Social Attitudes Reflected in the Built Environment
ARA 01 - 15 - 2010

As we exit Spain, two examples hang in my mind as I prepare to discuss theory in design. I've chosen to discuss locations where my curiousity and interest were peaked. The two I've chosen are the Alhambra in Granada, Spain and a portion of the promenade along La Rambla in Barcelona, Spain. With the current push to work towards sustainable design, I felt that looking at the Alhambra was a bit like listening to words of wisdom. This palace complex sets the bar for sustainable design, mostly through its use of integrated waterways within the design. Being located on a hill below the Sierra Nevada mountains, the Alhambra has fresh water flowing down to it year round. It uses this water to nourish its crops and power its fountains, but requires no pumps or electricity. Instead it relies on gravity generated by its hillside location to maintain constant flow and pressure in its water-ways. In today's advanced society it is all too easy to rely on electricity to power our designs, but real design begins to happen when we take electricity out of the picture. And, with electricity out of the picture we begin to achieve true sustainability. Ofcourse, the designers of the Alhambra were not trying to make a statement about sustainability, they were just trying to achieve certain functions the water could provide by careful layout and organization. But it was the restrictions or early science that brought about this great example, so we must hold ourselves to similar restrictions and take advantage of the examples provided to us to take our designs to the next level. Branching away from sustainability while continuing to discuss organization, I wish to briefly look at one of Barcelona's numerous promenades. The largest city in Spain, Barcelona has several streets which see heavy amounts of traffic daily. But, because of the importance of maintaining walkable communities, this city has taken certain measures to preserve pedestrian friendly spaces within these major traffic ways. The example I'm examining is only one of a variety of pedestrian friendly spaces that the city possesses. As I mentioned previously, the space I've chosen is the promenade along La Rambla, one of Barcelona's busier streets. The street has two way traffic, but the north and south lanes are divided by a central pedestrian promenade about fifty feet in width. On each side there are two lanes of traffic bordered by twelve foot or so wide sidewalks which meet the many buildings and shops along La Rambla. The section cut below of La Rambla can help better show the layout. This promenade is roughly four inches above the street and bordered by a row of trees on each side. This creates a mental barrier between the vehicular traffic and the pedestrians walking the promenade. Within the promenade one can find several permanent and semi-permanent shops and street vendors which work to draw those passing through the space in to the space. I myself was drawn to stroll down this center walkway rather than the exterior walkways. As if this is a dynamic and successful enough space, beneath the promenade runs a portion of the subway system which one can feel running beneath their feet every so often. In my opinion this only adds depth to an already attractive space. Here I feel that I am one with the city: Buildings and shops to my left or right, the scent of kebab in the air, the integration of nature as a barrier between myself and the traffic, and the humming of the subway beneath my feet. It is successful and manages the potentially hectic space in an organized and quite interactive manner. It take a great amount of logic and organization to create the waterways of Alhambra and the promenades of Barcelona, but the time and effort behind it create a better atmosphere and a more positive society. Being conscious of the role we play in our community and the interworkings of our complex system is important, and these are two prime examples of how this can be done.

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