Architecture as Revival

Casiana Kennedy and Kahlil Lashley

Architecture has the power to revive significant public spaces that have become obsolete. This revitalization propelled by man-made structures has been happening for quite some time, arguably since public spaces have become a significant aspect of society. An early example is La Rambla, a public street in Barcelona that still attracts tourists today, was revived by the addition of colleges and public areas in 1553. The Port of London, which was congested with ships during the mid to late 18th century, was revived through the construction of a new dock system. Similarly, the Promenade Plantee became one of Paris’ most visited public gardens when, in 1994, the area was revived by the addition of an elevated public garden and a renovation of its old railway viaduct that is now a shopping and arts center. Despite their different programs, all three public spaces have been rendered popular attraction sites for the public as a result of the addition of man made spaces, of new architecture, ranging in scale and complexity.

Transformation Architecture
La Rambla, Barcelona, Spain, 1553, Architect unknown

Previous to 1553, La Rambla, also known in the plural form ‘Las Ramblas’ to account for the sub streets of the present-day promenade, was a sewage filled riverbed located in the Gothic Quarter of Spain’s capital city. During the 14th century, its sole purpose was to distinguish the edge of the fortified city. However, in 1553 the Jesuit Bethlehem College and monastery was built, attracting the public and thus establishing the street as a significant public and private space: private for those who studied and lived at the monastery, and public for the people who came to walk along the street.

A portion of the city walls was torn down to accommodate a new walkway: walls became streets, rough stone became flat concrete. This relatively large-scale transformation architecture allowed the city to become more open to the public; replacing walls with streets allowed more infrastructures to flourish over time. Had the college not been built, and had the sewage not been discarded, what is today Barcelona’s most popular street might have remained a riverbed, an area left over at the edge of the city. Now it is a vibrant public space and often-travelled promenade visited by people from all over the world. Several types of program and attractions have been built since the 1500s, conforming to the transformation: shops, restaurants and public visiting centers. These attractions could only have been made possible through the addition of new architecture: architecture creates opportunities and so it revives.



Map of the different streets that define La Rambla. Shown is also the program that has developed around the streets over time. Source: globotreks
Map of the different streets that define La Rambla. Shown is also the program that has developed around the streets over time.
Source: globotreks
A map of La Rambla from the 1700s showing the program that has conformed to the street, diagrammed running down the center of the city. Map source:


Extension Architecture 
Dock System, Port of London, UK, 1720 – 1802, S. Wyatt, UK Parliament

An overabundance of large and small ships congested the Port of London starting in the early 1700s and continuing for approximately forty years. The congestion was the result of a sharp increase in trade and the need of transportation of goods from (and to) London. Additionally, the Port of London, also known as the Pool of London, was a large and vital trading post, and so increasing amounts of ships were built to account for all the necessary trading. This, of course, provided a physical problem: the port could no longer be used due to the congestion and so trade and economy suffered as well.

The solution that was proposed to solve the problem was the addition of more docks along the River Thames, first proposed by the architect S. Wyatt. Although his specific dock system proposal was not carried out, two docks were eventually built starting in 1799 so as to harbor and organize the ships. Along with these docks, which were established on the north bank of the river, several five-story warehouses were built. Their structures consisted of high walls surrounding the port, allowing goods to be efficiently stored upon arrival. All ships were required to check into these warehouses so as to facilitate movement and decongest the port. Later in the early 1800s a failed canal system was expanded into an additional timber dock, further expanding the dock system and improving the port. This situation and its solution provide an example that depicts how simple structures can have significant reviving effects. Something as simple as a dock system and new warehouses can solve a large physical and economical problem.

S. Wyatt's proposal that influenced the docks. Source: Port Cities
S. Wyatt’s proposal that influenced the docks.
Source: Port Cities
Plan view depicting dock system that helped decongest the Port of London. Source: Port Authority
Plan view depicting dock system that helped decongest the Port of London.
Source: Port Authority


Restoration Architecture
Promenade Plantee, Paris, France, 1994, Jacques Vergely and Philippe Mathieux

A more recent example of architecture as revival is that of the Promenade Plantee in Paris, refined and established as a popular public garden and shopping street in 1994. Prior to this, the area consisted of a railway system built in the mid 19th century that connected Paris to Strasbourg. The railroad was abandoned in 1969, however, and the area became an obsolete space. This started to change when landscape architect Jacques Vergely and architect Philippe Mathieux proposed a new plan to revive the space in 1983 (A View on Cities). The project took over 10 years to come to fruition and after its completion the Promenade became one of Paris’ most visited attractions. The Promenade Plantee is the world’s first elevated park and garden; it also inspired New York City’s High Line, which opened in 2009.

The old abandoned railroad viaduct was converted into what is today the Viaduc des Arts, a series of arched spaces that house an array of programs: shopping centers, restaurants, galleries, workshops and cafes. The viaduct retains its original rose brick cladding and the façade articulates its original 64 vaulted arches, now shops and galleries. So, although the space is renovated, the original forms of the old viaduct are kept, respecting the old age quality of the space. Additionally, the promenade and the shops are connected, facilitating accessibility for tourists and visitors. In this example, landscape architecture and renovation architecture work hand in hand to revive a former obsolete space, showing how architecture can liven a space in several forms as opposed to just one in which a new building is built. This example is similar to that of La Rambla, only at a smaller scale.

Sequence of the different spaces of the promenade. Source: localnomad
Sequence of the different spaces of the promenade.
Source: localnomad
The brick cladded facade of the renovated Viaduc des Arts. The original vaulted arches are now shops and galleries. Source: localnomad
The brick cladded facade of the renovated Viaduc des Arts. The original vaulted arches are now shops and galleries.
Source: localnomad


Architecture as revival has been present throughout history, all over the world and in several forms: new architecture, transformation architecture, landscape architecture, architecture as an organizational system, architecture as renovation, and so on.  It has the power to solve problems of all shapes and sizes and to create opportunities in places where possibilities seemed or seem scarce. This is not only beneficial to the physical landscape and cities, it is beneficial to society as well.









EU Imposes Oil Embargo on Iran:

Promenade Plantee

Accueil – “Promenade Plantée –” Accessed October 13, 2013.

Localnomad. “Promenade Plantée Parkway, the Highline Park in Paris | Localnomad Blog.” Accessed October 27, 2013.

Paris tourist office – Official website. “Promenade plantée – Paris tourist office.” Accessed October 13, 2013.

Planetizen: The Urban Planning, Design, and Development Network. “How a Railway Near the Bastille Revolutionized How We Think About Obsolete Infrastructure.” Accessed October 13, 2013.

A View On Cities. “Promenade Plantée, Paris.” Accessed October 19, 2013.

Pool of London

PortCities UK Home. “The 18th-century port – About maritime London – Port Cities.” Accessed October 5, 2013.

PortCities UK. “Policing the Port of London – Crime and punishment – Port Cities.” Accessed October 6, 2013.

Port of London Authority. “History of the Port of London pre 1908 > Port Trade.” Accessed October 27, 2013.

La Rambla

A View On Cities. “La Rambla, Barcelona.” n.d. Accessed October 12, 2013.

Mail Online – TravelMail blog. “Righting La Rambla: Why Barcelona’s bid to clear the clutter from its most famous street is a very welcome move.” Accessed October 12, 2013.

Project for Public Spaces | Placemaking for Communities. “Las Ramblas – Great Public Spaces| Project for Public Spaces (PPS).” Accessed October 12, 2013.

Post a comment

You may use the following HTML:
<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>