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Architecture key in constructing a “European diagonal” to boost development in the south

The European diagonal is an axis of cities and regions throughout the south of Europe, which starts in Lisbon, passes through Madrid, Barcelona and Marseilles, and ends in Milan. Integrating and strengthening this area is “the best opportunity for developing the south of the continent”, according to Building the European diagonal, a study led by the Metrópoli Foundation, which analyses the strengths of each city and architectural proposals for their development.

The cities that comprise this diagonal “are the economic leaders of southern Europe” and have been the most dynamic in the region over recent years. However, in order to integrate this region and promote development there, each of them must “innovate”, specialise and complement the others, according to Metrópoli Foundation president and architect Alfonso Vegara, speaking during the second International Architecture Conference, “Building the city of the future”, which took place in Madrid.

The Metrópoli Foundation’s research, produced over two years in partnership with European and American universities, is supported by the mayors of the main cities involved, and brings together the architectural proposals that will contribute to creating the diagonal.

Architecture must create an atmosphere “that attracts talent” to these cities, which is a fundamental asset that cities compete for today, says Vegara. In his opinion, it is cities, not countries, which compete at international level, and in order to be successful “it is not enough for them to address areas where they are lacking”. Instead, it is essential that they ensure the “excellence” of their strongest features, which was also the conclusion of the Foundation’s previous study analysing the development of urban projects in 20 cities around the world.

The European diagonal will have four “diamonds” – areas where integration is most intense – with Madrid, Barcelona and Valencia comprising part of one of these. “Coordination among universities, research centres and companies is essential in order to boost innovation, ensuring that everyone wins,” Alfonso Vegara told SINC.

“Madrid has two important competitive advantages – the ports of Barcelona and Valencia”, claims Vegara. This is something that will gain importance when the increased capacity of the Suez Canal boosts the role of Mediterranean ports in connecting Europe with Asia.

Madrid, an economic, transport and innovation hub

The study labels Madrid as an economic, financial, innovation and transport hub. Given its geographical location and infrastructure, including the airport at Barajas and high speed train lines, it has the potential to be a link between Europe and other continents.

The study concludes that most of the “elements of excellence” in the Spanish capital are concentrated in the area within the M-30 ring road, which acts as a boundary containing nearly all the museums, theatres, four- and five-star hotels, universities, the best public transport lines and areas with the highest proportion of people working in creative professions.

It says the city does not need such a small urban motorway, as proved by the cases of Paris and London, which do not have ring roads on this scale. It could be converted into an “eco boulevard”, a pedestrian axis, a ring encircling the city’s new architecture and public transport, and serving as a setting for creativity, all of which could increase the city’s chances as a candidate to host the Olympics.

“Ecosystems of innovation”

Barcelona’s strong points are its creativity and its port. For this reason, the project suggests the construction of innovation parks to create an “ecosystem of innovation”. Sitges, which is very well connected, and has a tolerant and open atmosphere, is busy transforming itself from a tourist destination into a centre of creativity, building a technology park for innovation, taking advantage of its Mediterranean setting and leisure opportunities in order to attract talent.

Valencia’s advantages are its port, and a very diversified and creative economy, with a very strong construction sector. “Valencia’s greatest opportunity is to sell its strengths in building cities to the world,” said Vegara.

Subjects such as new ways of understanding architecture, urbanism, the transnationality of projects and the role played by politicians were discussed during the conference, in which architects including Thom Mayne, Alejandro Zaera and Peter Cook took part.

SINC Team | alfa
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