A Coruña has the highest average height buildings in Spain. It surpasses larger cities, with more population and with emblematic high-rise buildings, such as Barcelona or Madrid. Its average is 5.15 plants. And it is the second city with the highest percentage of buildings of ten floors or more, with 35.3% of the total. Only Benidorm, a classic example of the commitment to vertical construction, has a higher proportion. The data is collected in a special information prepared by elDiario.es with data from the Cadastre of cities throughout Spain, except Euskadi and Navarra.
Spain lives in flats: why we have built our cities vertically
The explanation for why a municipality that does not reach 250,000 inhabitants has been projected higher than other cities of similar size and even much larger is found in an early inclination towards towers and in urban planning regulations that, especially since the years 60, has been permissive with buildings that added more and more floors. The vertical commitment was not so much due to a previous plan to achieve a compact city, but to an effort to build more on the same land, according to the architect and urban planner Iago Carro, a member of the Ergosfera cooperative society.
The general municipal planning plans (PGOM) and the urban regulations of the city that they bet in the 60s and 80s to add vertical spaces were based “a little” on the geographical limitations of A Coruña, which has its oldest nucleus and part of its neighborhoods on a peninsula and looked up as a solution to accommodate more population. But looking at it from a critical perspective today, Carro believes that these reasons “seem more like excuses to build more.”
His historical review of the reasons that have led to the current height first stops at an “anecdotal example”: in 1925 what was then considered the tallest building in Spain was inaugurated, the headquarters of the now defunct Banco Pastor -acquired in 2012 by Banco Popular, which, in turn, later became the property of Banco Santander-. “The relationship of the city with the height begins early, when the new structures were arriving, the technological advances that allowed to build in height”, exposes the architect.
The urban planning regulations of 1948 already allowed building buildings of more than ten floors in certain cases, but one of the “milestones” that explain the current profile of A Coruña is the volume ordinance, Z8, included in the general plan of 1967. It allowed, according to Carro explains, that those who had a sufficiently large plot of land ordered the volume as they wanted and surpassed the heights that were then authorized by the urban planning of A Coruña. “From there all the great towers of the city arise, which are more than those that usually exist in cities of this size,” he explains. One of the most emblematic is the Hercón, inaugurated in 1975 and the tallest building in Galicia.
These constructions continue to determine today the skyline of the city, assures the architect and urban planner. The plan of ’67 was followed by other regulations that “allowed the overdensification of neighborhoods that were not prepared for it.” Carro specifically cites the 1985 PGOM, under which areas such as Monte Alto, Agra do Orzán and Os Mallos grew vertically. The problem is that in these neighborhoods the streets were narrow and the tall buildings led to a deterioration of the environmental and urban quality: the light does not reach the lower floors and the air circulates worse.
What happened with the regulations of the 80s, he explains, is that it opened the possibility of increasing heights in neighborhoods “in which that should not have been done.” The “excuse” was used that the objective was to encourage the rehabilitation of buildings in a precarious state and, for this, it was necessary to let the owner add plants to compensate him financially. “Today we know that this is not sustained from any point of view, but rather an ideological and market question, of wanting to give more benefits to landowners,” criticizes Carro.
The benefits of a city of tall buildings are that it creates a dense and compact network, with advantages for mobility and sustainability. This framework makes it easier to travel on foot or by bicycle and also make life “rich” because uses are mixed.
The metropolitan area
Carro also focuses on the fact that to analyze the urban planning of A Coruña it is necessary to look beyond its municipal limits. In fact, he points out that the data of the average height of the buildings is “significant”, but he also asks to take into account that the territory of the municipality is small, unlike in other cities, and the result would be different if the area was considered. metropolitan. Even so, the density would continue to be among the highest in Spain, he believes.
The city is limited by the sea, but the buildings have expanded to other lands, which belong to the neighboring municipalities, such as Arteixo, Cambre, Culleredo and Oleiros. Here too, high-rise buildings have been erected, he stresses.
Current urban planning regulations “have not responded to everything that has happened in recent decades.” Carro believes that the 2013 PGOM does not do enough to reverse the negative consequences in these “highly densified neighborhoods, not only vertically, but horizontally.” He believes that he should have bet on recovering vacant lots to increase the free spaces. It is true that so much height is no longer allowed in these areas, he adds.
Vertical construction “is not in itself a negative thing”, but it must be part of a global plan so that cities are prepared. He gives the example of Benidorm, which has wide streets that are filled with sunlight and with a lot of activity. “When the motivation is simply the market, most of the time it is bad. When there is behind an architectural model that one chooses to make, it does not have to be bad”, he reflects.