Sunday, January 4, 2009

Lessons from Medellin

I just posted this on my archinect blog: Medellin-Infrastructure as Change
Giancarlo Mazzanti's Parque Biblioteca España.

From archinect blog:
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.
San Javier Library Park by architect Javier Vera Londoño.

Medellin really showed me the power of infrastructure and architecture in these contexts. The libraries have instilled a pride in the neighborhood. The pride was evident through a newspaper that the neighborhood writes to put in the España library (above) as a form of communication with the outside world. The people I was talking to also seemed proud of their cable cart and metro which no other city in Colombia has.

I also think that it is important to note that the importance of Medellin not wanting to formalize the slums. Or at least not in the large-scale modernist way. They are simply providing some patch works of infrastructure that allow people better mobility, cleaner areas, more services, etc... All projects seem to be differently thought for each specific site. The triumph of basic principles applied as per context over universalist solutions.

The lessons I learned:
1- Mobility matters - getting people in and out of informal settlements is key for a thriving community
2- Good design matters - the (contemporary) design value of the landscape, infrastructural elements, and libraries seem key to bring pesos up to the comunas and to serve as points of pride by the local community.
3- Work with it not against it - As I said above Medellin proves patchworks of infrastructure can sing a harmony. A well placed staircase may just be everything a cluster of houses needs.
4- 'Informal' is not a bad word - related to #3 and paragraph above. As I said in the VIEW page, I think the most interesting work happens in the space between the formal and informal, a space designers could be comfortable in.

The questions I now have:
1- Can Designers still do this without a strong government?
2- How careful must one be of Poorism?
3- Once these communities go through their semi-formal processes, will new informal communities arise? Can that even be stopped?

Infrastructure in the Comunas

More Pics in flickr: Medellin Winter 08/09

1 comment:

Dave Brown said...

I have really been impressed with what I have seen coming out of Medellin recently, from both a design and a civic level. It seems like, as you have pointed out, they are doing some amazing things with both well placed, highly symbolic civic buildings and precise acupunctural interventions in the comunas. I really appreciate that the libraries are (1) given such a strong civic presence and (2) open 24 hours, which I was shocked to learn about.
but I wonder--from what you saw are these buildings accepted by the communities they are placed in and are they as transformational as we would like to believe they are, or is there a resistance to them?
I also have a question about your statement regarding an uncompromising design process. What do you mean by that exactly? It seems to me like working in these contexts, and working as a kind of community activist architect and with the idea of architecture playing a mediational role as you mentioned in another post, that the design process would have to be somehow compromised, or tainted, or something, with the reality of the situation that you are intervening upon.
By the way, nice flickr set too!