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ARQ (Santiago)

versión On-line ISSN 0717-6996

ARQ (Santiago)  no.86 Santiago abr. 2014 


Intergenerational Architecture and Public Space


Sergio García*(1), Pablo Martí**(2)

* Professor, Universidad Andrés Bello, Santiago, Chile.
** Professor, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, Santiago, Chile.


A new residential model associated with the public space, as traditional instrument for integration and citizenship, can be a valuable tool for promoting urban heterogeneity and improve social cohesion in the city.

Keywords: Urbanism – Spain, architecture – Spain, social housing, civic cohesion, social integration.


The Case of the América Buildings and Plaza in Alicante, Spain(1)

In 1996, the United Nations Conference on human settlement approved the "Habitat" program with a series of objectives, principles, commitments and world action plans, posing for the first time the need to create a society for all age groups where young and old can have their housing and social needs met (United Nations, 1996). The world population is rapidly aging, especially in the first world, and requires initiatives so that the age gap between generations is derived in respect, integration, collaboration and cohesion. The Political Declaration of the Second World Assembly on Ageing adopts one of its one of its objectives as "the need to strengthen the solidarity between generations and intergenerational associations while taking into account the specific needs of the oldest and the youngest and create a bond between generations" (United Nations, 2002, p. 4).

In architecture, housing should act as a fundamental piece and catalyst against intergenerational social exclusion within the urban regeneration process, and in urbanism public space maintains its place as a place of equality, integration, diversity and permanent expression of the citizen condition (Borja, 2003; Borja y Muxí, 2003). Christopher Alexander (1977) reminds us in many of his patterns(2) of the necessity of integrating senior citizens as the intergenerational complement between diverse ages and suggests the idea of a senior residence where they can live alongside young people: "in some of these it could be no more than a community that cooks together and can count on part-time help from younger boys and girls"(3) (Alexander, 1977).

In Spain, the city of Alicante has become the first in the country to promote intergenerational architecture through a public action program that has included three municipal projects. The first of which, the intergenerational housing building and community services situated in the Plaza de América, has already been functioning for five years with positives results such as the corroborative interest and international recognition of the initiative, as well as the first distinctions and honorable mentions(4). The implementation and opening of the building has been enriched by the presence of the Plaza de América, placing it among the best urban city landscape projects of the '90s (Banyuls, 2001; García Doménech, 2013).

The Intergenerational Residential Model

Intergenerational buildings include rental homes for independent senior citizen in which a predetermined percentage is reserved(5) for young people who commit to providing services to the community. The buildings can also accommodate other community services such as day centers for seniors(6) depending on the needs of the corresponding neighborhood. The intergenerational residences are located on plots with a strong urban character and neighborhood centrality, public ownership and ranked by urban planners as non-residential land so that it maintains public control (Almeida Pinto, 2009; Castro Gallardo, 2012). The quality of the architecture, the locations of the built complexes, the sense of belonging in the neighborhood and the mobility of its inhabitants are fundamental variables so that these intergenerational residences, framed in the wider context of social housing, function correctly (Rodríguez and Sugranyes, 2004; Tapia Zarricueta, 2011).

In social terms, the main objectives of the intergenerational residence model are the integration of the collective of senior citizens, the intermediation, socio-community intervention and, ultimately, social cohesion (Kaplan, 1997; Kuehne and Collins, 1997). In this sense, the objective of satisfying the demand for decent housing is also resolved for two sensitive groups: senior citizens and low-income young people with significant difficulties for entering the real-estate market (Domínguez Orozco, 2012). In the architectural sense, the main objectives are oriented around innovative solutions for resolving the management of common services, innovation in the constructive design of new public infrastructure and housing through achieving the previous objectives of social intervention, the adaptation of buildings and housing to the living conditions of the people who live in them and facilitating accessibility and personal autonomy. Therefore, the social program must be indivisible from the architectural program, promoting sociological and anthropological criteria such as dependency, awareness of identity and permanence (Sánchez Martínez, 2007).

The "Plaza de América" Intergenerational Building(7)

The intergenerational housing and community services in the Plaza de América (fig. 1 and 2) is the first project of a larger municipal program that the city of Alicante has put into practice in the city under the motto "to live and age with dignity at home" (Ayuntamiento de Alicante, 2008). In its beginning, the project has had the objective of providing adequate housing for people; from senior citizens with some degree of dependency to young people that will participate in the social program inherent to the residential program. The integration of the building with its urban surrounding with which it interacts is equally important, lending its qualities to the resident and acting as the focus of communal life. From the architectural program, the project is conceived as a "small organization where the room is the house, the hall is the street, the living room is the plaza where one can find the spaces that host activities and services (fig. 3); where the inhabitants are people, often handicapped and with orientation problems, problems that must be addressed architectonically with spatial clarity and design elements that serve as reference" (AA.VV., 2005). The main objectives of the project are: to create dignified and independent housing for the elderly, to establish non-residential services and to enhance actively the quality of the urban environment, interacting with the existing public space.

Fig. 1. Site plan of the "Plaza de América" intergenerational building, Alicante, Spain. Published scale 1: 2.500
Source: Patronato Municipal de la Vivienda de Alicante.

Fig. 2. "Plaza de América" intergenerational building.
Source: Patronato Municipal de la Vivienda de Alicante.

Fig. 3. Hallways and access spaces of the units in the "Plaza de América" intergenerational building.
Source: Patronato Municipal de la Vivienda de Alicante.

The different spaces that make up the heterogeneous program of the project are functionally linked to each other (fig. 4, 5, 6 and 7), so that users of the day center can occupy the communal areas of the dwelling, such as the gym, the solarium, and the geriatric pool installed on the roof. Likewise, the tenants can use the services of the day center such as the dining hall, ballroom or the beauty salon. Both the residences and the communal spaces have been designed considering independent users, but who could at times present some degree of limitation, and as such the project should guarantee the necessary assistance either by direct or external personnel. The meeting places and the collective activities such as the library, television room, the information room, the laundry room, the gym or the pool are found throughout the floors to enhance community relations among neighbors.

Fig. 4. Eastern facade of the "Plaza de América" intergenerational building.
Source: Patronato Municipal de la Vivienda de Alicante.

Fig. 5. Transverse section of the "Plaza de América" intergenerational building. Published scale 1: 500
Source: Patronato Municipal de la Vivienda de Alicante.

Fig. 6. "Plaza de América" intergenerational building.
Source: Patronato Municipal de la Vivienda de Alicante.

Fig. 7. Upper terrace edificio intergeneracional "Plaza de América".
Source: Patronato Municipal de la Vivienda de Alicante.

The Dwellings, Community Spaces and the Public Facilities

Intergenerational housing makes up the central core of the project: a total of 72 one-bedroom units and a total area of 40 m2 distributed in four plans, specially designed for the independent elderly, but perfectly adaptable to the intergenerational profile of its occupants (fig. 8, 9, 10 and 11). All of these have adapted bathrooms, heating and air conditioning. Also, all the units are exterior and are enclosed by glazing the entire surface of the facade (fig. 12 and 13). With east/west orientation, the latter is protected by a second facade with adjustable blinds that regulate solar exposure and moderate the temperature. These two options appear physically differentiated by the longitudinal opening that serve as an internal street access that simultaneously facilities the internal aeration of the interior rooms to allow cross ventilation, an essential condition.

Fig. 8. Unit plan of the "Plaza de América" intergenerational building. Published scale 1: 500.
Source: Patronato Municipal de la Vivienda de Alicante.

Fig. 9. Interior of a unit, "Plaza de América" intergenerational building.
Source: Patronato Municipal de la Vivienda de Alicante.

Fig. 10. Detail of the common areas on the various levels of the "Plaza de América" intergenerational building. Published scale 1: 500.
Source: Patronato Municipal de la Vivienda de Alicante.

Fig. 11. First floor plan, location of the health center. "Plaza de América" intergenerational building. Published scale 1: 750.
Source: Patronato Municipal de la Vivienda de Alicante.

Fig. 12. Typical unit plan and common areas. "Plaza de América" intergenerational building. Published scale 1: 750.
Source: Patronato Municipal de la Vivienda de Alicante.

Fig. 13. "Plaza de América" intergenerational building elevation.
Source: Patronato Municipal de la Vivienda de Alicante. Published scale 1: 750.

Flexibility is a factor in the distribution of the unit interiors where the bedroom can be incorporated into the living room to create a single space, or be divided in two for added privacy. The kitchen remains linked directly to the dining room but can be closed with a screen. This same flexibility is also applied to the spaces of the day center situated on the first floor with the health center that is susceptible to the modification of its capacity and its program by means of moveable panels. New technology has been integrated with the objective of improving wellbeing, comfort and security in the most simple and natural way possible. Therefore, the project includes a hybrid alert system with switches located in the bathroom, living and bedroom that transmit signals to the control panel located in the concierge on the first floor with the ability to also communicate with external emergency services.

Regarding the collective spaces, the project has provided an area of 1,551 m² to develop spaces that enhance community life, such as, salons, gym, heated geriatric pool, vegetable garden, solarium, garden terrace or laundry room. But the program has also included a group of public services that are open to external residents. The inclusion of a public outpatient health center was designed with an area of 3,074 m2, a day center for the elderly of 995 m² and a total of 256 public parking spaces.

The Social Program and its Implementation

The social program of the intergenerational building is inextricably linked to the residential program. It responds to the need to establish performance criteria for the young people within the building itself, including possible collaborations with other entities. The aim of the program is highly participative and accommodates all tenants, including the community services located therein, seeking above all to promote a healthy coexistence(8). During the first year of operation five collective activities were proposed related to intergenerational interaction and cohesion: "Back to earth", in which both generations cultivated two garden spaces on the roof with twelve vegetable garden containers; "From culture to information", a class offering library, video, music and news, creating the possibility of informative video pieces on the experiences of the elderly, including news archives from the historical times of their personal development; "The party", a program that hosts community and personal celebrations such as birthdays and anniversaries, utilizing the public spaces of the building, both inside and outside depending on the time of year; "Technology in your hand", which tries to familiarize the elderly with new technologies that form part of daily life and which they have not previously been able to access; and lastly, "The good neighbor" in which the young people aide and support the older tenant and in activities such as going to the doctor, shopping or company at home.(9)

Seniors interested in renting an intergenerational apartment must meet a series of personal requirements(10) to be approved thereof. Likewise, the young people interested in renting an intergenerational apartment must meet similar personal requirements(11), but must also guarantee their social willingness and commit by contract to dedicate four hours a week to community service and to boost the cultural and recreational activities. This coexistence is articulated through a social contract, complementary to the rental contract, in which each young person is responsible for four seniors and to alert social works in case of a problem or anomaly in their daily routine. It is a work of supervision or guardianship and not to be understood as a responsibility. Both generations can occupy the units alone or with a partner. This way, the neighbors are converted indirectly in beneficiaries of the social program as they participate in the services offered in the facilities of the building as well as encouraging and improved urban quality generated by the building in its surroundings.

The Public Space of the Plaza de América

The raison d'etre of public space comes from its use as a vehicle of citizen expression, social cohesion and intergenerational integration (Borja and Muxí, 2003; Schlack, 2007; García Doménech, 2013). In this sense, the presence of the Plaza de América, together with the lot where the intergenerational project is to be built, has been an invaluable support for the built program, integrating the neighbors and making them participants of the facilities integrated by the building services with the plaza as a public space articulator.

Some areas of Alicante developed between the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th experienced poorly planned urban sprawl, whose origin responded to a good connection and accessibility with the urban center. This was the origin of neighborhoods such as Campoamor, Altozano and Carolinas, between whose borders lies the Plaza de América. The primitive space of this plaza appears configured as an urban void in the alignment project of 1930, a document that regulated the outline of the current Conde de Lumiares Avenue, to the north of the plaza. But it is in the Plan General de Ordenación Urbana of 1956 where the plaza appears finally defined as a public green space (Giménez, Giner and Varela, 1985). Given the initial lack of services and urban facilities in these neighborhoods, the public plazas would contribute to the enhancement of the sense of identity and would consolidate the Plaza de América as the center of the area. Until the mid- '90s, this space was only a residual space converted into an irregular, improvised parking lot. But in 1994, two municipal architects(12) would receive the commission to design an urbanization project for the plaza with the objective of creating an open space independent from its urban surroundings. It is precisely the absence of these signs, references and meanings that would push the authors to break free of the surroundings and rely on the forms of the project themselves to "invent the place" (Augé, 1992; Bañuls, 2001).

The project, that would be actively integrated with the neighborhood (VV. AA., 1994), is designed halfway between the urban garden tradition and the public plaza (fig. 14). The significant slope in the north-south direction would be taken advantage of to enhance the visual and sensory appeal of the water in the design of the public space. The principal source from which the water flows here is an inaccessible element in a traffic island while the true protagonist is produced by a play of waterfalls in the eastern extreme of the plaza. This feature, fed by a spring situated in the northern extreme, runs along its length to the south in the tradition of a Persian garden, utilizing the sound as one of the qualitative variables that enriches the urban space (García Doménech, 2013). A continuous concrete pavement that guides the possible circulations within the plaza resolved the garden paths. The inclusive, urban nature imprint of the public space would be implied by the inclusion of an important central path paved in ceramic pavers in the north-south direction. This path, free of rhetoric, would be signaled by a lightweight, steel and wood pergola under which would be placed a row of wooden benches with metal supports (fig. 15 and 16). On the other extreme of the path, a line of cypress trees was originally designed that would later become the surprising object of a neighborhood scandal.(13)

Fig. 14. Planting plan, Plaza de América, Alicante. n/s.
Source: City of Alicante.

Fig. 15.

Fig. 16.
Fig. 15 and 16. Urbanization of the Plaza de América.
Source: Author's elaboration.


Intergenerational architecture projects must contemplate the qualitative design of the building to improve the sense of place and urban image as the key element. Likewise, it must form an inseparable part of the surrounding public space, intervening in it when necessary to guarantee urban consistency. In this case, the urban landscape defined by the plaza has created an interesting urban context (for its form and solution) but also socially (for its use) that has contributed to the effective operation of the architectural project and the social program. The contribution to the community cohesion that transmits the presence of a quality public space is evident in the projects of intergenerational integration. In this sense the space of the Plaza de América itself –created to face a total lack of identity of citizen heritage– has become an example of how to invent a place of encounter that previously did not exist. Indeed, the fortune of that invention and its corresponding materialization in the landscape has given this public space a social quality.

For the integrative residential policies to have a positive and dynamic effect against generational exclusion, they must be considered through multidisciplinary action plans. The dialogue that has been established between intergenerational architecture and public space in the Plaza de América, has established an implementation of this principle that has greatly enriched the relationship between different generations and enhanced social cohesion. Emphasis should be on the extrapolation of the social initiative exemplified in in this project as a model that could be applicable in both public and private experiences.

The dwellings in the Plaza de América of Alicante have served to create a crisis over certain social prejudices. The quality of architecture, at its core, is the formal result of the development of a single social project. Its volumes hold an interesting housing experiment that poses a counterpoint to the traditional model of closed welfare institutions that are generally exclusive. The relationship between people of all ages that live in the Plaza de América building has brought together the awareness of identity and the strength of tradition that in search of social cohesion. These intergenerational dwellings have achieved the objective of avoiding the isolation and loneliness of the senior citizen group as well as extended their independence in a private dwelling. The intergenerational relationship has permitted the discovery of certain mutual advantages to coexistence such as the passing down of knowledge and skills of each age range to the other, boosting the sense of solidarity and ultimately the community condition.



1. The authors of this investigation expressly thank the Patronato Municipal de la Vivienda, the City of Alicante and the respective authors of the projects presented, the information and documentation they have facilitated.

2. See among others, the following patterns: Old People Everywhere, Identifiable Neighborhood, Life Cycle y Household Mix.

3. Quote translated by the authors.

4. First prize from the Asociación Española de Promotores Públicos de Vivienda y Suelo for the best action in the sphere of socio-community intervention, in 2010; finalist, in second place, from the World Habitat Awards of the Building and Social Housing Foundation, in 2012.

5. Around 20 %, representing one unit for young adults for every 4 for seniors.

6. Dealing with specialized centers for the care of the elderly that attend the public during the day, but whose beneficiaries sleep at home. They are centers halfway between the nursing homes where people require permanent attention and particular residences for totally independent seniors.

7.The project comprises 72 intergenerational dwellings, health centers, day centers and underground parking for 249 vehicles. Location: Plaza de América, Devesa St., Hermanos Soto Chápuli St. and Francisco Verdú St., Alicante. Built area: 16,285 m2. Budget: €11,811,719.40. Project: 2005. Construction: 2005-2008. Public promotion of the Patronato Municipal de la Vivienda de Alicante. Authors: Carmen Pérez Molpeceres, architect director and Consuelo Argüelles Álvarez, collaborating architect. Construction company: Dragados S.A.

8.The activities program is developed and managed by the Departamento Social del Patronato Municipal de la Vivienda de Alicante, making up committees with the collaboration and active participation of the residents of the building.

9. The criteria of all of these projects is not to realize general services, nor undermine the family or professional help, but to recover the activities that were common in communities in previous times but which contemporary society has slowly lost.

10. To be above 65 years old, to be registered in the municipality for the last five years, giving preference to residents of the neighborhood, to be able to live independently, to not have an inhabitable dwelling and have an income less than €21,000 per year.

11. To be less than 35 years old, to be registered in the municipality for at least the last five years, giving preference to residents of the neighborhood, to not possess an inhabitable dwelling and have a personal income between €5,000 and €21,000 per year.

12. Manuel Beltrá Martínez and Jaume Giner Álvarez.

13. The scandal, prompted by the lack of the tradition cupressus sempervirens in Mediterranean gardening, was dominated by the symbolic funerary image of this botanical species. During the execution of the urbanization in 1998, laurels finally replaced the cypresses.




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1. Sergio García. Architect, 1994 and PhD of Architecture, Universidad Politécnica de Valencia, 2003. His doctoral thesis obtained a grant from Diputación de Alicante. He has worked on various teams of professionals in sustainable planning and urban mobility. He is currently a professor of urbanism at the Universidad de Alicante and focuses his research on urban public space.

2. Pablo Martí. Architect, 1995 and PhD of Architecture, Universidad Politécnica de Valencia, 2001. He has par ticipated on projects of urban space and urban and territorial planning. His publications are centered on the transformation and urban extension. He is currently a professor in the area of Urbanism and Territorial order at the Universidad de Alicante.

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