Medellin | Contact Zone

A former landfill is now the meeting point between rich and poor

For several years, the city of Medellín had imaginary walls that divided it into two antagonistic worlds: the informal and violent city of the poor, located on the northern slopes of the city; and the developed city of the rich on the southern plains. The presence
of physical boundaries defined by the complexity of the geographical landscape, and the social segregation produced by real and imaginary limits created a city of fragments, gaps and marginal spaces and borders, which strengthened social inequalities, insecurity and violence. The impoverished communes of the northern zone begin where the old Moravia landfill was located 60 years ago. Over the last decade the Moravia region has witnessed a sequence of unique initiatives and new architectural interventions. Events have been organised and meeting points and contact sites have been created as places of intersection for the new social tribes dominating the city. The northern zone is now, at times, the expression of a utopian idea—it is what we would like Medellín to be.

Carabobo Norte Street is today an example of the success of Medellín. 
It is the site of large open-air public demonstrations, concerts and fairs. It is a street that changes or becomes a different space according to the time and day. During the week, it serves as a neighborhood park, as a space for passage, and on weekends and public holidays it is the ultimate expression of the pulse of this intense city. One of the areas landmarks is Explora Park, an architecturally remarkable science and technology centre that is also one of the most modern in Latin America. “The park is a place for transcending barriers,” says Ana Ochoa Correa, a communication officer at Explora Park. Correa says the park’s open-plan design is “a precise metaphor of what we want to be: in permanent communication with the neighborhoods”.

…the social segregation produced by real and imaginary limits created a city of fragments, gaps and marginal spaces and borders, which strengthened social inequalities, insecurity and violence.

At the city’s botanical park, the new wood and steel Orchideorama Hall (or House of Orchids) provides a space to spend the afternoon, maybe escape the rain or glaring sun. Completed in 2006, it is a viewed with pride by Moravia’s residents and is a new symbol of the city. The central pavilion, with its distinctive, floating roof design, brings together
a heterogeneous audience from all social classes; it is a new place for intersections and encounters. Elsewhere, the Moravia Cultural Centre, located in the heart of the neighborhood, takes its name from the old city dump, which was originally only used by recyclers. Today it is a neutral space where non-violence prevails amongst the city’s urban tribes. Carlos Uribe, director of the centre, describes it as “ public space where people feel at peace in the midst of neighborhoods affected by raw violence”. He adds: “Through daily work and activities it has become a kind of unintended oasis where the forces trying to weave the territories and control them do not place restrictions.”

Another popular meeting point is the Park of Wishes, a large stone square sloping downhill to allow the viewing of movies and images at night. While it serves as an official stage for music events, festivals and plays, its day-to-day use is shaped by the youth from the northern suburbs, who invade it in the evening. Medellín’s northern zone is today a diverse landscape full of new events, symbolic references, contact spaces, green spaces and linked infrastructure that complement each other. It is a space which has reconstituted and healed itself, partly through powerful symbolic architecture, also the generous availability of open spaces without defined functions.

Moravia is a place that has transformed itself from being the borderline zone between downtown and the northern neighborhoods to a crossroads and meeting point for the entire city

– Alejandro Echieverri & Laura Gallego

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