March 05 2012

Madrid Rio: An Exemplar in Great Urban Public Space

Imagine taking one of the busiest highways in your city, sinking it underground, and replacing it with a dynamic urban park that caters to residents of all ages and backgrounds. Now imagine designing and building this feat of engineering in less than a decade. While most cities would find this task impossible to complete (ask the team behind Boston’s Big Dig), Madrileños would be happy to point you towards Madrid Rio, one of the greatest urban parks of the past decade and a shining example of excellence in environmental and urban design.

I was recently able to walk through nearly half of the 10 kilometer park that hugs historic Madrid along the Manzanares River. Prior to the park’s construction, the river was bordered by the M-30, one of the city’s busiest and most congested motorways, physically separating the historic center from the south and western portions of the modern city. Displeased with the current conditions, then mayor Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón held a competition to redesign the space. The winners, West 8 of Rotterdam, proposed a multi-faceted and dynamic park that would not only play off the strengths of the site and natural features, but pay tribute and homage to the city’s connections and geographical location through design and detail.

The park features an innovative design strategy involving the creation of three layers:

  1. A top layer of parkland;
  2. Followed by a layer of storage/car parking;
  3. Finally a layer dedicated to through-traffic and motorway tunnels.

The project took less than a decade to design, construct, and complete, and by 2009, phases of the Madrid Rio park began to open, with much fanfare, to the eagerly awaiting public.

By sheer numbers and size, the park is an incredible feat of engineering: over 25 kilometers of tunnels to carry hundreds of thousands of cars daily, over 8,000 pine trees in the meticulously landscaped Salón de Pinos, and a multitude of new bridges and dams to cross and control the river. The park also features plenty of playgrounds, seating, cafes, skateparks, and cultural centers (including the newly opened Matadero). One of the other incredible features is the Avenida de Portugal extension, which not only buries a radial motorway leading out of the city, but features extensive and intricate stonework hand-crafted by Portuguese stonemasons to pay tribute to the road’s significance as a historic trade route with Lisbon.

The park has received numerous accolades and international recognition, including a nomination from Conde Nast Traveller for excellence in Innovation and Design, and a recent editorial in the New York Times. The park is not only a model for modern urban public space, but a case study in civil engineering, site-specific design, and joins the ranks of other successful freeway removal projects such as South Korea’s Cheonggyecheon and San Francisco’s Embarcadero.

What do you think the Madrid Rio can teach us about freeway removal and modern urban parks?

Credits: Images and data linked to sources.

Barrett Lane

Barrett Lane is a graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania where he is pursuing a Master of City Planning with a concentration in Urban Design. He also holds a Bachelor of Science in Urban and Regional Studies from Cornell University. Prior to joining The Grid, Barrett was the Director of Creative Content at Yipit, and most recently interned with the New York City Department of City Planning. He currently lives in Philadelphia, PA.

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This entry was posted on Monday, March 5th, 2012 at 11:33 am and is filed under Environmental Design, Landscape Architecture, Urban Planning and Design. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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