Plaza del Callao, 1927.

Plaza del Callao, 1927.

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“The rows of houses seem to stretch out endlessly, not to be lived in, but to pass between -- the way one passes through the wings in a theater.”
Walter Benjamin

“What we contemplated was a giant crack.”
Antonio Lopez

Gran Vía is different. As a boulevard conceived in the Haussmannian tradition, it came late. Its route was subjected to revision after revision as the decades of its planning and construction wore on and diverse constituencies and aesthetic movements bore their imprint on its production. Its planners were not heroic but technocratic – expert navigators and weavers of the multiple interests and infrastructural necessities at stake in its realization. It is a palimpsest of moments and ideals, and its intent and effect upon the city have been obfuscated by this lack of continuity between concept and construction.

But in its ambivalence also lies its interest. The avenue’s tendency to shy away from modernistic broad strokes and direct confrontation with the existing fabric produces a spatial condition that points toward an alternate modern tendency: the immersion of the subject in the swirling urban center . In contrast to the concentrated perspectives of the boulevard and the total internality of the medieval city before it, Gran Vía constructs an urban space that constantly diverts and distracts. It is a boulevard that dissolves at the moment of apperception, peeling each passerby off down one or another of its side streets. Its idiosyncrasy suggests an alternative conceptual structure for modernizing, understanding and perceiving the city -- one based not on the control and centralization of vision (as in the case of Haussmann), nor on its denial, but on the understanding of vision as a phenomenon that diverts and multiplies through passage.

Diverted Perspectives was published in Luis M. Mansilla + Emilio Tuñón: From Rules to Constraints, Lars Mueller Publishers, 2012.