Barceloneta, Barcelona, Spain
Street as living room

Net density                                349 dwellings per hectare
Site density                                700 dwellings per hectare
Height                                        four to six storeys
Urban planning                          Prosper Verboom
Built                                           1750-1900

You approach Barceloneta from the broad avenues of the Eixample or the dark passages of the Gothic. Beyond a zone of road and rail corridor, Barceloneta rises like an impenetrable wall and suddenly you are within.

Barceloneta – morning
It is quiet, dim and sheltered.
There is an almost impossible density of housing which is very ordered and repetitive; a draughtsman’s lesson in perspective. Haphazard layers of window boxes, washing, external services, satellite dishes and antennas do not manage to disguise the underlying order. This teeming density is not unbearable perhaps because it is ordered, but also because it is finite. The east-west streets are illuminated at their ends by vast open spaces.


Outside the shop in Carrer Andrea Doria
And all is at human scale. On the streets between these habitable walls the locals behave as though they are at home. A small amount of car traffic picks its way around people chatting in the street. People bring seats and sit on the footpath.  Small spaces are claimed in the street with plants, washing lines, a chained bicycle, children’s toys, seats and small tables. Barceloneta is like a one apartment building, with the streets its corridors. 

Street to beach
A short walk and you are on a palm tree lined boulevard, then down a ramp to a hard packed beach lined with activities. 



Barceloneta beach
The sunlight on sand is dazzling and exhilarating. A view of masonry facades has been replaced with a view to the horizon. Sailing boats waft by. 

Beach activities
Passive and vigorous activities are spaced along the beach. Bars, restaurants, concrete chaise-longues for sunbaking, a jungle gym and children’s playgrounds. The small-scale facades of Barceloneta are set back amongst trees. It is easy to forget the city itself.




Retail and commercial
Shops and restaurants are scattered through Barceloneta but are found mainly on the shorter cross streets. Many of the bars can be walked through to the next street, increasing the feeling that Barceloneta is like one building, with the streets its corridors. At nighttime one becomes more aware of the bars and restaurants in Barceloneta. Inside, the small rooms are sliced into even smaller spaces. One popular bar, El Vasa de Oro, has a seating area no more than 1.6 metres wide. Chefs and barmen have more space than the diners.


Satellite photo and section through Barceloneta

2013:10:21 - Barceloneta Section

Plan of Barceloneta2013:10:21_BarcelonetaBeach_PrintingTroubleshooted

Why Barceloneta was studied
Barcelona has been a successful city quarter for 250 years and is very dense. A unique combination of low scale, mid-rise and very high density is evident.

Urban design
Barceloneta is a small quarter appended to the city of Barcelona with the Mediterranean Sea and Barcelona Harbour as it’s other boundaries. It was designed as a model city sited prominently at the harbour mouth and housed longshoremen, fishermen and other essential workers.


Barceloneta has an audaciously simple and repetitive layout of long shallow blocks on narrow streets crossed by slightly wider cross streets.

Barceloneta and the Citadel adjacent were designed by a Flemish military engineeras part of Philip V’s plan to improve and control his new possession Barcelona. When completed, its orderliness was a stern contrast to the medieval Gothic quarter adjacent.

A street in the Gothic

In the mid nineteenth century the Citadel was demolished and replaced with roads, railways and the Parc di Ciutadella. This new infrastructure combined with population growth resulted in Barceloneta being extended upwards. The original buildings had been two storey row houses. These were replaced with four to six storey apartment buildings. This work was largely completed by the beginning of the twentieth century. Today, the bulk of Barceloneta’s urban fabric is mid-nineteenth century.

Public buildings include a sports school, swimming pool, a major fish market, a Naval School and its residential quarters. An artificial beach, grand avenue and boardwalk were built for the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games.

There is no green landscape within the buildings themselves. Squares and east-west streets are planted with slender trees, while some streets have been pedestrianised. The Mediterranean and the harbour are the major landscape elements.

Open space
The only open spaces are the small balconies overhanging the street. These afford incidental views down streets and give some privacy to the rooms.

Apartment planning
The apartment buildings of Barceloneta have no open space within the lots and rely on the streets for light and ventilation. The method of achieving density in Barceloneta is simple; delete anything that consumes space. The buildings themselves have no courtyards or corridors. The ground floor lobby is typically minimal in size. The stairwell serves one apartment on each floor entered from a small landing. Apartment planning is efficient in layout and permits a mix of studio, 1, 2 and 3 bedroom apartments. Many ground floor accessible apartments are provided. Apartment sizes are small compared to contemporary standards.


This mid-twentieth century building has a row of squint windows which effectively reduce overlooking but also reduce daylight access and connection with the street

The 90 metre long and 8.4 metre wide blocks permit some solar access to the apartments while protecting them from the sea breezes. However daylight access, solar access, natural ventilation, visual and acoustic privacy are generally poor in Barceloneta. The design of newer residential buildings has attempted to solve some of the problems of the existing 1850s type but with uncertain success.

Materials and architectonics
There are no two storey or colossally scaled elements, all is at human scale. All storeys have the same height; there is no extra height for the ground floor where there may be shops or services. Ground floor shops adapt to the regular domestic sized windows and doors; there are no grand shop windows.The traditional detailing of painted cement render dados, windows, door reveals and corner quoins are uniform through Barceloneta. Doors and windows are modelled equally. Ground floor individual apartment entry doors and communal lobby doors are identical in detail.

Shared facilities
There are no communal facilities within the apartment buildings but there are many public facilities within Barceloneta. Playgrounds, a sports school, a swimming pool, a major fish market and beach activities are within easy reach.

hared services
Garbage and recycling bins are located in designated bays in the street.

Comments and conclusions
Very clear natural and man-made boundaries define Barceloneta as a distinct quarter within the city of Barcelona. The entire quarter sits within the 400 metre, 5 minute walking radius that urban designers promote as the optimal size for a walkable city. Cars and their infrastructure are generally absent. Each apartment block has no shared facilities, but there are many facilities available nearby.  A strong local community is evident. The street grid ensures good orientation and an easy navigation through the streets.

In Barceloneta there is an extreme juxtaposition between seashore and street, of exposure and enclosure in which one becomes a refuge from the other. Barceloneta is a unique environment that works because of its size and its site. Many apartments however have levels of light, ventilation and privacy that are unacceptable for contemporary housing codes. Barceloneta is an housing experiment which rewards study; and it offers possibilities for particular types of housing for users with shared experiences or values such as student, workers or institutional housing. 

Density Comparison Table

Screen shot 2013-12-09 at 5.13.37 PM

Michael Zanardo; project mentor, critic and source of knowledge.
Justin Brickle; video editor of Zeitgeist Films –

in Barcelona
Nacho Gomez many thanks!
Dani Soler and Georgina Pujol

1. Prosper Verboom- progressive urban designer and military engineer. A splendid example of nominative determinism.
Barceloneta Section – background image
Google Inc. 2012, Google Earth Version, (8th July, 2012) Barcelona, Spain
41°22’48.09″ N, 2°11’28.03″ E, Eye alt 1.15 km, Last viewed: 26th April, 2013

Timelapse Music
Gidon Kremer (1996) Concierto Para Quinteto, Piazzolla ‘Hommage À Piazzolla’

Kieran McInerney, May 2013.