Once considered a complete no-go zone for tourists, Medellin has been pulling itself back from the brink of self-destruction over the past decade to become a flourishing cosmopolitan city. A key component of the transformation from squalor has been regeneration projects initiated by the state such as public spaces and facilities to encourage social and community interaction. The now former major of Medellin, Sergio Fajardo, was a massive driving force in the construction of a number of public projects under the ethos that “architecture is a tool that can bring about social transformation by bridging the gap between rich and poor”. An interesting concept that as architects puts our profession into perspective, and is an inspiring approach to how our field can have such a tremendous impact on society.
A short walk from Santo Domingo Station is the La Biblioteca de España, The Library of Spain; a beautifully situated monolith of a building, which appears to be growing out of the earth in a jagged, powerful motion. The library was donated to the people of Medellin, in particular those of this less fortunate neighbourhood, by the King of Spain. Built in 2007 the black brick forms have become a civic symbol and community centre that overlooks the city giving the people a place to grow, learn and relax away from chaos that city life brings. Most importantly architectural projects such as this and the many others happening within the city give the people hope and opportunities. Unfortunately we didn’t get to visit inside the library. We walked out to a lookout point and were scared away by some prying, suspicious looking eyes of a group of young boys who seemed to think our cameras looked pretty neat. Better not risk it!
The most humorous and serious aspect of the tour was the concept of the Colombian “Papaya”. In western society if you reveal something of value and leave it unprotected, resulting in it being stolen, then the thief is to blame for stealing, for example a wallet in your back pocket. In Colombian society this is the opposite: if you have an item stolen then you can only blame yourself for leaving it out, “they were just taking an opportunity”. In Colombian terminology leaving items of value in a vulnerable position is called leaving your “papaya” out. As the tour went off the main streets into more local areas Pablo would give each area a “Papaya” rating, with five being very dangerous, “keep a close hold of your backpack” and one being very safe “you can relax”.
Pablo took us on a four hour walk through the downtown area of city giving us detailed accounts of events that occurred in a particular square, or to a certain building, and the way in which the city is growing and improving. Pablo gave the city life. Having the opportunity to hear the opinions of a local about the culture and history of the city really gave us a deeper understanding of Medellin before the drug cartels came rolling in.
Next stop we finally hit the Caribbean coast in Santa Marta and Surrounds…
Check out photo gallery of Medellin here.