Josh Piddock, senior architect at Feix & Merlin, enjoys the heat of Seville and the way the city is built to cope with it, and wonders if London will soon need to learn from its approach
A wedding abroad recently took me to Seville at the same time as the heatwave in the UK saw temperatures in London exceed 40° C for the first time on record. Friends back home asked how unbearable Seville, known as the warmest city in Europe, was at the same time. The answer? 43°C but reasonably bearable.
As my first time in Andalucía, it was interesting to see the ways in which, in the fourth biggest city in Spain, individual buildings and people have been built for and behave in the heat. I’m half wondering if the UK will soon be forced to start thinking about adopting similar passive measures. From a city planning perspective the historic centre is, like many other sun-kissed old European cities, densely packed with narrow streets of mid-rise buildings, ensuring that only the most acute angles of sun reach street level. Where they are more open, gaps between buildings are spanned by simple yet effective solar shading. In Seville retail awnings double up as public assets. Wandering the streets for the first time evoked for me Peter Barber’s playful Coldbath Town urban neighbourhood proposal for the Mount Pleasant site in London – and why not?
From street level, decorative balcony ironwork and external window shutters above appear one step removed from the Mashrabiya found across the Islamic world, while examples of the local Mudéjar architectural style of the city dress beautifully-composed colonnades of landmark buildings, such as the Palacio de las Dueñas, creating a noticeable, formal relationship between the locals and shade. Trees, planting and bodies of water soften the public realm and sit side by side with the activities of daily life, from café terraces to street crossings, where locals stand back under natural canopies and watch tourists burn on the kerb, waiting for the green man.
From the meandering roof trail of Las Setas, Jürgen Mayer’s Metropol Parasol in the centre of Seville, skateboarders can be heard and glimpsed from below through the perforated part-timber structure, while the prawn cocktail cityscape of speckled white walls and pastel toned terracotta roofs viewed across the horizon reflect the sun back out, further helping the city’s inhabitants – and visitors – bear the heat.
Feel like more architectural travels? Visit the world via postcards here.