Sumit Singhal loves modern architecture. He comes from a family of builders who have built more than 20 projects in the last ten years near Delhi in India. He has recently started writing about the architectural projects that catch his imagination.
LCC1301 in Medellin, Colombia by Land+Civilization Compositions, Taller 301, openfabric
September 19th, 2013 by Sumit Singhal
Article source: Land+Civilization Compositions
A conceptual framework for the development of the city of Medellin
Multiple intertwined streams of issues
Medellin is wealthy city; wealthy in terms of its ambitions and its potential. Further, this project is a rare opportunity the ability to reform the ENTIRE riverfront that runs through a major city is rare. Therefore, this opportunity must be thought of as being even bigger than just a public space design, it must be taken as a chance to reform and set the framework for Medellin’s future. Obviously the riverfront is the key element in this project, but its influence and importance is much larger than the given project site boundaries. This proposal uses this competition to set forth principals for redevelopment, the use of funds, the city and its history, the relation to ecology, the movement of people, and so forth. Clear thinking about the further evolution of the city and how this project can be a trigger in this process is not overlooked by this project.
Let’s get serious about money
The assigned budget of 80 million pesos is not much money for the site given. Thinking clearly and strategically about how to distribute/use these funds is a key question of this project. On one hand is the desire to try and improve as much of the current poor conditions as possible immediately; on the other hand is the notion of providing one or a perhaps just a few key excellent projects within the city to set a standard for the future of public space and the river within the city. This project sets out do both. A few key projects are identified, where excellence in public space design can be achieved and money is spent to do so; meanwhile, via a series of simple/affordable strategies illustrate how the majority of the waterfront can be vastly improved in phase 1. Through creative reuse of existing elements, rethinking of achieving funding sources, understanding of movement patterns, and creating opportunities for citizen participation/assistance this project sets forth to be even more ambitious than the brief and budget would suggest by rethinking money, time and people power.
Beautiful spaces are not enough
Public spaces need to be about more than beauty… need to tie to local culture/identity – because this is lacking… and need to give places for activity – beautiful planting/spaces is easy in the climate… but spaces to be active/for events are lacking… need places to live/act/play in public… that tie to local history/identity.
Ambitious city, ambitious people
Medellin is ridiculously ambitious. Lucky for it, its ambitions are even larger than its current realities. Like New York, Paris, London, Barcelona, and many others before it, Medellin dreams big. But, unlike those cities currently, it lacks those financial realities as well as has more difficult issues to deal with. This just further underlines the need to take advantage of the ambition and creativity of the region. By using the money, people and existing elements in the city and on site creatively and more efficiently; this project can serve as an icon for how Medellin moves forward. It doesn’t try to replicate what those other cities are or what they have; it takes what it has reinterprets it and brings about something completely unique and local at the same time. By being efficient and cunning with its existing realities, Medellin will become even stronger, even greater than its own dreams.
Currently the city has no legible way of reading it. There are many great amenities, but they sit randomly in the mess that is the city. The rethinking of the riverfront can do more than just provide a park for the city; it is the opportunity to develop a way of thinking about the city – for the government, developers, and citizens alike. The river has always been the backbone of the city. This is an opportunity to return it to its glory. It should be the key structuring element in the larger system of the city.
An Informed pathway – the city is a confusing place with a rich history and great places. A quality pedestrian spine can both give an iconic place to stroll and provide information about the city’s many layers.
Great cities like Paris have a legible city form from even satellite view. Signage doesn’t need to add more visual vertical clutter to the city. It can form the paving pattern for the pathway and is flexible and can be very cost effective.
The brief states that the existing roadways must be maintained and are desired to be expanded. This is a mistake. The movement of people along the river is very important, but this should not assume cars need to move those people. Further, the city can form the way people will move through the city in the future by providing diverse modes of movement.
Current city plans [until 2030] will put only 20% of its citizens within a 5 minute walk of transit, and just 40% within a 10 minute walk. Additionally, the cities current expansion areas are completely ignored.
The current plans ideas of investing massive funds in tramways and particularly underground metro systems is very questionable. The city needs better transit now. The city can provide more, better located networks via BRT systems on multiple lines in the city. Further, providing more parallel lines to the river to carry passengers can take the road necessity away from the river and allow for other forms of moving people along it. And the existing cable car network can be expanded to provide public transport to the expanding growth of the city. With all of these 40% of citizens can be within a 5 minute walk of transit and 80% of people can be within a 10 minute walk. This can change the way people think of moving through the city in the future, decreasing the need for cars.
The existing asphalt can be used much more efficiently. By adding a BRT system, more people can be moved than can be in cars. This allows for some of the existing asphalt to be reused for a grand bike path and pedestrian walkway along the river.
The initial city vision for the river was a rich, active boulevard. This plan returns to that strategy. BRT is ideal for forming a city boulevard network.
The city’s identity comes from its environmental conditions – the hills and the river – but currently they are completely disconnected both in terms of identity and in terms of ecological systems. The opportunity to redesign the riverfront is an opportunity to rethink the tributary river network. In doing so, one can form an interlocking network of ecological public spaces that serve to further highlight the city’s natural gifts.
The river and its tributaries are massively polluted. The level of contamination is roughly 80%. Much of this is done by the city itself. Further, much of the upland area is unstable and susceptible to landslides.
With the existing water treatment plants both up and downstream, the issue for contamination is within the city itself. But instead immediately redoing the entire city ecological framework, the points where the tributaries enter the river can be controlled – providing an 80% improvement in water quality through merely modifying 5% of the riverfront. Additionally, plantings can be added to the hillside areas to stabilize the land and the developments from damage.
Currently the points where the tributaries meet the river are predominately concrete banks and do not allow residents to access the riverfront. The insertion of a series of small ecological cleaning systems will simultaneously clean the water, provide an environmental amenity, and will allow the citizens to engage with the riverfront.
The river had a much more naturalistic and rocky edge in the past. There are many cheap ways to reform the banks of the river, with simple plantings that will lead to greater biodiversity and provide aesthetic beauty.
Money is rarely taken into account in such design competitions. But it is extremely important. Given the set budget for the first phase of implementation, it is important to get the greatest impact from that money. Therefore strategy is to minimize massive infrastructural investments and to leverage private funding in the redevelopment process.
Existing – the land adjacent to the riverfront is almost all owned either by the city or is planned for redevelopment in the near future.
– 40% owned by city, 30% scheduled for redevelopment, 5% for immediate redevelopment
Proposal – this means 40% of the land fronting on the city waterfront will be done with private development
New developments and historic redevelopment needs informed guidelines to ensure the greatest success of the public space. Active ground floors fronting onto the space are key, with parking hidden, terraces, upper floors overlooking the space all can add up to form a great space.
Ideas of history and identity are key to any city. Currently many cities choose to erase/cover ‘undesirable’ history and forms of the city with classic forms of public space. Our proposal is to as much as possible to reuse the existing city forms and to reinterpret them in a more contemporary, people friendly manner. This is will remain more true to the city’s collective memory, provide a richer public space and be massively more efficient in terms of investment spending.
Much of the land available along the riverfront is trapped in cloverleaf car interchanges. Additionally, those spaces are filled with much of the mature plant life of the waterfront, but are not unreachable spaces for pedestrians. By simply removing the ‘inner leafs’ of the interchanges, pedestrians can access these spaces. In combination with the removal of half of the roadway next to the riverfront, much more space is given to people. The existing asphalt is reused and reinterpreted for pedestrian paths, activities, etc. The existing road bridges are adapted to form greater pedestrian access to the riverfront. Further, this removal of the ‘inner leaf’s steam lines the amount of cars given access to the riverfront. It can still function as a driving corridor but is treated as a boulevard and no longer permits drivers to do every single movement. It allows on, off movements which will transform the riverfront boulevard to a place to cruise, not to commute.
THE TOOL BOX
Working with ‘found objects’, as it is called in the art world, the proposal grounds the design in its place. It engages with existing infrastructural elements and reinterprets them, engaging the citizens with their own history development. Further, it offers a way to have a great impact and change of space immediately. Additionally, it is a very resource efficient – in terms of money and sustainability – way of maximizing the effect of the project.
New transit relates to the landscape and the place
Beyond merely suggesting the expansion of the transit system in a fast, cheap manner; the proposal looks to relate this transit to Medellin. It is about more than moving people, even; it is about the city and its landscape. Some former cloverleaf interchanges become hubs for the new transit infrastructure – bike, brt, cable car, and boat. New BRT station are equipped with PV cells, providing power to the city and suggesting a new way forward in power provision for the region. Plus, each new transit relates to the landscape; whether it be BRT forming new boulevards in the city, or the cable cars accentuating the hills, or the pedestrian/bike network linking to ecology, or the provision of boat transport along the river – each provides a connection to the landscape and the history of place.
Events, pavilions, and time
Events play a major role to give definition to time throughout the year in Medellin. In giving these events spatial qualities [permanent pavilions] we give a constant reminder and therefore create anticipation for the event. Additionally, the pavilions respond the qualities of the existing events and form a framework for the events to reinterpret every year. We also suggest the addition of a new event to the calendar – a water/river festival.
Funding is a key issue for such project. That is why we set forth a layered strategy. Corporate sponsorship is an opportunity in contemporary public space design. Designs are made to think about how the citizens can help with the long term maintenance. Elements of the space are set aside for development, whose profits can be used to create more grand spaces. And we think there is an opportunity to create a transit card that can be used to unify all the modes of transit, but can also take a percentage of the user fee and invest it in the riverfront development. In this way, all the citizens, corporations, and governments can contribute to the redevelopment of the riverfront.