The franco-spanish mediterranean strip : an opportunity to turn applied research into trans-border planning



urban design, cross-border cooperation, Suburban areas, Climate change, Applied research




1. Geographical context

The geographical definition of the territory we aim to treat in our research can be understood through four different types of limits. Two of them, physically equivalent, correspond to the deltas of the Ebro river (South), and the Rhône (North).

Dividing this 600 km. coast line, the Pyrénées come to reach the sea as a physical barrier, and establish, at its watershed, the administrative border between both countries. In its depth, the limits become more diffuse, but can be assimilated to a homogeneous wide shore plain, framed on its background by secondary mountain ranges.

2. Problems and opportunities of the trans-border region

The macro-region we define is inscribed into the European Grouping of Territorial Cooperation named «Eurorégion Pyrénées-Méditerranée». Although this administrative frame has allowed a number of opportunities (VICENTE, 2021), its border still has a lack of porosity, if compared, for example, to those separating France from Germany or Belgium in the North. 

A funnel in the European rail network between Perpignan and Montpellier; the distrust of region Occitanie towards the much more dynamic Catalonia (DE KEMMETER, 2024); the mainly agricultural character both sides of the border, and its distance to the metropoles… could give some clues for this slow integration. Concerning teaching and research, regional movement is almost non-existent; no visible cooperation appears, neither, on planning nor urbanism.

3. Disciplinary issues

As architects and planners, we believe that many of our current challenges cannot furthermore be addressed in a classical manner. This is why we consider this transboundary context, with its high quality but also fragile landscapes, an opportunity full of potential, that will help us overcome disciplinary and thematic boundaries.

We propose to update the theories of «Research by Design», to nourish our practice from research and teaching activities (RUST, 2007). In this sense, we are currently mounting a double-degree between our host institutions (ENSAM in Montpellier, ETSAV in Barcelona), meant to start in 2024.

We intend, by enhancing the collaboration between our laboratories, to establish a comparative applied research that will help us to define new forms of mid-density residential urban tissues (in the sense defined by KROPF, 2013). This should allow us to properly respond, both with a local and general approach, to the challenges caused by climate change, or the impact of renewal energies.

4. Themes

We think only this bottom-up approach (that starts on applied architecture and urban design, treated comparatively with a research method) can lead, later on, to the definition of efficient trans-border planning practices and policies, suitable across administrative divisions.

In this sense, we intend to design and build two pilot-project neighbourhoods (one in each country) in a suburban environment, to explore the potential of self-sufficient communities, attending to one of the main strategic axes of the EU green transition policies (MARTÍNEZ, 2023).

Our contribution to this congress wishes to present this cooperation, currently under construction, to a wider scientific audience. In order to get, simultaneously, proper feedback before its impletion, and to contribute to the debate of turning planning into a game changer for more just and sustainable regions.

Author Biographies

  • Andrés MARTINEZ, Ecole Nationale Supérieure d'Architecture de Montpellier

    Architect and Professor in Architecture and Urban Design. 

    Member of the laboratory LIFAM (Laboratoire Innovation Formes Architectures Milieux), Montpellier

  • Pere FUERTES, Escola Tècnica Superior d'Arquitectura del Vallés

    Architect and Professor in Architecture and Urban Design

    Member of the laboratoy Habitar, Barcelona

    Director of the Escola Tècnica Superior d'Arquitectura del Vallès (Barcelona)


DE KEMMETER, Frédéric: «Comment le train a raté Barcelone», January 2024

KROPF, Karl: «Ambiguity in the Definition of Built Form», Urban Morphology nº18. Birmingham, 2013

MARTÍNEZ, Andrés: «L’opportunité transfrontalière», Nouveaux tissus résidentiels de moyenne densité. HDR, not published. Université Paul Valéry, Montpellier. March 2023

RUST, Chris (et alt.): «Practice-Led Research in Art, Design and Architecture». AHRC. Sheffield, 2007

VICENTE, Joan: «Territorial Development and Cross-Border Cooperation : A Review of the Consequences of European INTERREG Policies on the Spanish-French Border», Sustainability nº13. Basel, 2021