Arquitectura Expandida, developed on this by speaking of the uncertainty of territories like the Alto Fucha where people have been displaced due to mitigation of risk. Built homes were torn down, because they were standing on “unstable lands.” Ana Lopez Ortego, tried to showcase with her presentation that the criteria followed by the government to evaluate the stability of lands though was not consistent. She asked the audience to question whether it made sense that year after year, areas were considered at risk and the next year weren’t.
By showing the evolution of the same risk map held by the state as evidence to evict people she wondered if this “technical knowledge” was used to follow the interest of a certain party.
The evicted lands were fenced and then never used, so that the other neighbors had to live in the middle of the ruins of the evicted communities. As Hector Alvarez stated, communities need to know their land in order to defend it, if the Alta Fucha community had their own evaluation of the land to determine its risk, then perhaps the story would’ve ended differently.
Arquitectura Expandida also focused on explaining how state development plans seemed to ignore the existing communities of “Los Cerros Orientales”[The Eastern Hills]. Using “El Sendero de las Mariposas”[The Butterfly Trail] as an example, they explained how this touristic proposal by the state sought to introduce visitors to the flora and fauna of “Los Cerros Orientales” without recognizing the existence of a community in the midst of it all. Ana Lopez wondered why the proposal didn’t support the local economy by including Alto Fucha in the path of the “El Sendero de las Mariposas,” instead of trying to hide any evidence of their presence. Through their projects such as the “Casa de la lluvia (de ideas)” they promote active participation through a community project, from the idea and programming, to the materiality of the projects and the actual construction.
Professor Luca Bullard of the Universidad Nacional de Colombia, Sede en Medellín [The National University of Colombia, Medellín Campus] followed the line of Arquitectura Expandida showing his experience with first semester architecture students dedicating the design studio not just to design but the construction of small interventions in the University campus. The goal was to have students start directly handling materials and the impact an intervention could have in a place. They focused on endogenous materials such as plastic bottles, PVC tubes, plastic crates for soft drinks transportation, CDs, amongst many others.
Luca spoke of the importance of involving students as early as the first semester to actual construction of feasible projects with reduced budgets to promote their inventiveness and creativity.
To close off the first day of discussions, Pedro Reynolds presented his project, the Center of Innovation(C-Innova) that is creating a social innovation movement through community creativity.
C-Innova recognizes the inventiveness and creativity present in every person, and seeks to promote it and stimulate it through specialized workshops.The workshops implement a methodology developed by the MIT Development Lab that consolidates creative capacity through a cyclical process of trial, error and improvement. The community is always at the heart of the creation.
Recognizing the knowledge of those who directly work and deal with the problems from the community, community members, specialists and students are partnered up to develop prototypes to enhance and improve processes. These prototypes are built on site with a set budget and are tested by the users, recommendations and subsequent modifications are made until a final product is delivered. C-Innova proposes a side-to-side work dynamic with a hands on emphasis, where everyone gets involved.
The second and final day showcased some of the most committed community leaders and how leadership from within communities is the strongest promoter of change. These leaders might not have the technical knowledge to make improvements in their community but have the drive to obtain what they need in order to provide better opportunities for their communities. We began with the story of Janeth Castañeda, a former “ñera”[Colombian slang word for mugger] as she called herself and now community leader and director of “Proyecto Semillero de Paz y Vida”[Seedling Project of Peace and Life]. Coming from a troubled background and a life on the streets, Janeth can easily relate to kids and young adults in her community of Bosa who have gone down the wrong path.
Through her own empowerment, she seeks projects to reinsert them into society through community work and prove to them and their community that they can be different. She focuses on children, providing them with a space to explore arts, culture and dance, but she has been able to engage youth in cultural activities and through that engage them in community service.
One day they’ll be rapping and dancing hip hop and the next they will be helping an elderly woman paint her house. Janeth believes that through culture, art and service she can keep them off the streets and give them the tools that will add up to their future. Around Bosa District in Bogota they’ve done various improvement initiatives like murals to celebrate biodiversity and culture, gardening, and the rehabilitation of spaces to allow children to use them again. Janeth admits that it hasn’t been easy to engage the community into projects, and it’s also been complicated to maintain the spaces they’ve improved, but little by little, people have begun to respect their work.
“Los Piratas de Ramirez”[The Pirates of Ramirez] showcased a lot of similarities with Janeth’s work. Salado, community leader of Ramirez started an organization that highlights the “illegal” quality of his community proclaiming themselves as pirates.
Their playground project, in the form of a pirate ship, is not only the first playground in the Ramirez community but also the materialization of their cause to be recognized as a legal community with the same needs and problems as the planned city.
The pirate ship is built out of scrap materials collected by recyclers who call Ramirez home. The Pirate ship became a participatory project that allowed children to voice their needs and materialize them into a built playground. “Los Piratas de Ramirez” hold weekly activities in the playground and hope to develop a curriculum to be able to provide daily activities for children in Ramirez. They came to the Community Architecture Encounter looking for technical support for their projects, the pirate ship was built organically but they admit the need to develop projects with technical support. Salado has a deep understanding of the problems that affect his community, from drugs to gangs to violence, he wants his children's generation to have different opportunities than he had.
The work of “Piratas de Ramirez” showed the many parallels between their work in Bogotá and the work of “Trazando Espacios” [Tracing Public Spaces] in Caracas. I was able to share my experience as a Project Coordinator of the third Tracing Public Spaces workshop in the Naiguatá locality, an educational and empowerment program for children between 10-15 years old through a participatory design and construction project.
The program teaches children basic notions of public space and architecture, our role as citizens and our responsibility to improve our built environment.
Children learn photography and cartography in order to recognize their territory and show their community strengths and weaknesses of their environment and start the proposal of changes, which are put to vote by the community. When a space in voted upon and chosen, children learn about the measurements of objects, proportion, how to represent an idea in drawing, 3D models and grid representations and are asked to think outside the box. These ideas in the form of a 3D model are presented and voted upon by the community and then the construction process begins. Community members, parents, volunteers and children unite to work on the improvement of the space. Through this process children learn building techniques and the importance of team-work.
This work is important because it promotes leadership from an early age, which is necessary in the critical scenario Venezuela has been undergoing in which community leaders have been intimidated and attacked when they’ve decided to improve their community's conditions through non-government led initiatives. Sadly, this is the reality not only of Venezuela but also Colombia.