A Placa in a Pyrenees Village

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Location: Sant Julia de Loria, Andorra. Small town modernization

The project is a mixed-use, urban infill project in the small town of Sant Julia de Loria, Andorra in the Pyrenees. The town sits above the river Valira in a narrow mountain valley. The climate is alpine, and the economy is based on agriculture, banking, tourism, (skiing and hiking). Fiercely independent, Andorra was founded about AD 800 by Lombards from Northern Italy and given a charter by Charlemagne for fighting against the Moors. It has the oldest parliament in Europe (1278) and is its longest lived Republic. The country saw little development until the last quarter of the 20th century and has become overly car-dependent lacking both air and rail links. Though the country is now very prosperous, the town of Sant Julia de Loria is economically depressed and is losing population.

The site, a former tannery and slaughter yards, sits in a depression between the river and the historic center of the town up, hill, the medieval Placa Major. The main roads and bus route in and out of the country follows the river, at the base of the site, 22 meters below the Placa Major at the top. The project sits within the newly designated "Area of (Historic) Interest" which allowed the Minister of Culture to derail a previously accepted project, on aesthetic grounds, thought hat project dictated the size and scope of our proposal. The Minister of Culture, dismayed by the direction of development wished to make this project a model for the future, before, as he stated, "I have no culture left to minister to."

The program requirements are for a new 32,000 sq. ft. building for the Univeritat d'Andorra, a new parking structure, and 79,000 sq. ft. of mixed residential, retail and office space, promised by the previous scheme. The total budget was in the neighborhood of 80 million Euros. Our proposal included the restoration of 3 existing 19th century buildings formerly slated for demolition. In addition, we proposed a gateway building, the "Propylea" to maintain the spatial integrity of the historic Placa Major while providing pedestrian access to a new square, the Placa Univeritat, that serves as the focus of the design. The new Placa is midway in elevation between the Placa Major and the main road easing the pedestrian flow up and down the hill. The Placa is also connected to a smaller existing square, the Placa Minor via stairs on the north end of the site and is accessible to handicapped and wheeled traffic via an existing alley. The Placa is dominated by the new university building and is ringed by arcaded mixed-use buildings, broken down in scale to match the fine grain of the surrounding urban fabric. Larger buildings would be allowed along the main road. As there is a premium on level ground, Andorran's can build up to 7 stories, as of right. By utilizing floor area above the Propylea and restoring existing buildings, we were able to keep the buildings to 6 stories. Building heights were further reduced by using shorter mezzanine and attic stories, which could contain smaller, more affordable apartments. Housing for the faculty and students within the project and surrounding town will mitigate the traffic load created by the university, and raise the surrounding property values. All of the buildings are based on Andorran models. The university building was requested to be in the Romanesque style, typical of public buildings in the country, while the private buildings follow Renaissance patterns.

Lessons learned: Progress - Working hand-in-hand with heritage The Minister of Culture of Andorra had been watching the steady erosion of the urban fabric of this fragile mountain country, brought about by the economic successes of the late 20th and early 21st century. Andorra is lacking an enlightened and informed planning body equipped to effectively manage the rampant growth of the small villages, and therefore the original character of the architecture and the small, fine-grained pedestrian-friendly transportation routes have been damaged. Their new buildings are of a very low grade, heedless of indigenous materials and hastily erected. Our firm was brought in by the Minister to redesign a village square, St. Julia de Loria and to write a code for the newly designated Areas of Protection. Our goal was to demonstrate that progress can provide a bridge to the future while retaining the best aspects of the past. Regulatory Constraints - Making them work toward the better good The government had recently decreed that there be physical boundary areas which would be protected, based on the heritage sites designated by the Minister of Culture and his Cabinet. By drawing a line around these previously unprotected sites, the Minister was able to halt unregulated new buildings, and also to capture land for new civic uses, in this case for the new University building. As these Areas of Protection were so recent, our firm was able to write a new code outlining the aesthetic intent of the new buildings, the preservation of the old, and the rehabilitation of those in need of restoration. In addition, we were given free reign to write in to the new codes principles of responsible urbanism, therefore, building in the seeds of future development which will renew and restore cultural pride in the Andorran built environment. Preserving Building Cultures - Observations and Applications of Subtle Historic Building Practices While in Andorra, we made a concerted effort to visit all of the preserved historic sites, and to take note of the materials, how they were used and to get a general sense of how the population had built and lived in their habitat before the introduction of 20th century influences. We found that these remnants were indeed quickly being demolished and swept aside and there was a need, if only to preserve the cultural memory, to pay homage to the trends of the past. Ancient building practices are not without their lessons for the future, so building with inert, robust materials, especially when building in a hostile alpine climate, guided our principles. We observed that building in a narrow mountain pass, which creates its own shadow path, can be challenging. It made sense therefore to create buildings which were not tall therefore not casting significant shadows of their own. Parking and Traffic - lessons from our visit to Poundbury Narrow mountain passes make for lots of traffic and cars so finding a way to house the cars and not make them obtrusive was an important part of the program for us. Underground garages were provided, and parking on the renovated public square is removed. Traffic still flows through the Placa Major, but the road materials change to stone, and pedestrian curbs are removed therefore giving the street back to the pedestrian. Car drivers will then be more cautious knowing they are sharing the street with pedestrians.

Transect Zone(s): T4 general, T5 center.
Status: Proposed
Project or Plan's Scale: Neighborhood
Features: Civic buildings & parks, Mixed uses, Sustainable infrastructure.
Land area (in acres): 1
Total built area (in sq. ft.):
Total project cost (in local currency): 807
Retail area (in sq. ft.):
Office area (in sq. ft.):
Industrial area (in sq. ft.):
Number of hotel units:
Number of residential units (include live/work): 80
Civic uses (type and size): 32,000 sf. University building, parking structure, 79,000 mixed residential, retail and office space
Parks & green space (in acres): 3
Residential types: Mid-rise/loft, Townhouse/rowhouse/maisonette.
Project team designers: Richard Sammons, Fairfax and Sammons
Project team developers: N/A

Starting/Ending date of construction/implementation: -