Interdisciplinary Symposium Discusses Progress in the Colombian City
On October 3, a group of professionals from the design, public policy, and city planning arenas convened in the Abby and Howard Milstein Auditorium to discuss the potential of their professions to empower social change in the Colombian cities of Bogotá and Medellín.
Organized by Julian Palacio, visiting critic in the Department of Architecture, "Chronicles of the South: Architecture for the City in Colombia" featured presentations that explored current projects that have been successful because of their social ambition and interdisciplinary approach. The symposium focused primarily on Bogotá and Medellín, which have become contemporary references for urban revitalization in spite of facing a unique set of challenges including limited resources and remnants of a violent past that once defined the country.
"Both cities have undergone radical transformations since the 90s," says Palacio. "In both places, politicians with non-traditional backgrounds emerged as leaders, and embraced the idea that transforming the city itself — its buildings and public spaces — can be a way to bring people back together and to move toward a better future."
The symposium first presented each city from a broad, historical perspective, offered by individuals who have played an important part in the cities' strategic planning — Lorenzo Castro, the former director of the Professional Workshop for Public Space in Bogotá during Mayor Enrique Peñalosa's administration; and Alejandro Echeverri, current Loeb Fellow at the Harvard Graduate School of Design and former director of Urban Projects in Medellín.
"Echeverri spoke about the importance of program in his projects as well as the importance of understanding different layers and acting in multiple scales," says attendee J. David Pagan (B.Arch. '15). "This is something we talk about at Cornell all the time, and Echeverri tied it back to the importance of multidisciplinary collaboration in architecture, of working with government and other professionals."
Practicing architects from each city then detailed specific examples of interdisciplinary public space projects that demonstrate how architecture and design can have a transformative effect. Bogotá's Daniel Bonilla of Daniel Bonilla Arquitectos/Taller de Arquitectura de Bogotá shared his experience designing public buildings, including the headquarters for Bogotá's Chamber of Commerce and the International Convention Center of Medellín. Juan Pablo Ortíz of Juan Pablo Ortíz Arquitectos spoke about the Center of Memory, Peace, and Reconciliation, a project recently completed by his firm in downtown Bogotá, which provides a space for collective reflection on the country's armed conflict that has killed an estimated 220,000 people since 1958. Orlando García of G Ateliers presented the Fernando Botero Library Park, located in an urban village on the hills west of Medellín, which is part of a network of hybrid cultural and educational centers that aims to revitalize poor neighborhoods through the construction of these facilities; and Ana Elvira Vélez of Ana Elvira Vélez Arquitecta discussed projects that address the design of public spaces and cultural buildings such as the Parque de los Pies Descalzos, the Medellín Botanical Garden, and the Hispania Educational Park. She also presented several projects that focus on the challenge of affordable housing in Colombia, and propose innovative solutions in urban and rural contexts.
"The speakers highlighted the dialogue between government and architecture, and how it can translate into infrastructure for economic and social development," says Daniela Cardenas (B.S. URS '16). "Listening to Ana Elvira Velez talk about how to use architecture to solve inequality was a highlight of the event for me."
In the final lecture, Patricio del Real, from the Department of Architecture and Design at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, linked the current creative and social movement in Colombia to a greater Latin American modern architecture, and highlighted examples of building and cities.
"From one speaker to the next, it was clear that the success of the projects is not in the uniqueness of the designs . . . but rather it's about architecture connected to the city through infrastructure," says Pagan.
"Chronicles of the South" was part of the Preston H. Thomas Memorial Lecture Series.
Colombia Transformed, a companion exhibition on display in John Hartell Gallery, features recently completed public projects in Colombia by leading architects including Bonilla, García, Giancarlo Mazzanti, and Felipe Uribe, among others. Projects including day care centers, schools, libraries, and sport complexes are explored through photographs, slides, drawings, models, and film footage. Colombia Transformed is on display in John Hartell Gallery until October 23.
By Rebecca Bowes