Architectures of Unproductiveness

^ New Towns during Spanish Enlightenment. 18th century. Adapted from Oliveras Samitier


The spatial void is not only uncertain, but a constant menace to the established order. During Spanish Enlightenment in the 18th century, agrarian settlements were founded along the Royal Road linking the Court in Madrid with the city of Cádiz (an strategic trading site for America) as a protection against frequent bandits. Two empty and vast territories were colonised through new towns built from scratch in Northern Andalusia: the area of Sierra Morena (with its central nucleus of La Carolina) and the empty fields of Córdoba (depending on La Carlota). The sovereign power at the time provided safety for travellers and merchants through new architectural prototypes. But they also tried to defy, not unproductive labour, but the risk of unproductive land-ownership.

Prussian Colonnel J.G. von Thürriegel offered the Spanish Government 6,000 pioneers from Germany to settle down in certain areas of South America and Puerto Rico. They were sent to Spain instead. The so-called ‘Recolonisation of Sierra Morena’, directed by enlightened thinker Pablo de Olavide, criticized the inefficient economy of passive landlords and provided each peasant family coming from Prussia with a lot. The economic context of unproductivity brought along higher prices and demand for agricultural land. However, his initiative had to do with efficiency of national food resources, rather than improving the rights of the peasantry.



Spanish New Towns were a hybrid form between the Roman and the American Grid urban patterns. Usually located along main roads, they adopted a linear layout. A ‘compact-disperse’ model was frequently chosen for Sierra Morena, consisting of a nuclear compact town for services and its satellite clusters with no more than 30 disperse houses each. The knowledge of military engineers, in charge of planning industries, forts and new settlements, was combined with architecture studies of monumental buildings. In terms of city layout, doctors even played an important role, advising military engineers on healthy and hygienic living spaces.

In 1766 Thürriegel sent the first groups of German settlers to Spain. After walking and riding from Germany to Andalusia, they discovered that the dreamt land was much drier, more searing, infertile and desolated as ever expected. Each family would receive a lot, two cows, five sheep, five goats, five hens, one cock, one pig, tools and tax exemptions; they should build their own houses and help to build common public buildings (prison, church, town hall, mill and bakery). They were meant to become self-sufficient settlers out of farming and artisans’ activity; and on a second phase, olive trees, little orchards and small manufacturing workshops for female labour were introduced. However, new dwellers had to stay in barracks for the first couple of years; nearly half of them passed away due to new diseases and harsh climate conditions. Peasants could under no circumstances return to Prussia, since the deal signed between Thürriegel and Olavide obliged them to stay at least for 10 years, under prison penalties. A natural selection process made the strongest survive.

As part of this recolonisation process of empty territories during the 18th century, the Nation also planned the first peripheral industrial settlements to relieve urban congestion, new harbour towns to rationalise the shoreline, and royal hedonistic sites to entertain the sovereign. (see map above)



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AVILÉS, M & SENA, G 1991. Nuevas poblaciones en la España Moderna. Madrid: UNED.

BONET CORREA, A 1978. Las plazas octogonales españolas del siglo XVIII, Morfología y ciudad. Barcelona.

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DELGADO BARRADO, JM 2001. La génesis del proyecto repoblador de Sierra Morena. Jaén: Boletín del Inst. de Estudios Giennenses.

GARCÍA MELERO, JE 1998. Arte español de la Ilustración y del siglo XIX: en torno a la imagen del pasado. Madrid: Encuentro.

OLIVERAS SAMITIER, J 1998. Nuevas poblaciones en la España de la Ilustración. Barcelona: Arquia/Fundación Caja de Arquitectos.


^ Assault of the Diligence. Goya, 1793




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