for its minimal impact on vehicular traffic: since opposite streets on the Superilla perimeter will still go in opposite directions, as few cars as possible will need to take detours. Heavier vehicles like buses or trucks must be rerouted, but at least only one bus stop would supposedly be needed for the entire Superilla.

The diagram of the 9-square grid could take on yet another symbol (as the Superilla promotional Twitter handle demonstrates):

Was this versatility what excited the Cooper Union denizens about the 9-square grid as a teaching tool? Once you set it up, it becomes like a scaffold that could contain a satisfactory number of possible operations (not too many, like chess, nor too few, like tic-tac-toe). You get 4 and you get 3 at the same time. You get enclosure. You get the suggestion of expansion. In the end, the 9-square grid is a resilient and fertile space.

La Sagrada Grúa

Every time we pass Spain’s most famous building, we have something to say.

“La Sagrada Familia. More like La Sacada Familia. La Chingada Familia. La Putada Familia.”

“It looks like someone bought one of those nozzle attachments for cake icing and decided to just try all the settings.”

“There was a time when you had one of everything: one spire, one entrance, one rose window… and they were special. This thing has SIX rose windows. On this side alone.”

“It’s melting.”

“It’s exploding.”

“Are they ever going to actually turn it into a cathedral once it’s done? Or would they rather keep making money? Because right now, it has no purpose. It’s just a monument to itself.”

“It’s like the Pepperidge Farm Bread of Catholic cathedrals. You finish it, and it still ain’t finished.”

“The construction cranes have now just become part of the building. Another style in the eclectic mix.”

This last one was my favorite. We wrote these down in a private place because we knew the world would scoff at us for not appreciating one of its wonders. Criticizing La Sagrada Familia sometimes feels like ordering tea at a bar: you won’t be rebutted logically, you’ll be overruled dictatorially. I had accepted this. But then, I noticed something: in many of the depictions of the cathedral in postcards, advertisements, and graphic designs around the city, the cranes were included! Most interestingly, in graphic designs. I wasn’t taking for granted that just because they were photographs that the cranes had to be there, since photoshopping has now become such common practice that a company with enough enthusiasm for La Sagrada Familia would take the extra time to spiff an image of it up by removing the cranes. So why have some artists chosen to remove the cranes, and some chosen to include them? Is this project a monument? A folly? A cathedral? The contradictory contours of Spanish pragmatic melodrama are briefly illuminated.

A visualization of what the Sagrada Familia will look like when it’s finished. Image via Revista AD.
Souvenir magnet. Cost you 3 euros. via
Photograph hanging in the vestibule of my apartment building.
Decal on an office window.

Black Friday!! Rebajes grandes!!

My first thought when I saw Black Friday posters ALL OVER the shop windows in El Born the day after Thanksgiving was “What? How on Earth did that American capitalist plague spread over here?”

Then, my second thought was “Oh, look, another American capitalist plague has spread over here. What else is new?” (That last sentence spoken in the voice of Macaulay Culkin in Home Alone.)