The gaze is a tool that the architect uses constantly but does not fully value. It is an instrument that, in addition to allowing us to know and recognize our reality and the phenomena that arise from it, can work as a method of analysis. "Entrearcos (Between-arches): architecture of connection" is a research project developed by the architect Daniela Silva Landeros that studies, in the specific case of the Ciutat Vella neighbourhood of the city of Barcelona, the issue of arches in our cities. And Silva Landeros does so from alternative points of view that call into question the way we are used to looking.
The following paragraphs are an extract of a chapter of the master's thesis made from this research. The architect is in charge - through the study of a dozen particular cases of arches taken from the collection that was first made - of creating new terminology adaptable to her reflections and of turning our points of view upside down.
The Arches of Ciutat Vella
Aldo Rossi in «the architecture of the city» indicates his understanding from two points of view, the first from its large scale as a complex structure, and the second from a smaller scale, configured by different urban events. Through this term, it defines by those pieces that constitute the city and that project its urban form. Each urban event possesses a unique quality and nature; they are a sum of experiences reflected in an architecture that is valued for its historical role, memory and its own morphology.
Barcelona, like many cities, is a container of different urban events, which keep in themselves different stories linked to their context and, therefore, to their own architecture. When walking through the streets of the historic old town, it is not surprising that certain architectural components jump out at us, grabbing our attention. One of them being the arch, which forms part of the city's image and that appears so conspicuously in some places - be it in the Plaza Real or in the Arc de Triomphe -, and goes so unnoticed in others.
With the motivation of identifying and studying them, Daniela Silva Landeros develops her research work through the making of a collection of 57 arches in the Ciutat Vella district. These, being understood as urban events, are distinguished and organised according to their common relationships around their local and temporal situation and a total of 12 cases are selected as specific objects of study.
The interstices that arise between the buildings of the contemporary city and that are connected by arches are the reflection of a process of urban growth in the old town of the city of Barcelona. These arches open alternative paths through the interior of the blocks and perfectly fulfil the function of connecting different urban spaces. The relationship of places linked by another, for Francis D.K. Ching "is the conformation of a third place, which acts as an intermediate and can differ both in form and in orientation with respect to the spaces that it links". In the cases studied in Ciutat Vella, this third place is delimited by arches that mark the beginning and the end of a route and for this reason, these transitional spaces will be called "between arches". This own definition, alludes its conception to the word "intermission", which commonly refers to the interruption between parts of a play. Derived from "between the acts", it happens like the pause of a play that allows the actors to rest from an extensive presentation, where other acts independent of the work take place. This term considers the "between" as a prefix of situation, position and intermediate degree, and the "act" as the noun that designates and identifies what happens in between. Based on the intermediate situation, the idea of a pause and the act of happening between two or more situations in the city, the phrase "between arches" is defined, with the word arch being the starting point for what happens in between.
The roofs to the streets!
An anomaly that stands out from the "between arches" spaces, is the component of the ceiling that makes us doubt if we are in a street, a passage or inside a building. Such peculiarity brings up certain notions about what we understand by ceiling. In the article «And the roof?» by Xavier Monteys, it is briefly explained that the roof appears when a roof already exists. Both play a different role when it comes to spatiality. On the one hand, the roof is the one that protects from meteorological phenomena and is easily distinguished by being a constructive element, in contact with the outside. In houses with sloping roofs, their form and shape can be seen from the outside, which also suggests the morphology of a building. On the other hand, the roof is delimited by the inner layer of the building, according to Monteys «the roof, on the other hand, defines and limits the space and clearly belongs to the interior space, and, we could even dare say, to the house».
With the ceiling being defined as the surface that closes a room at the top, a next step could be to reflect on how it has been related to the domestic space of the house. Gio Ponti wrote in «Amate l'architettura» that «the ceiling is the cover of the room: it is its sky. It is very dark, intense, and decorated; because it covers, closes and when it is decorated, it is also a page to be read and re-read, fantasising, telling and re-telling its elements».
In other words, if the ceiling can be assigned a value, it is to be a surface for contemplation. Understanding it as the canvas of a painting, ceilings have different types of shapes, structures and materials. Depending on the combination of these components, we can face a surface that honestly exhibits its constructive structure or, on the contrary, a plane decorated on top of that reality. The design of a ceiling can be carried out on its own structure or through a new layer, the latter being known as a false ceiling. The visual manipulation of this can acquire different design styles that vary between geometries, ornaments, paintings, symmetries and compositions. Reasonably, we could consider it «Architecture of interiors», an example of this being the designs of Jules-Edmond-Charles Lachaise and Eugène-Pierre Gourdet, who stood out due to their work in designing ceilings in the second half of the 19th century. They both worked for the wealthiest families of the time, including the wife of Napoleon III. Their works stood out for the variety of styles they included, becoming clear examples of the forms and designs that a ceiling can have.
This brief reflection of what we could come to understand by ceiling leads us to question: is it a surface exclusively for the interiors of the house? Maybe there is no concrete answer, but it can be considered a component associated with the intimate space of the home. Indeed, the "between arches" spaces are an example that this quality, of an internal space, is represented in an unusual way outside, above public circulation. Their presence in public spaces leads us to question ourselves, as Gio Ponti said: what do these masterpieces parallel to the ground we walk on have to tell us?
Using Auguste Choisy's drawings as a reference when analysing each piece. the author reveals from each section of her work, in addition to new reflections on the issue of the arches of our cities, new ways of observing the architecture of our everyday lives.
“The only true journey (...) would not consist in going to new landscapes, but in having different eyes”.
- Marcel Proust.
- Ching, Francis, and Corky Binggleli, Diseño de Interiores: Un Manual (Gustavo Gili, 2015)
- Ching, Francis D. K., Arquitectura : Forma, Espacio y Orden (Barcelona : Gustavo Gili, 2008)
- Monteys, Xavier, ‘¿Y El Techo?’, Quaderns d’arquitectura i Urbanisme, 259 (2009)
- Monteys, Xavier, ‘Ciudad Recortada’, in La Ciudad Como Colección (Barcelona, 2016)
- Ponti, Gio., Amate l’architettura (Milano: CUSL, 2004)
- Rossi, Aldo, La Arquitectura de La Ciudad (Barcelona: Gustavo Gili, 1982)