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Marta Caldeira

Manuel Solà-Morales and Urban Pedagogy at the ETSAB

The Education of an "Architect-Urbanist"

Manuel Solà-Morales, Las Formas de Crecimiento Urbano, textbook for Urbanística I (1997 edition)

Manuel Solà-Morales, Las Formas de Crecimiento Urbano, textbook for Urbanística I (1997 edition)

As professor and founding director of the Laboratori d’Urbanisme at the ETSAB from 1969 to 2012, Manuel Solà-Morales oversaw the pivotal reform of urban pedagogy in the Barcelona school. Determined to overcome the technocratic tendency that marked Spanish architecture and planning in the final decade of Franco’s regime, Solà-Morales’ mission was to educate what he defined as the ‘architect-urbanist’ through a foundational program that unified architecture and studies of urban form as a single discipline. Under the aegis of urban morphology, the new course of Urbanística taught by LUB’s team instituted the study of the city and its history as the primary ground for every architectural and urban project.1

In 1971 Spanish architect and urbanist Manuel Solà-Morales inaugurated the class of Urbanística I, the new core course dedicated to the study of urban form at the Escuela Técnica Superior de Arquitectura de Barcelona (ETSAB). After successfully defending his tenure and founding the research unit Laboratori d’Urbanisme of Barcelona (LUB) in 1969, Solà-Morales joined Manuel Ribas Piera as the only two professors in urbanism. Solà-Morales came to the department of urbanism in a moment of imminent transition: if the ETSAB had become famous in the late 1950s for what Oriol Bohigas called the “nou realisme”, a reform of urban pedagogy was now long overdue. Together, Solà-Morales and Ribas Piera determined that the old curriculum of Urbanology, the course that previously offered urban planning in the final year as an area of specialization, needed to be substituted with a new general pedagogic approach. The two professors thus planned to reform entirely the teaching of urbanism and restructure the core curriculum of architecture: in their view urbanism needed to become a foundational course, mandatory for all architecture students initiating their studies at the ETSAB2.
The department’s directives stipulated that the new program should concentrate on the aspects of urban studies that related more directly to architectural practice, prompting the famous ETSAB motto “urbanism for architects”3. But Solà-Morales introduced a significant twist: more than shaping the urban curriculum to fit the architect’s needs, the new Urbanística course sequence was intended to shape the student into a new kind of professional, the “architect-urbanist.” The course prepared by Solà-Morales and his team at LUB4 would now introduce every new student to the study of architectural and urban form as a single, unified body of knowledge. Presenting its own critical interpretation of urban morphology, the 1971 Urbanística I class at the ETSAB thus marked the institutionalization of the discourse on architecture and the city in Iberian urban pedagogy.

Solà-Morales’ far-reaching transformation of pedagogy at the ETSAB after a formative period of studies abroad was his critical response to the state of Spanish planning. The sites of his internship and graduate studies—the Roman office of Ludovico Quaroni, and Harvard’s urban design program under Josep Lluis Sert—had exposed him to the core of urban planning debates in the early 1960s. Both notions of Urbanistica in Italy and Urban Design at Harvard stood for a discipline where architecture, planning and urbanism converged in a single practice, imbued with social values and a stronghold on reality. Upon his return to Spain, Solà-Morales witnessed instead a problematic division of tasks in contemporary planning. In his 1968 tenure lecture, he attacked the figure of the ‘planner-technician’, as “the man that knows the most appropriate means to each goal” but has no say on the “ends”.5 Built into Solà-Morales’ exposé was a pointed critique of the technocratic division of ideological and executive powers currently practiced by Spanish planning. Since the late 1950s, and still under Franco’s administration, the strategies adopted for economic development known as ‘desarrollismo’ had drastically transformed the country’s demographic landscape. Under these policies, the Francoist state was responsible for both an aggressive urban policy for economic development and the management of public infrastructures.6 “What happened as a result,” historian Javier Tusell observed, “was that the Spanish population became urbanized”.7  
And yet, by the late 1960s the reality of most Spanish urban centers reflected very little of the initial planning ambitions. In spite of the increasing demographic pressure in urban areas, none of the new territorial and metropolitan plans had been implemented. For Spanish sociologist Jordi Borja, this failure of ‘desarrollismo’ was a consequence of the administration’s technocratic model: the well-intended but flawed metropolitan planning—which, according to Solà-Morales, completely lacked methodology8—favored in the end partial interventions that transformed the urban territory into an ensemble of conflictive private interests.9 Solà-Morales’ ‘planner-technician’, then, in his technical excellence and abstained judgment, was the professional characterization of the political apathy marking ‘desarrollismo’s technocracy. For Solà-Morales, this state of affairs required a fundamental ideological reprograming of urban practices: the reeducation of the Spanish architect and planner as the ‘architect-urbanist’ based on the program of urban morphology taught at the ETSAB.

The initial pedagogic and research model that Solà-Morales implemented in Urbanística may be traced back to the critical translation of a teaching model in urban studies practiced at the Istituto Universitario di Architettura di Venezia (IUAV) in the 1960s. In the typology-morphology apparatus initially set up by Saverio Muratori and further developed by Carlo Aymonino and Aldo Rossi, Solà-Morales saw the desired combination of a scientific analytical method with a clear vision of architecture and the city: urban morphology soon became LUB’s conceptual platform for unifying urban pedagogy, research, and practice. In his interpretation of urban morphology, Solà-Morales revealed a particularly strong alignment with Aymonino’s work, which he knew only too well.10 In his studies of “urban phenomena”11 and of the modern city, Aymonino introduced the former as the “… constitutive processes of urban reality” that “produce certain forms,”12 arguing that these processes could be understood historically through studies of the relationship between building typology and urban morphology—between the identifiable forms of the existing urban fabric (land subdivision) and the building types that constituted them. This relationship was, for Aymonino, not permanent: in his words, “the relationship is therefore mutable and the history of such mutations is the urban history of the city”.13 
With Aymonino, Solà-Morales shared an understanding of urban form where the spatial organization of production coincided with the formal structure of the city. As a sign of economic and social order, then, the formal structure of a city in its totality registered relations of production, cycles of distribution and consumption, as well as the social hierarchies of an urban society in a given historical frame. Yet, they both believed that the city itself also participated actively in these processes: the idea of urban structure reflected and at the same time gave order to urban relations. Aymonino and Solà-Morales believed that, through urban studies, not only they could reveal the structural forces inscribed in urban forms but they would also be able to manipulate the urban structure itself—at least to a certain degree. Ultimately, they were certain, the urban planner could intentionally interfere with the historically given “nature” of the city: urban morphology now gave the architect-urbanist the professional tool that allowed a total approach to the city and its urban structure.

While Solà-Morales built upon IUAV’s approach to urban theory, he also became soon aware of its limits. Las Formas de Crecimiento Urbano (The Forms of Urban Growth), the course book for the new program of Urbanística that formalized his pedagogic approach, already marked clearly Solà-Morales’ distinct vision of urban morphology based on his critique of the Italian methodology. Initially compiled in 1971, the course book presented an urban theory based on “the study of urban growth, understood as social process and analyzed within the field of intervention that is specific to the architect.”14 The title’s emphasis on “growth” made evident Solà-Morales’ intention to focus the study of urban form on the dynamic processes of city production. The result was a program that oscillated between the analysis of forms of growth and the study of social and structural causes behind that growth, and extending through a broad range of urban scales. The “urban fact” was for Solà-Morales as much the street as the whole city, or even the surrounding metropolitan territory. 
More importantly, the typological-morphological method, he pondered, was not enough for “a more complete structural explanation of urban form—in its parts and as a whole, in the projects and in history, in its brilliant moments and in its ordinary zones, in its results but also in its processes…”15 Solà-Morales thus added a third term—infrastructure—composing what was to become LUB and the course’s go-to formula for urban studies: “The relationship morphology-infrastructure-typology as effect of the processes of land parceling-urbanization-edification [P-U-E]”16. If urban morphology explicated land parceling and building typology accounted for edification, then infrastructure construed the vital networks of circulation and services as the urban unifier that supported the spatiality of production and the social body. 
It was precisely this new conceptual key that Solà-Morales attempted to put forth with his formula, which he called the “conceptual decomposition of form”: a key intended to allow the seamless movement between urban analysis and project, between history and the present, while keeping the historical specificity of each instance. For Solà-Morales, each of the three processes [P-U-E] contained the intersection of a set of variables pertaining the city, including internal disciplinary logic, historical socio-economic context and aesthetic form. When brought together, the combination of these three processes generated a broad range of urban conditions that guaranteed the historical specificity of each city form, while the method itself still ensured the possibility of comparison. In order to demonstrate this point clearly, Solà-Morales drafted LUB’s iconic taxonomy of forms of urban growth with a series of case-studies—including polígono; ensanche; garden-city; suburban growth; informal urbanization; shantytown—where each was classified according to their specific combination of the three urban processes.17
Solà-Morales termed this classification method “structural typologies of urban growth”: structural typologies, he argued, stood in contrast to other forms of urban typification, which he broadly construed as “descriptive typologies of urban growth”. In his effort to set clearly the distinction between his own interpretation of urban morphology and the ones presented by the Italian sources, Solà-Morales thus relied on the categorical distinction between “descriptive” and “structural” typologies of urban form. The choice itself of the term “descriptive” denoted passiveness, a disconnection from practice that he was determined to overcome. Rather than simply understanding the processes behind city forms of the past, the study of “structural” typologies could now provide a key for identifying the complex intersection of forces in present urban problems and potentially reveal courses for planning action. Solà-Morales’ structural taxonomy was therefore geared to reinforce the role of the architect-urbanist as an active player in city production. 
The requirements for Urbanística I become evidence of the program’s ambition to integrate analysis and practice. Following initial exercises based on the historical analysis of the construction of an existing street and the development of urban residential growth, the final exam presented the students with a concrete urban site and its history—a history that stressed the original “conflict between different forms of growth”,18 as well as the subsequent contradictions introduced by planning remediations that, according to Solà-Morales, inevitably lead to “obsolescence and degradation” of the existing fabric. The students were then asked to develop a land-parceling proposal reimagining the site’s urban growth as a predominantly residential area. Solà-Morales’ presentation of the site through its history reflected again his intent to institute, in the school culture, an imperative approach to every project through historical analysis: his insistence on a history made of conflicts and contradictions between forms of urban growth, in turn, underlined a history that was not to be seen as a potential source of solutions, but rather as means for understanding the structural processes behind existing urban problems. With this materialist approach to the site’s history, Solà-Morales ensured that the students would develop their urban projects based not on a simple continuity or transformation of the city fabric, but on the critical interpretation of and response to the historical, structural processes shaping urban form. 
As a pedagogic method, the theory of “structural typologies” reveals Solà-Morales’ intent to infuse social and structural meaning into the technical urban operations as, perhaps, a form of historical consciousness: trained to conceive the production of urban form as an intricate junction of “structural causes” and planning strategies, a junction which is specific to each historical moment, the future architect-urbanists formed in his course would hopefully be aware of their own historical condition in professional practice. The awareness of historical change, keystone to Solà-Morales’ thought and built into Urbanística, may have been precisely—and paradoxically—the guarantee of the program’s continuity: its pedagogic script remained operative for nearly three decades, integrating LUB’s new research, projects and writings along the way, and eventually developing into the strategic urban planning that shaped Iberian urban thought and marked Barcelona’s development in particular as Spain transitioned into, and consolidated, a newly democratic political system.  

1 This article is part of my doctoral dissertation, which has been supported by a Buell Center Oral History Prize at Columbia University and a scholarship by Fundação para a Ciência e Tecnologia (Portugal). Here I would like to express my gratitude to LUB members Maria Rubert, Josep Parcerisa and Carles Crosas, for their guidance at LUB’s archives and the insightful conversations on its history. I am also deeply thankful to Manuel de Solà-Morales, whom I had the opportunity to interview and discuss the early stages of my research on his approach to urban theory, practice and pedagogy. 
2 The meeting for the reform of urban studies at the ETSAB also included two students, Eduardo Leira and Antonio Font. Both Leira and Font soon joined Solà-Morales at LUB and eventually became faculty in the urbanism department at the school. For more details on the general reform of the curriculum of urbanism at the ETSAB, see Manuel Ribas y Piera, “El viraje al paisagismo. Historia de una docencia”, in Ciudades (Valladolid, 1995); and also Manuel Ribas Piera, in Homenatge a Manuel de Solà-Morales (Barcelona: Dur, 2012).
3 It is important to acknowledge here Victoriano Saenz Gutierrez’s extensive account of the general transformation of urban thought, practices and pedagogy in Spain in El Proyecto Urbano en España. Genesis y Desarrollo de un Urbanismo de los Arquitectos (Seville: Universidad de Sevilla, 2006).
4 At the time, Solà-Morales’ team at LUB included Joan Busquets, Antonio Font, Miquel Domingo and José Luis Gómez Ordóñez, all who will become professors of urbanism at the ETSAB, researchers and renowned urban practitioners in their own right. 
5 Translated from original in Spanish: “Los fines los proponen los políticos…; el planeador es el técnico de los instrumentos, el hombre que conoce los medios mas adecuados a cada propósito.” Manuel de Solà-Morales, Algunas Consideraciones sobre Metodologia Urbanistica (Barcelona: Departamento de Urbanistica/ETSAB, 1969).
6 Jordi Borja, “Elementos teoricos para la analise de los movimientos reivendicativos urbanos”, Cuadernos de Arquitectura (Barcelona, 1973).
7 Javier Tusell, Spain: From Dictatorship to Democracy, 1939 to the present (Malden, MA, and Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 2007).
8 Manuel Solà-Morales, “La metodologia del Plan Director”, Cuadernos de arquitectura y urbanismo, n.87 (Barcelona, 1972).
9 Jordi Borja assessed Spanish metropolitan planning in the lecture “I movimenti urbani in Spagna” delivered in Italy, France and Toronto in 1974. The lecture was later published as “I movimenti urbani in Spagna”, Le contraddizioni dello sviluppo urbano (Naples, Italy: Liguori Editore, 1975).
10 Aymonino’s work constituted an important methodological precedent for LUB’s urban studies, and Solà-Morales was responsible for the Castilian translation and publication of several of his texts in the years 1969-71. For instance, Aymonino’s essay “Il significato delle città”, originally published in IUAV year books in 1965, was first translated in Castilian by L.U.B.’s publications in El significado de las ciudades (Barcelona: ETSAB – LUB, 1969-70). In 1971, in his new role as director of the urban series at Gustavo Gili, Solà-Morales published the Castilian translation of Aymonino’s book Origini e sviluppo della città moderna (Padova: Marsilio, 1965) as Orígenes e desarrollo de la ciudad moderna (Barcelona: Gustavo Gili, 1971).
11 Carlo Aymonino, “Lo studio dei fenomeni urbani”, La città di Padova (Rome: Officina Edizioni, 1970); later published as an individual publication, Lo studio dei fenomeni urbani (Rome: Officina Edizioni, 1977).
12 Translated from original in Italian: “Nello studio dei fenomeni urbani l’analisi è tesa non tanto a prefigurare un futuro da organizzare secondo le premesse fornite dalle tendenze in atto, quanto a capire una serie di processi costitutivi della realtà urbana, intendendo questa come un insieme di fatti edilizi di volta in volta permanenti o mutevoli. E a capire perché tali processi, anche parziali, hanno prodotto determinate forme (di rappresentazione o di combinazione), constatabili e rilevabili nei loro significati generali o particolari.” Aymonino, ibid, 18-19.
13 Translated from original in Italian: “il rapporto quindi è mutevole e la storia di tali mutamenti è la storia urbana della città.” Aymonino, ibid, 60.
14 Translated from original in Spanish: “Este curso se orienta hacia el estudio del crecimiento urbano, entendido como proceso social y analizado en el campo de intervención especifica del arquitecto.” M. Solà-Morales, “Orientación del Curso” (1971), reprinted in Las Formas de Crecimiento Urbano (Barcelona: Edicions UPC, 1997), 11.
15 Translated from original in Spanish: “Pero si en los trabajos de Rossi y de Aymonino […] estas dos categorías parecían suficientes para analizar la arquitectura de las ciudades, me parece, todavía hoy, que una explicación estructural mas completa de la forma urbana—en sus partes y en conjunto, en los proyectos y en la historia, en sus momentos brillantes y en sus zonas vulgares, en sus resultados pero también en sus procesos—necesita reconocer la importancia de las formas infraestructurales…”. Manuel Solà-Morales, “Introducción” (1991), ibid, 15.
16 Translated from original in Spanish: “La relación morfología-infraestructura-tipología como efecto de los procesos de parcelación-urbanización-edificación…” M. Solà-Morales, ibid, 76.
17 For the original taxonomy integrated in the course book, see “Las tipologías estructurales del crecimiento urbano”, M. Solà-Morales, ibid, 78; the taxonomy was subsequently reworked graphically, with visual thumbnails added, and published with Solà-Morales’ article “Spazio, tempo e città” in Lotus International, 51 (Milan: 1986).
18 Translated from original in Spanish: “La zona señalada en el plano […] presentaba hacia 1945 un claro conflicto entre diferentes formas de crecimiento:…” M. Solà-Morales, ibid, 82.

Marta Caldeira is an architect, historian, and lecturer at Yale School of Architecture. Her academic research investigates modern discourses of architecture and the city, with a particular focus on historical contexts of political transition. Before teaching at Yale, Ms. Caldeira worked for Peter Eisenman in New York, for Gonçalo Byrne in Lisbon, and taught at Columbia University. Her writings have appeared in EAHN Newsletter, Log, Jornal dos Arquitectos, Il Progetto and Metamorfosi, as well as recent anthologies on modern and contemporary architecture. Ms. Caldeira received a professional diploma in architecture from Lisbon Technical University and an M.S.A.A.D. from Columbia University, where she is currently a Ph.D. candidate in architecture.