Previous stateSant Miquel is a working-class neighbourhood in the east of Olot near a road leading to the city of Girona. Over the last two decades its now inoperative factories have gradually been replaced by new housing blocks to accommodate the large numbers of immigrants who are arriving from many parts of the world. The neighbourhood’s human landscape is one of the most diverse in Olot. Owing to the small dimensions of the housing and their cultural habits many of the newcomers make intensive use of the neighbourhood’s public space for leisure activities and social interaction.
The public space that is most used for these purposes is the Plaça de Sant Miquel, which was created in the 1980s and given the name of the neighbourhood. It is square in shape, measuring sixty by sixty metres and consists of two horizontal platforms at different levels. The heterogeneity of the surrounding buildings, typical of housing estates which shun aligned facades and the contact of party walls, meant that the square had to reassert the perimeter with its own architectural elements. These include walls, a pergola and tiered seating, all made with exposed concrete prefabricated blocks, which joints create a modular pattern that is propagated throughout the space. Until recently, the humble greyness of this material predominated despite the intensity of the everyday activity in the square and frequent traditional celebrations that were held there. This drabness, combined with the physical deterioration of the square, inadequate lighting and piled up rubbish, provided evidence adduced by residents when they complained about the council’s negligence.
Aim of the interventionIn 2015, as the result of a participative process, the Olot Council approved a Comprehensive Plan for Urban Renovation in which one of the chief goals was improving the public spaces of the Sant Miquel neighbourhood where the Plaça de Sant Miquel was an evident priority. Although the budget allocated for the work was very modest—barely twenty thousand euros—the intervention had to transform the square into a more worthy and welcoming place.
DescriptionGiven the limited budget, the most important part of the work was selective painting of the square’s architectural elements. This superficial improvement took full advantage of the modular arrangement of the concrete blocks to pictorially weave a pattern of rounded geometrical motifs using four tones of the same chromatic range. The paintwork on the vertical elements is applied in siloxane coatings while the ground is decorated with a product that is usually employed for signals on asphalt. Before the painting began, the ground was cleaned by means of pressure washing and some of the more deteriorated urban furniture elements were removed. The existent lighting was repaired and complemented, and a good part of the vegetation was replanted.
AssessmentFor a very reasonable price, the Plaça de Sant Miquel now looks more cheerful, welcoming and cared-for. The light-hearted spirit and bright colours of the paintwork not only give it the dignity it requires as a venue for concerts and traditional festivities, but they also match the patterned walls of a home, giving the place a domestic feel which enhances its capacity to embrace scenes from everyday life. In times marked by the built-in obsolescence of everything we do, when everything ages so fast, and new things seem to be more valuable than used ones, this work of urban renovation offers a valuable lesson in humility. Even if they don't come from long-gone venerable past, urban preexistences can be repaired with simple operations instead of being condemned to tabula rasa.
Translation by Julie Wark
[Last update: 18/06/2018]