American Society of Landscape Architects ASLA 2007 Student Awards
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Seeding Stability: A Strategy for Relocation and Reorganization in a Medellin Barrio.
Site Plan.
Analysis: Overall Site.
Ecology: Crop location based on water needs.



Seeding Stability: A Strategy for Relocation and Reorganization in a Medellin Barrio
Rebecca Fuchs, Student ASLA, Keya Kunte, Student ASLA and Kimberly Cooper, Student ASLA
University of Pennsylvania School of Design, Philadelphia, Pennyslvania
Faculty Advisor: David Gouverneur

"Very thoughtful and well planned. The beauty of this project is the seamless expression. It makes collaboration more powerful."

— 2008 Student Awards Jury Comments

Project Statement:

The project is located in Medellin, Colombia, with the focus on integrating its informal settlements with the formal city. With a population of 3.5 million inhabitants, Medellin is nestled in a narrow Andean Valley at an elevation of 3000 feet. It gained attention in the 1980’s when it became a center for the cocaine trade and one of the most violent cities in the world. The violence between drug lords and citywide organizations occurred mostly in the poorer neighborhoods, located on the steep slopes of the Medellin valley. The relative inaccessibility of these settlements due to their density and structure made them ideal places for drug lords to organize and hideout. Over the last four years with a new mayor, Sergio Fajardo, the city has undergone tremendous civic changes. Through simple, quickly built, urban interventions, the city has been able to provide accessibility to secluded barrios and create new urban centers.

The specific site for our design intervention is Santo Domingo, one of the informal settlements in Medellin that has experienced this change from violence and drugs to civic improvement over the last four years. Santo Domingo was one of the poorer and most violent informal settlements that was successfully targeted by the Fajardo administration's urban improvement plan. It was linked to the formal city through a metro cable (an aerial gondola) which connected to the city’s elevated subway line. The city’s development strategy began with siting an iconic library near the metro stop and existing community center, and building off of the node other institutions and connections such as a community center to tap local entrepreneurial skills, a high quality elementary and secondary school, recreational spaces, pedestrian links over the ravines, and new subsidized housing to relocate the population displaced by the introduction of the former amenities and services. The success of these interventions is highlighted by the considerable reduction in crime rate, the intense use of these public spaces and a sense of belonging to the formal city.

However, these interventions also bring to attention other issues, largely ecological and urban, that continue to plague Santo Domingo. These issues are the city’s primary concern for Santo Domingo and form our main design task. Within the area there are some 500 dwellings constructed on extremely steep slops at risk of mudslides during the rainy season. These homes are to be relocated within the neighborhood, and the vacant land occupied in such a way as to keep it from being informally reoccupied.

Accordingly, the project has three major design goals: Community, Connectivity and Ecology; working in tandem with each other to achieve the main objective of relocating housing and programming vacant land.

‘Community’ represents the issue of unstable housing and lack of open space in Santo Domingo, but at the same time builds on its strengths of existing interventions and community identity. It was important to us that the new housing, though formal in its design, allows for its owners to informally build additional units, as is the custom in the neighborhood. We determined where to situate the new housing developments based on a slope analysis, in which we chose areas with a lesser slope. This is different than the city’s proposal in which new high-rise housing located along existing urban edges. Along with building new housing on the slope, comes access to basic amenities such as water, electricity, sewer, and emergency vehicle access. New community institutions border the open space within the development or at its edge, serving not just as community anchors but as guardians of the larger programmed open space in order to insure its protection from reoccupation.

‘Connectivity’ is about providing legible connections between Santo Domingo and its surrounding context while strengthening connections between existing nodes and proposed interventions. There are four main connections: 1) a ring road around the hill at relatively the same contour which connects the various programs, allowing for access and a range of experiences. The path itself functions hydrologically, channeling water along runnels into collection cisterns located within and along the path. 2) vertical pedestrian links through both hillside developments create links from the top to bottom of the hill 3) a new road connecting the two developments 4) enhancing the connecting road between the library and La Silla, a isolated community of Santo Domingo.

‘Ecology’ addresses the issues of steep, unstable slopes prone to landslides and flooding by providing water management systems and planting schemes to control erosion. A network of pathways function as surface drains and collectors, channeling water to cisterns at relative low points along the path. This system helps to drain the slope during the rains and provides a source of irrigation for the community agricultural fields. Irrigating through releasing water from the cisterns, crops can be planted according to a hierarchy of their water needs. Both the agricultural fields and the Experience Ecology area create new venues for the community to experience large swaths of unbuilt space (a rarity in the barrio) and engage the community in food production, water management, and native tree species. The Experience Ecology area is composed of densely planted swaths of native trees, functioning both to retain the slope and as the ecological wing of the existing library.

These interventions have physical implications that are defined by a basic framework for design. These include: the importance of contextual and cultural nuances, the use of materials and structure as suggested by the existing barrio, to explore the treatment of open space and the built that bounds it, provide user adaptation while making strong design moves and understanding our design moves as part of the larger context of Medellin.

The intention is for the three strategies of ‘community’, ‘ecology’ and ‘connectivity’ to work simultaneously in the design move, to accomplish the variables involved. In this regard, the involvement of the community and the phasing of the design process become important. Accordingly, the phases outline the following design process: to relocate housing in high risk areas and the two areas of redevelopment, immediate transformation of two nodes into open space or built interventions to avoid reoccupation, develop pedestrian systems within nodes and extend outwards to form connections across the site, and a planting scheme to both organize and protect the slope from erosion.

Phasing outlines the immediate priorities of the intervention and sets up the process of design to allow for strong initial moves while maintaining a flexibility and place for user adaptation. This is important in resettlement of housing, particularly in informal areas and is a part of sensitizing and involving residents in the design process. Ultimately, the design moves work together in this context of informality, and informality lends itself to weaving a process of design rather than an end result.


Community: Typical section through housing.
Section through agricultural fields.
Community plaza.
Experience ecology garden.
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