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Medellin, architecture as a social tool

posted Apr 7, 2011, 4:51 AM by Patricia Martin

Last week I had the opportunity to listen to Sergio Fajardo in Vitoria, where he presented the work he did as mayor in Medellin between 2003 and 2007. With a problem-solving approach to the city, derived from his mathematical background, he focused the strategies on two problems: violence and inequality. This city of 2,5 million people had 29 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants in 2006, a fact that has positioned it as the world’s deadliest city. Under the slogan Medellín, la más educada (Medellin, the most educated), he decided to fight against the poverty-violence circle through education and ensure the rights to a public educative system to every Medellin citizen.

Through an acupunctural strategy, he inserted key educational buildings (library-parks, schools, cultural centers) in the most deprived areas of the city, and connected them through new infrastructure to the city center. These landmarks carry out a double function: first, they provide an alternative option for the children living in the slums, giving them new opportunities for their future; second, these buildings work as urban catalysts opening the slums to the city and attracting visitors to these previously forgotten areas.

Parque biblioteca España-Giancarlo Mazzanti. Image by Sergio Gómez

Parque biblioteca España-Giancarlo Mazzanti. Image by

During the conference, Sergio Fajardo insisted on the role of architecture in bringing dignity to the slums. As son of one of the most important architects of Colombia, he understood the representative role of architecture and its power for social transformation. With the words lo más bello para los más pobres (the most beautiful for the poorest) he highlighted the fact that poor people hardly ever receive beautiful buildings as if they do not deserve or need them. However, these buildings, that have won many national and international architectural awards, have become an icon of social inclusion, bringing dignity to the people living in the slums. Architecture is used as a powerful transformation tool providing not only hope but also the physical space for education.

Parque biblioteca La Ladera- Giancarlo Mazzanti. Image by Sergio Gómez (Plataforma Arquitectura)
Parque biblioteca La Ladera- Giancarlo Mazzanti. Image by Sergio Gómez (Plataforma Arquitectura)
Orquideorama-Plan B + JPRCR. Image by Sergio Gómez (Plataforma Arquitectura)