The Peculiar Architecture And Design of Eixample, Barcelona

Jul 6, 2013 10 comments

Eixample is a district of the Spanish city of Barcelona, that lies between the old city and the surrounding small towns. The district was built as an extension (hence the name “Eixample”) when Barcelona started to grow during the middle of the 19th century. The 7.5 square km district is characterized by long straight streets, a strict grid pattern crossed by wide avenues, and octagonal city blocks - rectangular blocks with the corners cut off, which are distinctive for Barcelona. This was the visionary, pioneering design by Spanish urban planner Ildefons Cerdà, who considered traffic and transport along with sunlight and ventilation in coming up with his characteristic octagonal blocks.


Cerdà’s central aim was to overcome social problems by using quadrangular blocks of a standard size, with strict building controls to ensure that they were built up on only two sides, to a limited height, leaving a shady square or garden in between. This recreational open space with open sides to the blocks was to guarantee the houses the maximum amount of sun, light and ventilation. The angled corners allowed the streets to broaden at every intersection making for greater visibility, and fluid traffic in all directions. Cerdà had steam trams in mind, and it was its long turning radius which determined the angle of the corners of the buildings. Trams were never installed, and the city planners unfortunately ignored many of his other provisions.

Cerda wanted housing blocks to be orientated NW-SE to ensure all apartments received sunshine during the day. Each district would be of twenty blocks, containing all the community shops and services, and each block were to have at least 800 square meters of gardens. Cerda’s idealized use of urban space was scarcely achieved. The blocks went up to much more than the planned heights, and in practice all the blocks have been enclosed, with very few inner gardens surviving. Most of the inner courtyards today are occupied by car parks, workshops and shopping centers. The streets were narrower - only one of the two diagonal avenues was carried out - the inhabitants were of a higher class than the mixed composition dreamed of by Cerdà. The grid pattern with its distinctive octagonal blocks, however, remains as a hallmark of Barcelona’s Eixample.

Over the past few years the city has begun trying to implement Cerdà's idea for green public spaces behind the buildings. When a block is vacated because of the relocation of a business, the city takes up the block and redesigns it with parks and open spaces. The ultimate goal is to create one patio-garden for every nine blocks, but its unlikely that so many will become available in the near future.







All photos above by Gelio


Satellite picture of Eixample


Street level picture of an octagonal block. Photo credit


Photo credit


Interior of a block. Photo credit

Sources: Wikipedia, Geographyfieldwork,


  1. Amazing. But Barcelona itself is just an amazing city

  2. Great architecture urban planning - very nice image

  3. Very nice photos!

    The octogonal blocks are a blessing when it comes to traffic. The garbage trucks stop right on the corner, where the bins are, but don't interfere with the traffic. To load or unload, or simply to wait for somebody, you just pull up to the empty space on the corner. It's a simple idea but soooo effective.

    Too bad though that so very few inner green patios have endured time. I've been to an apartment facing one. Much more pleasant!

  4. I really learned a lot from this fascinating post; I had no idea the corners were cut off so steam trams could come through! And I always thought the grid was aligned NW-SE in order to be parallel to the sea coast, but I guess sunshine was a better idea ;)

  5. Wow its amazing view from sky......i like the arts of builders and appreciate the architect skills who plan this city systematically. From Satellite Eixample is looking like a Chocolate square pieces. I have no words to say anything about its beauty and the ideas which involved behind the designing of this city.

  6. I hope the city can recover as much of these spaces as possible, I rather prefer these small gardens everywhere than big isolated parks. Here you can see a video compilation of some of these spaces with their adress, if you want to visit them.

  7. Those are very nice facts and pics

  8. Can someone explain why there are so many modern post-war buildings, some right in-between beautiful turn of the last century buildings?


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