About Us

Our work strives to enhance our sense of surroundings, identity and relationship to others and the physical spaces we inhabit, whether feral or human-made.

Selected Awards
  • 2004 — Aga Khan Award for Architecture
  • 2009 — Mies van der Rohe Award
  • 2013 — AIA/ALA Library Building Award
  • 2015 — Best Interior, Designers Saturday
  • 2016 — AIA New York Honor Award

Water, the backbone

The use of water has been a constant throughout the history of Besalú, and the system of canals and channels that runs along the left bank of the Fluvià has been the main protagonist.

The Gros canal fed the flour and paper mills and the old power station, while the Petit or Canalet canal became the backbone of a network of secondary irrigation channels that carry water to each of the vegetable allotments Besalú, which occupy an area of approximately 96,000 m2 .

The secondary ramifications correspond quite well with the irrigation permit sectors depending on the day of the week. And it is the owners and users of the allotments who are in charge of maintaining this network of channels, which range from traditional open channels and built of stone or ceramic pieces to buried or concrete-covered PVC pipes.

The allotments not only create a pleasant landscape but also have a social function. If years ago they were an important part of family subsistence, today they are again rising in value, for their heritage and social value, as a recreational space for many retired people, and also as a source of self-sufficiency that characterizes a new model of life.

Water, the backbone

The use of water has been a constant throughout the history of Besalú. Mills and power stations have been shaping the left bank of the river Fluvià since the 10th century (the oldest documented reference to a flour mill) until 2010, when the old power station in Can Surós ceased to be operational.

But although water has been the source of energy for this industrial activity, the role it has played in the growth and maintenance of Besalú’s allotments has been no less important. There is documented evidence that as early as 1300 there was a canal that carried part of the water from the Fluvià to the town centre and the irrigated lands between the old wall and the stony area of the river.

 

Irrigation channels and canals. A little history

From the middle of the 19th century until well into the 20th century, documents show various applications and concessions for permits for the construction of small dams, ditches and canals for the use of water, both for feeding mills and for watering crops. These gradually became consolidated into a network of canals and ditches that favoured the process of industrialization of the town and the exploitation of the allotments.

In 1928, in order to increase the production of the Can Surós power station, owned by the Masllorens family, from Barcelona, a new canal was built, the Rec Gros, above the existing canal, which led to the disappearance of the ditches to irrigate the allotments established along the canal.

During the Civil War, the construction of a new canal, promoted by the Town Council, brought water back to the allotments. But the “Canalet” was destroyed by the floods of 1940, which also meant the loss of some cultivated areas.

A few years later, in 1943, the owner of the dam and the Rec Gros canal, Esteve Masllorens, signed an agreement with several owners of the allotments, in which he agreed to cede part of his water for the irrigation of the allotments. The permit, however, was subject to a number of clauses, including the following:

  • The use had to be a maximum of 25 litres per second and through a 15 cm hole in the pond of Can Surós, and the hole had to be made 30 cm below the overflow drain.
  • The maintenance costs of the Canalet were to be paid for by the irrigators.
  • The owners of the allotments had to pay Esteve Masllorens a fee of 1,800 pesetas a year, divided into two payments, one in May and the other in October.

All this forced the development of clear rules on the use of water among allotment owners to avoid future and predictable disagreements.

In May 1957, after a long drought, new regulations were approved that, among other things, modified the areas of the allotments, and these are still in force today. Thus, six zones were established with very well-defined boundaries; in each zone one day of the week was allotted for watering, on Sunday it was open for all, and strict irrigation shifts were established in each zone which had to be scrupulously observed.

 

The irrigation system

The Besalú allotments area has a traditional irrigation system based on the distribution of water by gravity through a hierarchically organized distribution network.

A main canal captures water permanently from a channel in the Can Surós sluice and sends it into a series of secondary channels of intermittent flow that divert water to the individual channels of each allotment.

The irrigation network is made up of a varied typology of channels, from traditional open channels built with stone or ceramic pieces, to buried or concrete-covered PVC pipes.

The Gros canal, built to supply the old power station, crosses the whole area but does not capture the water from this irrigation network. It only leads it through the Subirós mill and the electric power station located a few meters downstream and returns it to the river Fluvià.

This system, however, requires constant maintenance that is basically carried out by the owners and users of the allotments. This means that the sections of this network that are in poor condition correspond to the allotments which are abandoned or disused.

 

Note: This text is an extract from the document Anàlisi i propostes per al Pla especial de protecció dels horts de Besalú, by Anna López Alabert, José Bernal González and Gerard Portas Balateu, and with the collaboration of Joan López i Carrera.

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