Thursday, December 6, 2012

Madrid's Plaza Mayor, more

Providence, December 6, 2012

No long after I posted the note about the map of Madrid, my friend Judith Wolin emailed me with some precisions about Spanish squares:

"Beautiful Map of Madrid.  But before you get in too deep with the claim that the plaza is not aligned with anything, you should revisit the laws of Indies, which precede the first version of Madrid's square by a couple of decades... the law specifically says that streets should come out of the corners on a diagonal, the space should be square or in a ratio of 2:3, arcaded, and oriented to protect it from harsh winds.  Madrid, Salamanca, Barcelona all have Plazas that are oriented almost exactly on the cardinal points and follow most of these rules.  A question, I think, of bringing up the standards of the home country to meet the colonial ideal."

What makes the operation (should we call it urban grafting?) of the Plaza Mayor in Madrid particularly fascinating is the insistence with which it formalizes the rectangle as a figure.  Look carefully at Texeira's drawing: the streets come into (rather than out of?) the square almost at the corners... but not quite, making sure that all four angles get materialized in the built mass.  You can almost imagine the designer painstakingly moving the rectangle ever so slightly in order to get the Calle de Atocha to fall just a little up from one of the corners and down from the other. So different from the colonial squares in Spanish America that are effortless, barely more than the removal of one or two blocks in the grid-- definitely much more ground than figure.

(Thank you Judith!  We've been having these kinds of conversations for two decades now and it looks as if we're not about to stop any time soon, right?)

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