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Armero: E-Mergency of a Place

Part 2 Project 2002
Leonardo Zambrano Falla
Mónica Sánchez Bernal
Julia King
National University of Colombia, Bogotá Bogotá Colombia
Armero is recognized for the disaster of the 13th of November of 1985 when an avalanche from the volcano Nevado del Ruiz, erased 70% of the city. The city’s privileged geographical location had enabled it to grow and mature in only 90 years. The effect of the tragedy in the surviving population (5,000 of the 30,000 survived) was the disintegration of the families and of the Armerite community as well.

The reunion of the families takes place in the site of the tragedy each year. Still, there is not a defined, welcoming ceremonial space to help accomplish the collective catharsis. The urban area and the city’s remains gradually fade between cultivated fields and the exuberant vegetation of the tropical weather that spontaneously grows among the ruins. This site conditions propitiate the existence of armed groups like the guerilla, which enclose the small towns nearby in an almost medieval situation.

We have reached the community. The appropriation of the place is up to them, to live it without the existence of households. We have reached the children through workshop activities in the place; in the future they’ll plant this new artificial landscape with the region’s colors. Only their reunion with the tragedy’s site can bring back the lost city from oblivion.

The process that followed required an urban dissection during which it was discovered, skin under skin and bone by bone, the city’s functioning and its articulation within the territory.

The act of recognizing that which identified the city -streets, squares, parks and milestones that maintain the marks of everyday life- is an essential part in the reconstruction of the new symbolic city; a path through spaces that are meaningful to the urban memory. This allows the community to overcome the tragedy, and to move on without forgetting their origin.

The urban design project, as a physical-landscaping proposal, is structured along four archeological layers that relate artifice with nature over the footprints of the lost city. It responds to the mutation of a specific geophysical surrounding where avalanches have a-140-year-cyclical period, which implies commitment with urbanism that overcomes the limits of the ephemeral. The new activity responsible of human presence must understand the topography where it rests, to avoid that which is predictable.

The urban outline, brought back to life with a new significance, is modeled through the subtraction of earth; incisions penetrate the land until they meet, symbolically, with their dead. And periodically in the walking, a light, a sound, a repetitive element arises towards heaven and invites to contemplate, from the transcendental sphere, the entire monument. As walls to a church, terraces and walls made of soil mold the contained spaces, transforming the horizon into ritual grounds.

In the next avalanche, the contemplation spaces will be occupied by new earth. On top of the hills, the reduced activity centers will remain small architectonical islands in our project.

Leonardo Zambrano Falla
Mónica Sánchez Bernal
Julia King

The proposal is inscribed within the reflection about the responsibility of urban design at two fundamental levels:

First the responsibility of assuring a deeper and larger inter-relationship of urban design with the territory and with the landscape, which permits to avoid a conceptual simplification reduced to a logic of opposites. The urban reality is a integrating part of the mutations of nature. This responsibility has to take into account the particular and exuberant wealth of the landscape and the natural territorial heritage of the Latin American continent, searching to comprehend the geo-structure / geo-sculpture of a given region.

Second the responsibility embraces the relationship of urban design with social dynamics where the project must integrate the process of collective and individual’s appropriation of a territory by his inhabitants and their identity building processes, all this preceding fixed formal considerations. In such a framework students are faced with an essential urban design element implying the establishment of channels of dialog and participation of the communities.

In particular this project faces the case of a natural catastrophe as a cyclic fact that may repeat over time, as a part of the territory. This is treated by the implementation of a Park of the event, which is mainly developed trough talus and excisions embracing an archaeology of the site, reaching the underground remains of the city devastated in 1985

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