The peri-urban Region of Madrid

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The peri-urban Region of Madrid, Spain by Itziar

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Name Gavia Park
Location Ensanche de Vallecas (Vallecas Expansion), Madrid
Country Spain
Topic Ecologic water recycling park
Office Architects: Toyo Ito & Associates, Gazapo, Marqueríe.

Landscape planners: Luis Tejero, Mikiko Isiwaka.

Client Municipal Company of Housing and Land, Madrid
Completion Date not known yet. (Supossed period of 12 months since 2007)
Project costs 2.421.171,83 €
Case study author(s) Itziar S. L.
Gavia 5.jpg
<googlemap version="0.9" lat="40.416633" lon="-3.703766" type="satellite" zoom="11" width="300" height="250">


Rationale: Why is this case study interesting?

  • Please summarise:- e.g. Design Innovation? Planning Exemplar? Theoretical Insights? Lessons learned from its failure? [It doesn’t have to have been successful]

The Region of Madrid is interesting because of his variety of hints in the landscape, which is very rich, and urban area. The demographic and periographic difference between the urban city and the rural surroundings is very striking, so there is a need to soften this contrast, to urbanize the rural and ruralize the urban.

  • Think about it from the view of another educator/student in a different country. Why should I use this case study in my teaching/education?

Madrid is also an example to show the need of urban and landscape planning. A few systems don't work properly and have to be improved, so many plannings are going to be realized in this area. Furthermore, the environmenal impact is also an issue that has to be cared about in Madrid and its surroundings. Getting to know the case of Madrid, educators and students will be able to concern about this.

Author's perspective

  • What theoretical or professional perspective do you bring to the case study? Please answer from your personal perspective.

I am studying architecture in Madrid, and have been living there my whole life, so i am closer to this case than to any other. Also, I am really interested in it because it is my living environment.

Landscape and/or urban context

  • Biogeography, cultural features, overall character, history and dynamics

The Community of Madrid is located at the center of the country, the Iberian peninsula, and the Central Plain. The province of Madrid contains the capital of Spain.


Province of Madrid occupies a surface area of approximately 8,028 km². More specifically, the exact position of Madrid is 3° 40´ of longitude west of Greenwich, England, and 40° 23´ north of the equator. Practically all of the Province is located between 600 and 1,000 m above sea level, with the highest point being Peñalara at 2,430 m and the lowest Alberche river in Villa del Prado at 430 m. Despite the existence of a large city of 5 million people, the Community of Madrid still retains some remarkably unspoiled and diverse habitats and landscapes. When looking at a map of the Province of Madrid, it can be seen that it is almost an equilateral triangle, in whose center would be the city. It seems that Madrid's geographic limits turn out to be those of nature: on the western side the "Sistema Central" (the Guadarrama mountain range), the south represents the desire to include (the Royal Site of) Aranjuez, and finally the eastern edge of the triangle comes from the rupture of the fluvial river basins. Madrid is home to mountain peaks rising above 2,000m, holm oak dehesas and low lying plains. The slopes of Guadarrama mountain range are cloaked in dense forests of Scots Pine and Pyrenean oak. The Lozoya Valley supports a large black (monk) vulture colony, and one of the last bastions of the Spanish Imperial Eagle in the world is found in the Park Regional del Suroeste in dehesa hills between the Gredos and Guadarrama ranges. The recent possible detection of the existence of Iberian lynx in the area between the Cofio and Alberche rivers is testament to the biodiversity of the area.


The region of Madrid has a temperate Continental Mediterranean climate with cold winters with temperatures sometimes dropping below 0 °C . There are about two to three light snowfalls each year. Summer tends to be hot with temperatures that consistently surpass 30 ° - 40º C. Due to Madrid's high altitude and dry climate, nightly temperatures tend to be cooler, leading to a lower average in the summer months. Average Precipitation levels are below 500 mm, evenly distributed throughout the year, with peaks in autumn and spring Water supply: Madrid derives almost 50 percent of its water supply from dams and reservoirs built on the Lozoya River.

Climate in madrid0.jpg


It has an estimated population of 6.2 million (2008) mostly concentrated at the metropolitan area of Madrid. Population density is 779.36 hab/km²,much higher than the national average of 91.3 hab/km². Population density varies with the community itself; the municipality of Madrid has a density of 5,160.57 hab/km², whereas the Sierra Norte has a population density of less than 9.9 hab/km². The great majority of the population lives in the capital and its metropolitan area. Its inhabitants are mainly concentrated in the capital (also highest resident population) and in a series of municipalitiesas opposed to in rural areas with low population density. Its citizens have diverse origins, and Madrid is the province with the highest number of residents born outside its territory and with the largest foreign population (13.32%). It is a focus of attraction for those migrating for reasons of employment. Population growth in Madrid is mainly due to the arrival of foreigners

Demographic density of madrid.jpg


The territory of the Community of Madrid has been populated since the Lower Paleolithic, mainly in the valleys between the rivers of Manzanares, Jarama, and Henares, where several archaeological findings have been made. During the Roman Empire, the region was part of the Citerior Tarraconese province. It was crossed by two important Roman roads, the via xxiv-xxix and via xxvand and contained some important conurbations. During the period of the Visigothic Kingdom, the region lost its importance. The population was scattered amongst several small towns. The center of the peninsula was one of the least-populated regions of the Al-Andalus until the 11th century when it became important and a strategic military post. The Muslim governors created a defensive system of fortresses and towers all across the region with which they tried to stop the advance of the Christian Kingdoms of the north. The fortress of Mayrit (Madrid) was built somewhere between 860 and 880 AD. In 1083, king Alfonso VI of Castile conquered the city of Madrid. A long process of Christian repopulation took place over the course of four centuries. In 1561, King Phillip II made Madrid the capital of the empire. The surrounding territories became economically subordinated to the town itself. But it was not a unified region. During the eighteenth century, the town of Madrid was transformed through several grandiose buildings and monuments as well as through the creation of many social, economical, and cultural institutions. In the 20th century finally was the creation of the autonomous Community of Madrid.

Historic madrid.jpg

Illustration: Map; sketches; short descriptive analyses

Cultural/social/political context

  • Brief explanation of culture, political economy, legal framework


The income per capita in Spain is €31,110 in 2008, significantly above the national average. The strengths of the economy of the community are its low unemployment rate, its high investment in research, its relatively high development, and the added-value services. Its weaknesses include the low penetration of broadband and new technologies of information and an unequal male to female occupation. The service, construction, and industry sectors are prominent in Madrid’s commercial productive structure. Madrid’s active businesses consists of trade, construction, wholesale trade, hospitality, property activities, land transport, and pipeline transport, also publishing and graphic arts, manufacture of metal products, manufacture of furniture and other manufacturing industries, wearing apparel and fur industry, and food product industry. Transport includes air, rail and metro. There is an important educational issue, due to the number of universities.

Illustration: Bullet points, image, background notes


  • How did the area/project/plan at the focus of the case study evolve?


The city council of Madrid proposed in 2003 an expansion of Madrid in the South, in the district of Vallecas, in order to add a green point to the periphery of Madrid. Toyo Ito, with the collaboration with Dario Gazapo, won the competition.

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Illustration: Table or time line

Spatial analysis of area/project/plan

  • What are the main structural features?

The project occupies 394.000 square metres of green area, forming an “ecological corridor”. The central issue is the water. The main idea was to create a landscape of artificial lakes and water flows fed with recycled water of the Gavia River.

Gavia google c.jpg

  • How has it been shaped? Were there any critical decisions?

techniques. The project is a nerves-shaped water and vegetation system, which shape and method is inspired in those of the trees. The topography is based on a sequence of linked hills The water areas occupy one third of the whole extension. It presents a variety of vegetal atmospheres, with different treatments of the vegetation depending on its relation and distance to the water flow, as well as on the valley orientation (sun or shadow). The users will find a forest of a number of 2000 trees, wetlands, orchards, gardens, meadows..

The park is divided into 6 thematic areas. In the first one, “Watertree”, an experimental recycling system is built. The closed cycle goes from the Gavia Reservoir through the Watertree, and looses water just through evaporation. The second area is the Viewpoint Hill, the main access with views over the whole park. Also a tower rises drom the entrance, next to a museum with a worshop and a garden, which explains the water system. The third area, the Cherry Valley contains the Gavia Reservoir, built following Japanese “Suhama” techniques: formation of beaches and shores with stones. Also, there are the Lime Tree, the Pine and the Holm oak Tree Hill, tree tree types totally compatible with Madrid’s climate and terrain. The limitation of the park also inspired in the Japanese Ha-Ha, presenting a vegetal bushes barrier instead of a fence.

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Illustration: Map/diagram/sketches photos and background notes

Analysis of program/function

  • What are the main functional characteristics?

The problem that the project is based on, is that the Gavia River is completely polluted. Toyo Ito designed a autonomic system of structures with a natural anaerobic treatment method, so that the water cleans and purifies itself while it flows, without machinery. The technique that Ito uses is the “Water Tree”, the water of the Gavia River, is 80% recycled and used for this park, equipping this green zone with a system of canals, lakes. In this way, all the green areas, even those with more need, would be irrigated enough. Microclimates are formed because of these water layers.

Gavia vista aerea 1.jpg

  • How have they been expressed or incorporated?

The water of the sewage treatment plant of the Gavia is pumped to the first high level of a complex of plains and terraces. From there the water flows along canals, lockgates, gravel and sand heaps, down to the valley, where it is gathered in deposits. This wather is completely purified, and is used for the vegetation in lower terraces, flowing through the wetlands until the Gavia river. In this way the river, which is previously polluted and with a weak bed, gets recycled and restored.

Gavia canal.jpg

Illustration: Map/diagram/sketches photos and background notes

Analysis of design/planning process

  • How was the area/project/plan formulated and implemented?

I don't have any information about the formulation

  • Were there any important consultations/collaborations?

Toyo Ito, the southcorean-japanese architect was the leader of a collaboration with a spanish architectue office under Dario Gazapo.

Illustration: Map/diagram/sketches photos and background notes

Analysis of use/users

  • How is the area/project/plan used and by whom?

The project was thought to reinforce the district of Vallecas, adding a new peri-urban nucleum that will be habited estimatedly by 80 000 persons. The project will provide the habitants of the periphery with a huge green point. Also it attracts people from the city, from the urban area, to use also these green areas.

Gavia vista 3.jpg

  • Is the use changing? Are there any issues?

There are many leisure spots and activities possibilities (like canoeing, ..), as well as workshop centres, and a Water and an Energy Museum, an observatory, and a “Relaxing house”. The Gavia Park is also well equipped to serve as sport center for the project "Olympic Games Madrid 2016".

Gavia vista 5.jpg

Illustration: Map/diagram/sketches photos and background notes

Cross-cutting questions

How may landscape architecture contribute to the integration of different user groups in the urban fringe?

  • Integration in an urban area

The landscape project in the Vallecas Expansion of Madrid, proposes a new meeting point for the habitants of the district, of the South periphery of Madrid, and further, to the totality of Madrids community, because this project means a new and modern concept of green point for the whole Region of Madrid, offering a lot of activities for a wide range of age and interests. So children as well as joung people, adults and old persons, can share the same activities, in the same spatial area: leisure activities, sports, workshops, museums, observatories and viewpoints, relaxing houses,… These educational activities reinforce the human relationships as well as the strengthen their knowledge, while the users gain experience

  • Quality of life in rur-urban areas

The rur-urban areas take the advantage of having been built more conscientiously, considering the quality of life of the new habitants of these new areas. They have a wider and better use of the space, due to the lower density of habitants. The people in the rur-urban areas can enjoy more the public space. The further you live from the pollution and stress nucleum, the better life you have. Also the lower price of the housing leads to a better quality of life. The only problem that has to be dealt with, is to secure the good connections between Rur-urban areas, and between rur-urban areas and urban center.

  • Flexibility of life styles

The design of a lansdcape plan like this park has to respond to the preferences of different ethnic and socio-economic groups, so that it i flexible to all kind of users. Therefore, the landscape architect has to interprete their preferences and adjust them to the public designed space.

How can the transformation process be connected with the landscape sub-typologies?

  • where does rural start?

Rural starts since the human needed the rural environment to survive.

  • Rur-urban

Rural and urban are unavoidedly connected. The rural areas need the urban, and viceversa, the urban areas, though in a lower level, depend on the rural.

  • Dynamics flows between urban and peri-urban areas

Since the industrial revolutions the cities have suffered important transformations referring to the urban-rural relation. However, Madrid, as any other Spanish city needed more time for this change to occur. It was in the '50, with the industrialization, when the territorial distribution was altered with the movemet from the rural to the urban. Agricultural communities became urban in a span of just one generation. Consequences of this evacuation to the city center was the demographic emptiness of the countryside. The migrations from rural to urban occur mostly because of economic and work reasons, as well as because of the fact, that nowadays, some cities offer a wider range of leisure, cultural, .. opportunities.

Anyway, the rural areas also offer quality of life, originating also migrations from the city to the urban. Though this migrations are mostly temporary, due to the search for leisure , repose, ecologic reasons,...

The lanscape architect has the tarjet, to develop and enhance also the peri-urban areas, to avoid the overpopulation in the center, and distribute the flows all overurban city, peri-urban areas and rural areas.

  • Monitoring land-use change

The lanscape architect has to study and interprete each place, to make it a sustainable green project. For it, he has to identify the space, the geography, the land-uses, the demography, the users, the users' preferences, the interaction between people and nature, the culture, the history, the economy, the political and social context, the dynamics, the expected changes.

How may landscape planning contribute to quality improvement?

  • Aesthetic quality

Well done landscaping transmits the nature to the viewer. It softens the image of it. You could spend hours observing and enjoying the open air and the nature. The project has to capture the presence, quantity and visual properties of the landscape forms. The viewer could analyse and measure the aesthetic values in terms of the expressiveness, the visual diversity, visual integrity, and intrinsic aesthetic quality, as well as the effect of the viewshed and the relative uniqueness of the landscape, the landscape significance,... Also the design and implementation issues should be encountered.

  • Environmental quality

Ethical responsability of the environment requires that society monitor and assess environmental changes at the lanscape scale with a view toward the conservation and wise management of our natural resources. Therefore the landscape planner needs remote imagery, geographic information systems, and ecology principles to focus on biotic integrity and diversity, watershed integrity, and landscape stability. There is always a further task, to care about the landscape resilience, that means the rate at which vegetation on the landscaoe recovers after a disturbance. The project in Madrid, as explained before, is a well-done project tha presents a ecologic method with impact zero on the environment.

  • Social quality

The project also has a high social quality, as it has an important public interest role in the cultural, ecological, environmental, short - in social fields, and constitutes a resource favourable to economic and social activity. Furthermore it's planning, protection, management can contribute to job creation. The landscape planning contributes to the formation of local cultures and ways of society leading to human well-being and consolidation, as Madrid offers plenty of open air activities.

Can the maintenance and development of agricultural land-use in urban fringes be a strategy of a greenbelt?

  • Agriculture in the urban fringe

As agriculture means production, it supplies the urban fringe in an industrial, economic, social and ecologic way.

  • Agriculture as a green infrastructure element

In the case of Madrid, the agricultural land-use is not yet employed as a green belt strategy. There is need to reinforce the agricultural uses in the rural areas of Madrid, in order to capitalize and utilize the whole opportunities of it.

  • Green infrastructure

Green infrastructure is the interconnected network of open spaces and natural areas, such as greenways, wetlands, parks, forest preserves and native plant vegetation. It should have the task to avoid risks and improve the quality. Green infrastructure usually costs less to install and maintain when compared to traditional forms of infrastructure.

  • Creating green links for wholeness

Green infrastructure projects also foster community cohesiveness by engaging all residents in the planning, planting and maintenance of the sites.

  • Greenbelt, agriculture as a part of it

The agriculture as itself could be considered as a greenbelt strategy, as it presents plenty of opportunities to improve the environmental, the social and the aesthetic quality.

Future development directions

  • How is the area/project/plan evolving?

The development of the project is very slow due to administration problems between the entities responsible for the construccion.

  • Are there any future goals?

However, the project has a good reputation, as it presents a project with aesthetic, environmental and social quality. It is expected to promote the use of this park in the peryphery of Madrid, in order to create a new reference point for the Community of Madrid.

Illustration: Map/diagram/sketches photos and background notes

Peer reviews or critique

  • Has the area/ project/plan been reviewed by academic or professional reviewers?

The project is designed by the well-known architect Toyo Ito, with the collaboration of Dario Gazapo, and landscape planners. The project was promoted by the City Council of Madrid.

  • What were their main evaluations?

Words of the mayor of Madrid, Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón, as he attended the construction site at the beginning of the works, announced that the landscape project of the Gavia "is not an utopia, but a close reality".

Pleas add references, quotes...

Points of success and limitations

  • What do you see as the main points of success and limitations of the area/project/plan?


- Recycling system of the contaminated water

- Aesthetic value of the creation of hills and viewpoints

- Vegetation diversity

- Meeting point for all kind of users and all kind of activities


- Complexity of the design and systems has caused complications and a serious delay in the realization of the works.

Illustration: Summary table

What can be generalized from this case study?

  • Are there any important theoretical insights?

The project of the Gavia Park, included in the Expansion of Vallecas, in Madrid, is an authentic bioclimatic boulevard, with plenty environmetal technologies. The most efficient ones are the 10 m high artificial trees (mettalic structures with vegetal covers) feature a bioclimate system. When outside it's warmer than 27 ºC, a system of vaporised water or wind lowers the temperature to 12ºC. This trees are also spaces that offer different activities for the users.

Short statement plus background notes

Which research questions does it generate?

The project generates the creative impulse to design more ecologic systems, that could be inserted further into the park, as the climate trees, the recycling river, ..

Short statement plus background notes


Please add literature, documentations and weblinks

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