A City Rises, Along With Its Hopes
FOR some time now, if you asked architects and urban planners for proof of the power of public architecture and public space to remake the fortunes of a city, they’d point here.
Twenty-odd years ago, this was Pablo Escobar’s town, with an annual homicide rate that peaked at 381 per 100,000. In New York City that would add up to an almost inconceivable 32,000 murders a year.
But Colombia’s second city has lately become a medical and business center with a population of 3.5 million and a budding tourist industry, its civic pride buoyed by the new public buildings and squares, and exemplified by an efficient and improbably immaculate metro and cable car system. Linking rich with poor neighborhoods, spurring private development, the metro, notwithstanding shrieks elsewhere in Colombia over its questionable construction cost, is for residents of Medellín a shared symbol of democratic renewal. Even on the rush-hour train I took the other morning, crowds stepped aside to let a cleaning woman with a mop and bucket scrub the floor.
That evening I headed high up into a steep hillside slum where rival gangs still shoot unsuspecting trespassers who cross invisible borders. The city has recently installed an escalator ascending 1,300 feet, much debated at $7 million and disconnected from the rest of the city’s transit network but shortening to a five-minute ride what had been a brutal 30-story climb for some 12,000 residents. I trudged by foot, past armed soldiers, past mothers taking breathers on the decrepit steps that meandered up the mountain, past toddlers on plastic tricycles plunging down vertical streets, to a brightly painted cinderblock hut, a ramshackle aerie overlooking a sprawl of tin houses and open sewers.
The shack is home to Son Batá, a cultural initiative founded by young black migrants from the Chocó region of Colombia. Son Batá promotes Chocano music and dance, and it benefits from yet another Medellín initiative: participatory budgeting. Residents here have voted to direct a share of government financing to new schools, clinics and college scholarships. Son Batá got to hire music teachers and bought instruments and is adding a new recording studio to its headquarters. A group of players showed me the studio under construction. From another room, music drifted over the barrio and into the warm night air.
I arrived in Medellín to see the ambitious and photogenic buildings that have gone up, but also to find what remains undone. The murder rate, while hardly low, is now under 60 per 100,000. Architecture alone obviously doesn’t account for the drop in homicides, but the two aren’t unrelated, either. Around the world, followers of architecture with a capital A have focused so much of their attention on formal experiments, as if aesthetics and social activism, twin Modernist concerns, were mutually exclusive. But Medellín is proof that they’re not, and shouldn’t be. Architecture, here and elsewhere, acts as part of a larger social and economic ecology, or else it elects to be a luxury, meaningless except to itself.
The story of Medellín’s evolution turns out to be neither as rosy nor as straightforward as fans of new architecture have tended to portray it. It’s generally told as a triumph for Sergio Fajardo, the son of an architect who is the governor of the region and who was the city’s visionary mayor from 2004 to 2007. He pushed an agenda that linked education and community development with infrastructure and glamorous architecture.
But the city’s transformation established roots before Mr. Fajardo took office, in thoughtful planning guidelines, amnesties and antiterrorism programs, community-based initiatives by Germany and the United Nations and a Colombian national policy mandating architectural interventions as a means to attack poverty and crime.
What sets Medellín apart is the particular strength of its culture of urbanism, which acts now almost like a civic calling card. The city’s new mayor, Aníbal Gaviria, spent an hour describing to me his dreams for burying a congested highway that runs through the middle of town, building an electric tram along the hillsides to stem the sprawl of the slums, adding a green belt of public buildings along the tram, rehabilitating the Medellín River and densifying the city center — smart, public-spirited, improvements. It’s as if, in this country whose relatively robust economy has underwritten many forward-thinking projects, every mayor here has to have enormous architectural and infrastructural plans, or risk coming across as small-minded or an outsider.
Mr. Gaviria, local designers, businessmen and community leaders sketched for me a picture of a city in which violence, much of it today by small drug traffickers, remains a big problem and victories are fragile. People in Medellín were cautious about the future, about easy solutions and seeing architecture as an end in itself. At the same time, they stressed the social and economic benefits that public architecture and new public spaces can create, and the wisdom of long-term, community-based policies of urban renewal.
“A holistic approach,” is how Alejandro Echeverri, one of the principal architects of the city’s transformation under Mr. Fajardo, described the philosophy.
I came here from Bogotá, whose renewal programs starting in the late 1990s — like earlier ones in Barcelona before the Olympics in 1992 — set the stage for Medellín’s revival. But now Bogotá is suffering, as strains multiply on its famed rapid bus system and residents’ faith in the city’s future plummets.
Medellín, by contrast, still counts on an almost fierce parochial pride, a legacy of decent Modernist architecture dating back to the 1930s, a cadre of young architects being aggressively nurtured and promoted, and a commitment by local businesses to improve social welfare that begins with the city’s biggest business: its state-owned utilities company, E.P.M.
You can’t begin to grasp Medellín’s architectural renaissance without understanding the role of E.P.M., the Empresas Públicas de Medellín, which supplies water, gas, sanitation, telecommunications and electricity. It’s constitutionally mandated to provide clean water and electricity even to houses in the city’s illegal slums, so that unlike in Bogotá, where the worst barrios lack basic amenities, in Medellín there’s a safety net.
More than that, E.P.M.’s profits (some $450 million a year) go directly to building new schools, public plazas, the metro and parks. One of the most beautiful public squares in the middle of Medellín was donated by E.P.M. And atop the slums of the city’s Northeast district, E.P.M. paid for a park in the mountaintop jungle, linked to the district by its own cable car.
Federico Restrepo used to run E.P.M., before he became the city planner under Mr. Fajardo. “We took a view that everything is interconnected — education, culture, libraries, safety, public spaces,” he told me, pointing out that while fewer than 20 percent of public school students here used to test at the national average in 2002, by 2009 the number exceeded 80 percent.
“Obviously it’s not just that we built and renovated schools,” he said. “You have to work on the quality of teaching and nutrition in conjunction with architecture. But the larger point is that the goal of government should be providing rich and poor with the same quality education, transportation and public architecture. In that way you increase the sense of ownership.”
But of course ownership can’t just be bestowed on poor neighborhoods; it must also be declared, in small, critical ways. In the troubled Comuna 13, two members of Revolución Sin Muertos (Revolution Without Deaths) — started not long ago by a group of neighborhood hip-hoppers rejecting the gang culture — took me on a graffiti tour. At a crowded street corner, Daniel Felipe Quiceno, known as Dog, and Luis Fernando Álvarez, who is called AKA, pointed to a mural of four of their own, murdered by local gangs. Revolución Sin Muertos paints murals around Comuna 13; sometimes residents put their own tags on them, as if to signal support. Murals, Mr. Álvarez said, have helped people here vent frustration and proclaim ownership of the neighborhood.
当然，归属感不是随随便便往老百姓头上一放就行了的;还要通过一些细微而关键的方式来重申。在麻烦不断的13区，“非暴力革命”(Revolución Sin Muertos)——不久前由当地一些反感黑帮文化的嘻哈青年创建的组织——的两名成员领着我做了一次涂鸦之旅。在一个人头攒动的街角，人称“狗子”的基赛诺(Daniel Felipe Quiceno)和“AKA”阿尔瓦莱兹(Luis Ferando Álvarez)指着一幅壁画告诉我，上面的四个人是他们的成员，被当地黑帮杀害了。“非暴力革命”在13区的很多地方都画了壁画;有时候当地居民会附上他们自己的标语以示支持。阿尔瓦莱兹先生说，壁画能帮助人们抒发心里的苦闷，宣告他们对此地的所有权。
Progress is hard. Venture a few yards from the heralded new squares, library and cable car stations in the Santo Domingo barrio, across town in the hills of the Northeast district, and it’s clear just how dramatic but also tenuous change is here. Mr. Echeverri met me at the cable car terminal one morning for the ride into the Northeast slums.
“We were already working before Fajardo on how to use cable cars to transform the surrounding area, to have the cable car stations as the neighborhood nervous system,” he recalled. “The barrios always had lots of energy but the energy was disconnected from the city.”
Our car rose high above a sea of illegal houses, the cable car stations creating a spine of commercial development up the mountainside. In what used to be a district too risky even for the police to patrol, we got off and wandered through a souk of restaurants, schools and clothing stores, leading onto busy squares and then to the España library, the most conspicuous emblem of the new Medellín.
“A seed to plant trust,” is how Mr. Echeverri described the neighborhood after its makeover. “The main physical transformation is to public space, but it’s only the beginning,” he cautioned, gesturing toward the sprawl of poverty just beyond the new development. Mr. Echeverri said all the headlines about the recovery of this much-photographed barrio have been great, but they’ve also had the unintended effect of inclining some officials to look elsewhere, for less politically complex projects.<纽约时报中英文网 http://www.qqenglish.com/>
He showed me the $4 million España library: three linked black boulders perched 1,500 feet over the valley, designed by the gifted Bogotán architect Giancarlo Mazzanti, which has become a community center and civic symbol. It’s impressive from the outside.
But there are serious problems on the inside. The buildings are steel-frame boxes clad in dark stone tiles, with floating concrete cores — in effect, boxes within the boxes with reading rooms, a child-care center, an auditorium and other facilities. Construction is shoddy, navigation confusing, the interior claustrophobic; acoustics are awful, windows scarce.
More impressive but less flashy is another library in Medellín by Mr. Mazzanti: the León de Greiff library in La Ladera also a trio of buildings, in this case well-connected cantilevered pods on slate pedestals, splayed like a fan across the brow of a hill. The shared roof is linked to a park next door. Views are spectacular. The reading rooms and children’s play areas look out through panoramic windows.
Mr. Echeverri took me down the hillside to Andalucía, another part of the Northeast slums. Formerly ruled by gangs who held opposite sides of a garbage-clotted creek, it’s now remade with a sports complex and school, new sidewalks, new mid-rise housing blocks and a bridge over the creek. Dozens of shops have opened. Men were tinkering beneath cars in the hot sun, chatting over beers, when I visited; children dawdled on the way home from school, eating ice cream on the bridge. A thousand eyes were on the streets.
There I found Mateo Gómez, a 20-year-old on his way to work at a local beer company in the city center. The cable car had cut his commute in half, from two hours to one, he told me.
“The España library changed our conception of ourselves,” he added. “Before, we felt a stigma. But we’re still missing cultural spaces, the library closes too early, the situation is still very uncertain.”
From the hills of the Northeast, I made the circuit of some of the other new architecture in Medellín, much of it in and around the Botanical Garden, which had been the city’s Central Park before it became too dangerous to visit, and was shut down. For a while, the garden was intended for demolition. Then, a decade or so ago, thanks to Pilar Velilla, the garden’s director at the time, and with the support of Mr. Fajardo, the area was turned around.
Mr. Echeverri has designed a dramatic new science museum and public plaza across the street from the garden, and the garden has been lovingly renovated, its walls taken down, a gem of a circular pavilion, by Lorenzo Castro and Ana Elvira Vélez, added at the entrance.
埃切维里在植物园的街对面设计了一座极富动感的科技博物馆和一个公共广场，植物园也经过了精心的整修，拆除了墙壁，入口处增建了一座精美的环形展馆，由洛伦佐·卡斯特罗(Lorenzo Castro)和维雷兹(Ana Elvira Vélez)设计。
After an initial scheme to hire Norman Foster to devise another pavilion was rejected, a local competition was held, with the idea of advertising Medellín’s own young architectural talent. The winner, JPRCR Architects (Camilo Restrepo runs it), and Plan B Architects (Felipe Mesa and Alejandro Bernal), came up with the Orquideorama, a towering wood meshwork canopy rising 65 feet above a latticed patio. Its 10 hexagonal flower-tree structures, collecting fresh rainwater and woven together like honeycombs, shelter an orchid collection and butterfly reserves. The canopy is at once formally economical and spectacular.
在最初聘请诺曼·福斯特(Norman Foster)设计另一座展馆的提案被否决后，当地举办了一个竞赛，旨在提携麦德林自己孕育的建筑设计青年才俊。最终获胜的JPRCR建筑师事务所(负责人是雷斯特雷普)和Plan B建筑师事务所(梅萨[Felipe Mesa]和贝尔纳尔[Alejandro Bernal])提出了“兰景园”(Orquideorama)的方案，这是一个高20米的木质网状罩蓬，悬在一片格状庭院上空。它包含10个六边形的花-树构造，会收集新鲜雨水，像蜂巢一样把它们汇聚到一起，形成了兰花和蝴蝶保护区的安全屏障。这个罩蓬起到了立竿见影的经济效益，同时也是一道美丽风景。
But the most remarkable building of all is a few blocks away, a cultural center in the neighborhood called Moravia, next to a vast garbage dump. The center is one of the last works by the Colombian master Rogelio Salmona, a quasi-Moorish design of refined simplicity, all transparency, modesty and openness. Carlos Uribe, an artist, who runs the center, showed off the beehive of below-ground practice rooms, the dance studio and theater opening onto the outdoors, the library and courtyard, flanked by low ramps, providing a desperately needed safe and attractive public space, where small children romped before watchful teachers among burbling fountains that recalled the Alhambra.
然而最令人赞叹的建筑还是要属几个街区开外一个大垃圾场旁的文化中心，名叫“摩拉维亚”。这个中心是哥伦比亚建筑大师萨尔莫纳(Rogelio Salmona)生前最后几件作品之一，一个类摩尔式的设计，有着精炼的简约、通透、低调和开放性。这里的负责人、艺术家乌里韦(Carlos Uribe)带我参观了蜂窝式的地下排练厅、舞蹈工作室和露天剧场，两侧有低矮坡道的图书馆和庭院提供了人们迫切需要的安全感，是一处迷人的公共空间，在老师的看护下，孩子们在一个让人想起阿尔罕布拉宫的喷泉里嬉戏玩耍。
The authorities have lately been moving residents from the unsafe landfill next door to new housing on the city’s periphery, which is understandable but a striking case of thoughtless urban planning, because the move isolates the residents from their jobs and what had become their neighborhood, with Salmona’s building as its anchor.
“Of course we will continue to improve schools and neighborhoods,” Mr. Gaviria, the mayor, had told me. “But we also need to care for the mountains and the river, which to us are like the rivers and Central Park in New York.”
My impression from that conversation was that it’s politically easier to propose new plans for burying highways and building trams in the hills than to untangle old problems, and that the city still had to be vigilant when it comes to housing policies. I met just before I left with eight young architects at the Museum of Modern Art, a steel mill from the 1930s, handsomely converted. “We’re still not thoughtful in terms of social housing, mixed neighborhoods,” agreed Verónica Ortiz Murcia, a partner at Arquitectura y Espacio Urbano.
这段对话给我留下的印象是，提出填平主干道、在山上建有轨电车这样的规划议案，从政治上讲要比去治理一些痼疾更容易一些，市政府在房地产政策上还是要保持警惕。离开之前我在现代艺术博物馆——一座由1930年代的钢铁厂改建而成的漂亮建筑——和8位年轻的建筑师见了面。“我们在社会性住房、混合居住区的问题上还是考虑得不周详：”建筑和城市空间事务所合伙人穆尔西亚(Verónica Ortiz Murcia)对我的看法表示赞同。
“There’s a general feeling among young architects of a missed opportunity here,” said another architect, Catalina Ortiz. That view was echoed by Camilo Restrepo and Alejandro González.
“年轻一代的建筑师普遍认为自己在这里不容易找到机会，”另一位建筑师奥尔梯兹(Catalina Ortiz)说。卡米罗·雷斯特雷普(Camilo Restrepo)和冈萨雷斯(Alejandro González)也表达了类似的观点。
Their skepticism seemed almost the most encouraging sign I had encountered in Medellín. The city has made big strides, after all, using cutting-edge architecture as a catalyst. But here young architects press for yet more creative solutions. They take for granted as their jobs both formal innovation and also the humanitarian role of architectural activism, leapfrogging an older generation of architects and others who have remained fixated on eye-catching buildings to grace the covers of glossy magazines.
It’s this restless energy among an up-and-coming generation, in a city where people already take seriously the goal of greater equality, that seems to promise change will continue.