Sep '06 - Dec '09
When I arrived to Medellin by highway from Bogota the thing I first noticed was the ever present informal settlements in the mountains. But these were different, from the highway you could see the loops of cables carts moving in and out from the informal settlements and the metro that then moves the inhabitants from the mountains into the mainstream of Medellin's cultural and social life. However, you could already see that this culture did not only exist outside the mountainside comunas (the Colombian word for slums) as in the distance I could make up 3 black towers that I immediately recognized as Colombian architect Giancarlo Mazzanti's Parque Biblioteca España.
I have to admit that I was a bit fearful to go to the library as my family (that as I, all hail from Bogota) warned me that I would be robed "down to my underwear" if my wife and I even attempted to go there. This attitude comes from a seemingly endless war (mostly about drugs) in Colombia that at one time was the number one activity among gang members in Medellin's Comunas. However, these fears were completely unfounded as we always felt safe while visiting the library. This is in fact what these libraries were meant to do, bring people and other formal services (education, banks, etc...) up to the Comunas to stop the violence and allow a renewal program to take place.
Another such library is the San Javier Library Park by architect Javier Vera Londoño.
From the San Javier Library we took Medellin's second cable cart line that goes up to a different set of Comunas from those around the Parque Biblioteca España. In the trip I wanted to see the smaller infrastructural changes that the city is making to make the Comunas a little bit better.
I am of course still processing the trip, but I think that I can already say that it seems as though Medellin decided not to formalize the Comunas. Rather the city is in the process of giving people in these communities better services and infrastructure (frames?) and then is also providing them with the tools to improve their conditions (infill?). I talked to a woman in the cable cart who told me how much easier life was since the city began to make some better roads, schools, and the major infrastructural changes (the metro and cable cart). With that work done, she is now in the process of improving her own house with a small loan.
Medellin also shows how landscape architects, architects, and other designers can work in these contexts without sacrificing the quality of design. In this case they enjoy the patronage of an activist mayor that allows them to do it, which makes me wonder what would happen if that was not the case? This is, I think, an important element for designers to find ways to do this type of work in this context without; 1-the need of a strong government, and 2-compromising the design process.
Although I found the work in the Comunas very exciting, it is by no means the only thing going on in Medellin. The most famous example of contemporary design in this City is the Orchid Shading Structure by Colombian firms Planb and JPRCR.
FLICKR SET WITH MORE IMAGES AND ARCHITECTURE FROM MEDELLIN.
(All images by Quilian and/or Izabela Riano)
Some more thoughts on Medellin in my thesis blog.
Medellín’s Nonconformist Mayor Turns Blight to Beauty
Parque Biblioteca España
Sitcks and Stones