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june 2014
guest feature article

Vertical Garden in Delicias, Zaragoza:
A Naturalised Hanging Garden Plaza


By Joaquín Sicilia Carnicer
Sicilia y Asociados Arquitectura, S.L.P.

All Photos Courtesy and © of Sicilia y Asociados Arquitectura, S.L.P.

The result of many years' hard work, the vertical garden project at Plaza Delicias in Zaragoza, Spain, was created in response to citizen engagement and reclamation and regeneration of unused pubic space.

An abandoned lot left much to be desired, especially green space, in the heart of the Delicias neighbourhood.  "Delicias" means "Delights" in Spanish.


Delicias is a densely populated neighbourhood in the city of Zaragoza.  It was formed in the 1950's but the greatest development took place in the 60's and 70's.  The people who live in Delicias came originally from rural areas during the Spanish migrations that took place in the 60's and 70's, but today there are a large number of new residents originating from different areas.

In the late 1990's an unsafe dilapidated building located at the intersection of Calle de las Delicias and Calle de Caspe was torn down.  The inhabitants were left with a vacant lot with the unsightly, inward-facing flank walls of the two adjacent buildings.  The lack of planning, green spaces, and symbolic landmark places for its residents created an unresolved issue for the revitalization of the neighbourhood.

Map of Delicias Plaza within Zaragoza.

The conceptualization of the Plaza Delicias project started in the late 1990's as result of an initiative by the neighbourhood residents' association (Asociación de Vecinos de Delicias "Manuel Viola").  This association gathered local support, including from the City of Zaragoza, to work on the small corner site that was transformed into a square on Delicias Street - a pedestrian artery and undoubtedly the vital centre of the neighbourhood.


The main challenge of the project consisted in creating a representative public space that could provide multiple benefits including offering a meeting place for the community as well as a space for leisure and integration and association with much desired nature.  The reference site has a ground area of approximately 530 m2 (5,705 sf); the solution proposed for this project set out, among others, the need to resolve the presence of the massive, exposed flank walls left over from demolition which reduced any intervention in the space to a minimum.

Urban blight pre-Plaza Delicias.

The vertical garden idea emerged in 1999, and after much resident support and many years of municipal campaigning over various local administrations, the final design took shape and was started in 2007, and completed in October, 2008.

Our proposal of a vertical garden, very similar to the community gardens concept, popular in small sites in New York City, that we could embrace.  This garden would give purpose to the large flank walls that faced the yet-to-be constructed Delicias Square, and would become a garden not just to contemplate but also to transit; the public space of the Square would be extended vertically.

Plaza Delicias - Delicias Square.

The offices of the residents' association would be located in the basement and they would become the main driving force of the Square, responsible for the environmental management of the space, as well as its use as an educational space and for citizen activity.

The conceptual idea of this vertical garden arose from the memory of that special childhood tree that we all remember and where we all, in some way or another, have spent time and whose presence has been a part of our dreams and experiences.

A lush, hanging garden-plaza.

At the time, few commercial green wall systems were available so a custom system was designed by Sicilia y Asociados Arquitectura and the gardening team of Lazaro and Isabel Vela.  All of the supporting metal structures of the building, designed by Sicilia y Asociados Arquitectura and their engineering team of Benedict Perez, SL and Ingemetal, were developed for the vertical garden that is a metaphor for that special tree of memory.  It is a structural system that, besides contributing to the aesthetic morphology of the garden and assuring its technical and functional safety, becomes the “community tree” providing all the necessary elements to incorporate the different species of plants.  A "botanical route" encompasses the space with a total of 84 different plant species.

Climbers, creepers, shrubs and trees can be found at Plaza Delicias.

The system is designed for the plants to always retain direct contact with the ground itself or with planter boxes located on various levels.  The hanging garden effect is a web of recycled tow ropes and metal meshes for plant support, development and growth of the plants.  The structural metal beams and trusses thus became large linear planters capable of providing the necessary support for the different plants and irrigation system.  A recirculating drip irrigation system was installed for easy maintenance and water conservation. 

One of the upper levels at Plaza Delicias.

The conceptual genesis of the project expands the Plaza Delicias in a tight urban space by developing a vertical garden of 500 linear metres (1,640 linear feet) of different heights with various accesses and platforms for a multitude of activities forming over 800 m2 (8,611 sf) of landscaping elements, in addition to 530 m2 (5,705 sf) of plants located at the Plaza Delicias street level.  In the basement, 404 m2 (4,327 sf) is devoted to the Asociación de Vecinos de Delicias "Manuel Viola," the neighbourhood residents' association, which is responsible for the management of space and its use as a teaching and civic activity space.

Plan view from Sicilia y Asociados Arquitectura - click to enlarge.
Community participation and engagement.

In addition to a great variety of plants, throughout the upward space we find a great variety of flooring materials and treatments on different paths and locations, inviting citizens to a different daily use over every hour of the day.  Areas on the different levels incorporate street furniture, which is another element of naturalisation.

Entrance to the Vertical Garden from Plaza Delicias.

The vertical garden and the adjacent streets, in particular the pedestrian Delicias Street, converge in a square that occupies the whole dimension of the original site with different levels, highlighting the presence of a stage with stands.  From this basic level, visitors can either access the lower ground floor of the association, or go up the ramps to other levels with their perspective spaces.  Each route and each space offer great variety to the garden path.  The routes crisscross the height of the plaza's space as if they were tree branches sprouting out from the trunk.  Thus, we find these different levels: from 3.15 to +4.70m, from +4.70 to 6.25m, from 7.80 to 9.35m and 10.90 to complete the ascent to +14.40 metres over the level +/- 00 of the square.  All the ramp routes are accessible, with no architectonic barriers.

Section from Sicilia y Asociados Arquitectura - click to enlarge.
Enjoying the plaza with friends.
A viewing platform, lift, and art tower.

A unique and striking vertical tower is also accessible via a lift, and is naturalised by incorporating recycled metal manufacturing plate dies, which were destined for the scrap yard, forming a metal latticework that incorporates different colour prints using Plexiglas mobiles, plantings and Plexiglas on the façade.  Initiatives and citizen activity proposals are continually being presented, such as the creation of artistic activity spaces in a rotary type façade-gallery to incorporate plastic works and reproduce them on textile elements, or incorporating a permanent classroom in one of the spaces of the vertical garden where residents will find the technical support to create their own plant plots and care for them.  The aim is to give the entire plaza an educational nature with the reference and explanation of the different species that have been incorporated.

The multi-coloured tower presents a striking contrast to the vegetation.

The entire constructed unit is presented as a unique whole interrelating architecture with naturalisation.  The beams of the footbridges that link up the different levels have been designed as different sized garden boxes that house the various species.  Wire mesh and reinforcements that have been recycled from other construction areas act as support in developing the full naturalisation of all the vertical spaces.

A whole, interrelated architecture.
Plants provide a welcome respite and much needed green space in the tight urban locale.



Robinia pseudoacacia - black locust
Magnolia grandiflora
- southern magnolia


Prunus cerasifera 'Pisardii' - purple-leaved plum
Lagestroemia indica
- crape myrtle
Olea europaea
- olive tree
- rhododendron
Syringa vulgaris
- common lilac
Cupressus sempervirens
- Italian cypress
Euonymus japonicus
- Japanese Euonymus
Euonymus japonicus '
Medio Picta' - Japanese Euonymus 'Medio Picta'
Laurus nobilis
- bay laurel, sweet bay
Prunus laurocerasus
- cherry laurel
Pittosporum tobira - Japanese mock orange
Pittosporum tobira
'Nana' - Dwarf Japanese mock orange
Arbutus unedo
- strawberry tree
Abelia floribunda
- Mexican abelia
Abelia x grandiflora
- glossy abelia
Nandina domestica
'Firepower' - 'Firepower' nandina
Phyllostachys aurea
- golden bamboo
Yucca gloriosa
- Spanish dagger
Viburnum tinus
- Laurustinus Viburnum, Laurestine
Viburnum tinus 'Lucidum' - Laurustinus 'Lucidum'
Viburnum opulus
- European cranberry bush
Berberis thumbergii atropurpurea
- Japanese barberry
Berberis julianae
- Wintergreen barberry
Buddleja davidii
- butterfly bush, summer lilac
Picea glauca conica
- white spruce
'Else Poulsen' - floribunda rose 'Else Poulsen'
Ligustrum ovalifolium
- California or oval-leaved privet
Ligustrum japonicum
- Japanese or wax-leaf privet
Aucuba japonica
'Crotonifolia' - Japanese aucuba or laurel
Camellia spp.
- camellia


Cyclamen spp. - cyclamen
Platycerium spp.
- staghorn or elkhorn fern
Nephorlepsis spp.
- sword fern
Chlorophytum comosum
- spider plant
Dimorphoteca osteospermum
- African daisy
Scaevola aemula
- fan flower
Euryops pectinatus
- yellow daisy, golden daisy bush
Bergenia crassifolia
- winter looming or leather bergenia
Cineraria maritima
- dusty miller
Verbena repens
- creeping verbena
Aptemia spp.
- baby sun rose or heartleaf ice plant
Sempervivum spp.
- Hens and Chicks or Houseleeks
Agapanthus africanus
- African lily
Cerastostigma spp.
- plumbago
Begonia floribunda
- begonia
Impatiens spp.
- impatiens
Gysnerium cortaderia
- pampas grass
Drosanthemum floribundum
- rosy ice plant
Sedum spp.
- Sedum
Canna spp.
- canna lily


Lavandula angustifolia - English lavender
Rosmarinus officinalis
- rosemary
Rosmarinus officinalis
'Postratus' - creeping rosemary
Thymus vulgaris
- common thyme
Lippia citriodora
- lemon verbena
Santolina chamaecyparissus
- lavender cotton
Myrtus tarentina
- small leaved myrtle


Hedera helix - English ivy
Hedera helix
'Eva' - English ivy 'Eva'
Hedera minor
- ivy
Hedera minor variegata
- variegated ivy
Parthenocissus tricuspidata
- Boston ivy
Jasminum polyanthum
- pink or winter jasmine
Lonicera periclymenum
- European honeysuckle
Passiflora caerulea
- blue passionflower or passion vine
Bougainvillea glabra variegata
- variegated bougainvillea
Trachelospermum jasminoides
- star jasmine
Campsis radicans
- trumpet vine or creeper
Clematis grandiflora
- clematis
Plumbago capensis
- cape blumbago
Rosa banksiae
- Lady Banks' Rose
Vinca major
- large periwinkle
Vinca minor
- periwinkle or dwarf periwinkle

Multi-level planters and trellises.


Concept & Management: Joaquín Sicilia Carnicer
Project Development: Sicilia y Asociados Arquitectura, S.L.P. and Lázaro & Isabel Vela of Jardinería Vela, S.L.
Structural Engineer: Pérez Benedicto, S.L. & Ingemetal
Engineering Facilities: Inpro Estudios y Proyectos, S.L.
Coordination/Management: Jaime Crespí & Miguel Angel Herrero, Sicilia y Asociados Arquitectura, S.L.P.
Construction: DGP, Dirección Gestión y Promoción, S.L. & SACYR, S.A
Conceptual Collaboration/Participation: Asociación Vecinos del Barrio de Delicias "Manuel Viola"

Architectural Panel from Sicilia y Asociados Arquitectura - click to enlarge.


We hope that this symbolic "tree" will be an example of naturalisation that will, on the one hand, be used to contribute to the general rehabilitation of a neighbourhood and, on the other, to conceptually balance out the lack of naturalised spaces that the neighbourhood should have had from the start.  Plaza Delicias has been transformed into a true urban center and activity nucleus of the Delicias neighbourhood.  To be sure, the benefits of increased environmental comfort for its visitors have contributed to its popularity and use: within its interior, the noise level of the busy urban centre has been reduced dramatically along with temperatures in the hottest months of summer - the naturalisation of the space diminishes the temperature between 3 and 5
° C.

Zigzagging ramps climb up.

The Plaza Delicias Vertical Garden was awarded the "Premio Europeo Espacio Público 2010" - the European Award for Public Spaces 2010 - competing with 303 other projects in 33 countries.  It also became a finalist in the "6º Premio Europeo del Paisaje Rosa Barba 2010" - the 6th European Rosa Barba Landscape Award 2010.

The iconic tower.

Vegetative and symbolic elements at Plaza Delicias spark the neighbourhood’s power of memory and imagination.  The wonderful, idyllic, paradisiacal evocation of the word “Delicias” - or “Delights” - required a wild and nature-based treatment.  When creating environmental solutions, it is important to consider the psychological impacts that names and words convey.  To enter the Vertical Garden is to explore the mystery and adventure that the proper name of the street and the neighborhood suggests.

I feel the Plaza Delicias is a very special work, not because of my firm as the creative force, but as a result of the residents who made it a reality.  Its execution was possible thanks to a great citizen effort of the Asociación de Vecinos del Barrio de Delicias “Manuel Viola” of many years, from 1999 to 2007, to convince the municipal administration of the numerous benefits of a space of this type.  I believe it is a pioneering work that serves as a model for green urban habitat and major social and urban change.

The Plaza Delicias evokes sense of place for its residents.

And we can also say that is a truly unique space, a garden-plaza rising 20 metres (65+ ft) high via vegetated platforms, ramps, and spaces offering a true sense of place for the Delicias neighbourhood and a local destination for a wide, ever-growing range of activities.  A symbolic landmark for Delicias was established, and the naturalisation of Plaza Delicias is like a tree itself - in perpetual evolution.

Joaquín Sicilia Carnicer

Publisher's Notes:  The Plaza Delicias was a huge crowd favorite and came in second in our recent 2014 “Love the Earth, Plant a Roof or Wall!” Earth Day Photo Contest with 452 votes.  See the Plaza Delicias (Delicias Square) Vertical Garden project profile in The Greenroof & Greenwall Projects Database.

Joaquín played an important role as part of our 2013 Greenroofs & Walls of the World™ Virtual Summit:  He contributed "Arquitectura, Arte y Cultura en la Naturación Urbana: Experiencias Españolas" - "Architecture, Art and Culture in Green Cities: Spanish Experiences" as a member of the collaborative presentation "Naturación Urbana en España" - "Urban Greening in Spain."

Joaquín Sicilia Carnicer

Based in Zaragoza, Spain, Joaquín Sicilia Carnicer is an architect and founder and CEO of Sicilia y Asociados Arquitectura, S.L.P.  Joaquin's ideology is based on the interaction and coordination of different worlds and disciplines as a basis for thinking or creating architecture that can achieve the quality of life of its users.  In 1995 he founded FUNDACIÓN "AL SUR" (To the South Foundation), a multidisciplinary group related to environmental and landscape engineering as well as cultural issues pertaining to population movements and migration.  Joaquin is a member of the Fundación Ecología y Desarrollo (Ecology and Development Foundation) and PRONATUR - Sociedad Española para la Naturación Urbana (Spanish Society for Urban Greening) - where in 2011 he served as Technical Director.  Currently he is the Vice President of PRONATUR.

In addition to the Vertical Garden in the Zaragoza Delicias Neighborhood, named one of the Best Top 10 European Spaces in 2010, a few of his projects include the greening of: former farmland for the Thermal Garden Spa of Sicily; open spaces within the new Zaragoza Municipal Football Stadium; the new agro-urban neighborhood "ATALAYA" in Zaragoza; and a new eco-city in Kassala, Sudan.

Contact Joaquín Sicilia Carnicer:
Sicilia y Asociados Arquitectura, S.L.P: (+34) 976 25 32 00


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