Friday, September 09, 2016

Customising Character: Architectural Harmony

Palma town hall is on a mission. You can't accuse the current administration of sitting on its hands. It has zeal in its hearts and announces it at every available opportunity. While there is a great deal of zealous bluster - just what is it with Aurora Jhardi and terraces - not all of what emanates from the town hall is fanatical nonsense. Take the announcement of a "landscaping plan" to bring some order and "dignity" to shopping streets and to shops themselves. The principle should be applauded, though how universal this will be has to be open to question. Getting rid of tatty facades and things that stick out from shop fronts might be easy and sensible for the old part of the city, but Playa de Palma?

The Cort talks the good talk of applying measures to all neighbourhoods, but there is more than just a slight suspicion that the administration sees very little further than the imminent surroundings of the privileged location of the town hall edifice: the old part of the city, in other words. Playa de Palma appears to have an alternative existence; it is a universe unoccupied by the town hall. At least the administration has been generous enough to stump up fifteen grand of "urgent" funding to replace rubbish containers that some malcontents appear to take delight in setting fire to.

Municipal-wide ordinance, which is to be the case with the "landscaping plan", takes no account of municipal diversity. While not advocating a charter for unbridled tattiness, it does seem to me as if the town hall believes that what is good for the old part is good for everywhere else. It doesn't necessarily follow that it is. This all-city approach is to be rolled out from the primary purpose of the plan, which is to establish order in the old part, where there is heritage in terms of architecture, appearance and atmosphere to be preserved.

There are other areas of Palma with heritage to be maintained. Es Molinar is a case in point. Here is somewhere with the feel and look of traditional seaside. It is a curio of a village appended to the city, but one that has been subjected to an architectural vandalism, made possible through unthinking permissiveness at the planning department (or possibly through something else; you can never be sure). Antoni Noguera, the mayor-in-waiting with his urban planning and "model of the city" responsibilities, tackles his brief with plenty of heart and sometimes with his head. He is absolutely right to insist that what goes on in Es Molinar should now be in line with its traditional architecture.

Sympathetic, in harmony, these should be the overriding objectives for developments of whatever sort in whichever location, whether Palma or elsewhere.  Undoing the wrongs of the past and even the recent past, as is the case with Es Molinar, is largely impossible, but restorative measures can be applied; discipline can be introduced.

There are examples across Mallorca where a lack of discipline has been allowed to detract from urban centres and residential areas. In some instances, these collide. Puerto Pollensa is an example. The absence of discipline has given rise, away from the front line, to unlovely architectural competition. Puerto Pollensa is far from being the only example, but as with other resort areas it doesn't come under any sort of protected status that would allow development to at least attempt to create some harmony rather than the result, which is one by which nothing fits.

Applying a set of standards across a municipality as a whole, which is what Palma wishes to do, fails to appreciate that component parts of municipalities have their own specific needs. Rather than one size fits all, there should be (should have been) a customised approach through which character is established or maintained. This goes deeper than wide areas, such as resorts, it applies also to specific urbanisations. I can think of one in Playa de Muro.

The urbanisation grew, architecturally, almost by chance rather than by design, but sympathy was created by style of building and, as importantly, the use of colours - those of Mallorca's land, sky and sea. Blues, yellows, oranges, terra cottas have now been invaded by the fad for blocks of neutrals. Architectural faddism would doubtless argue that this type of new build is more efficient. But when the resulting construction consists of a wall almost totally of glass that, in summer, will face the full force of the sun, one would need to query such an argument.

Palma is right to wish to preserve appearance in its old centre, just as other municipalities have regulations to retain the traditional look of their old towns. Away from these protected areas, though, there is a free-for-all. Discipline should be imposed. Architect and developer whim should not be allowed to dictate and detract.

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