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A City Rises, Along With Its Hopes

Medellín, Colombia


FOR some time now, if you asked architects and urban planners for proof of the power of public architecture and public space to remake the fortunes of a city, they’d point here.



Twenty-odd years ago, this was Pablo Escobar’s town, with an annual homicide rate that peaked at 381 per 100,000. In New York City that would add up to an almost inconceivable 32,000 murders a year.

二十多年前,這里是帕布羅·埃斯科巴(Pablo Escobar)的城市,最糟的時候全年殺人案發率每十萬人為381起。這個比率要是放在紐約市,相當于一年內有將近32,000人被殺害,一個完全不可想象的數字。

But Colombia’s second city has lately become a medical and business center with a population of 3.5 million and a budding tourist industry, its civic pride buoyed by the new public buildings and squares, and exemplified by an efficient and improbably immaculate metro and cable car system. Linking rich with poor neighborhoods, spurring private development, the metro, notwithstanding shrieks elsewhere in Colombia over its questionable construction cost, is for residents of Medellín a shared symbol of democratic renewal. Even on the rush-hour train I took the other morning, crowds stepped aside to let a cleaning woman with a mop and bucket scrub the floor.


That evening I headed high up into a steep hillside slum where rival gangs still shoot unsuspecting trespassers who cross invisible borders. The city has recently installed an escalator ascending 1,300 feet, much debated at $7 million and disconnected from the rest of the city’s transit network but shortening to a five-minute ride what had been a brutal 30-story climb for some 12,000 residents. I trudged by foot, past armed soldiers, past mothers taking breathers on the decrepit steps that meandered up the mountain, past toddlers on plastic tricycles plunging down vertical streets, to a brightly painted cinderblock hut, a ramshackle aerie overlooking a sprawl of tin houses and open sewers.


The shack is home to Son Batá, a cultural initiative founded by young black migrants from the Chocó region of Colombia. Son Batá promotes Chocano music and dance, and it benefits from yet another Medellín initiative: participatory budgeting. Residents here have voted to direct a share of government financing to new schools, clinics and college scholarships. Son Batá got to hire music teachers and bought instruments and is adding a new recording studio to its headquarters. A group of players showed me the studio under construction. From another room, music drifted over the barrio and into the warm night air.

這里就是松巴塔(Son Batá)——一群從哥倫比亞喬科地區移民到這里的黑人青年創辦的文化組織——的大本營。推廣喬科音樂和舞蹈的松巴塔,是麥德林的另一個公共項目的受益者,即“共享預算”。這里的居民投票決定將一筆政府撥款用于增設學校、診所和大學獎學金。松巴塔就是靠這筆撥款聘請了音樂老師,添置樂器,還在它的總部新建了一個錄音棚。幾位樂手帶我去施工中的錄音棚看看。從另一個房間傳來音樂聲,悠揚的音符在市區的上空飄蕩,融化在夜晚溫暖的空氣里。

I arrived in Medellín to see the ambitious and photogenic buildings that have gone up, but also to find what remains undone. The murder rate, while hardly low, is now under 60 per 100,000. Architecture alone obviously doesn’t account for the drop in homicides, but the two aren’t unrelated, either. Around the world, followers of architecture with a capital A have focused so much of their attention on formal experiments, as if aesthetics and social activism, twin Modernist concerns, were mutually exclusive. But Medellín is proof that they’re not, and shouldn’t be. Architecture, here and elsewhere, acts as part of a larger social and economic ecology, or else it elects to be a luxury, meaningless except to itself.


The story of Medellín’s evolution turns out to be neither as rosy nor as straightforward as fans of new architecture have tended to portray it. It’s generally told as a triumph for Sergio Fajardo, the son of an architect who is the governor of the region and who was the city’s visionary mayor from 2004 to 2007. He pushed an agenda that linked education and community development with infrastructure and glamorous architecture.

麥德林的變革其實不像新建筑的吹鼓手們描繪的那般美好,它既不順利,也不簡單。人們一般會把功績歸在塞爾西奧·法哈多(Sergio Fajardo)身上,這位建筑師的兒子是該地區的地方長官,2004年到2007年任市長期間做了許多有遠見的工作。他力主推進了一項議案,利用基礎設施和引人注目的建筑來促進教育和社區的聯動發展。

But the city’s transformation established roots before Mr. Fajardo took office, in thoughtful planning guidelines, amnesties and antiterrorism programs, community-based initiatives by Germany and the United Nations and a Colombian national policy mandating architectural interventions as a means to attack poverty and crime.


What sets Medellín apart is the particular strength of its culture of urbanism, which acts now almost like a civic calling card. The city’s new mayor, Aníbal Gaviria, spent an hour describing to me his dreams for burying a congested highway that runs through the middle of town, building an electric tram along the hillsides to stem the sprawl of the slums, adding a green belt of public buildings along the tram, rehabilitating the Medellín River and densifying the city center — smart, public-spirited, improvements. It’s as if, in this country whose relatively robust economy has underwritten many forward-thinking projects, every mayor here has to have enormous architectural and infrastructural plans, or risk coming across as small-minded or an outsider.

麥德林之所以顯得突出,跟它在都市文化方面的強勢有關,現在這一點幾乎已經成了城市名片。新任市長阿尼拔·加維里亞(Aníbal Gaviria)花了一個小時向我描繪他的夢想,要把穿過市區的那條擁堵不堪的主干道填平;沿著山腰建一條電車軌道,抑制貧民窟的擴張,軌道沿途用公共建筑來形成綠化帶;對麥德林河進行治理;加大市中心密度——都是些聰明的、有公共意識的改進舉措。在這個國家里,相對良好的經濟形勢給許多前瞻性的規劃項目提供了支持,好像每一任市長都得拿出一大堆的建筑和基建計劃來似的,否則就有可能被人扣上短視或沒前途的帽子。

Mr. Gaviria, local designers, businessmen and community leaders sketched for me a picture of a city in which violence, much of it today by small drug traffickers, remains a big problem and victories are fragile. People in Medellín were cautious about the future, about easy solutions and seeing architecture as an end in itself. At the same time, they stressed the social and economic benefits that public architecture and new public spaces can create, and the wisdom of long-term, community-based policies of urban renewal.


“A holistic approach,” is how Alejandro Echeverri, one of the principal architects of the city’s transformation under Mr. Fajardo, described the philosophy.

“一種整體推進,”亞歷山大·埃切維里(Alejandro Echeverri),當年法哈多麾下負責城市改造的其中一位高級建筑師,是這樣闡述這種哲學的。

I came here from Bogotá, whose renewal programs starting in the late 1990s — like earlier ones in Barcelona before the Olympics in 1992 — set the stage for Medellín’s revival. But now Bogotá is suffering, as strains multiply on its famed rapid bus system and residents’ faith in the city’s future plummets.


Medellín, by contrast, still counts on an almost fierce parochial pride, a legacy of decent Modernist architecture dating back to the 1930s, a cadre of young architects being aggressively nurtured and promoted, and a commitment by local businesses to improve social welfare that begins with the city’s biggest business: its state-owned utilities company, E.P.M.


You can’t begin to grasp Medellín’s architectural renaissance without understanding the role of E.P.M., the Empresas Públicas de Medellín, which supplies water, gas, sanitation, telecommunications and electricity. It’s constitutionally mandated to provide clean water and electricity even to houses in the city’s illegal slums, so that unlike in Bogotá, where the worst barrios lack basic amenities, in Medellín there’s a safety net.


More than that, E.P.M.’s profits (some $450 million a year) go directly to building new schools, public plazas, the metro and parks. One of the most beautiful public squares in the middle of Medellín was donated by E.P.M. And atop the slums of the city’s Northeast district, E.P.M. paid for a park in the mountaintop jungle, linked to the district by its own cable car.


Federico Restrepo used to run E.P.M., before he became the city planner under Mr. Fajardo. “We took a view that everything is interconnected — education, culture, libraries, safety, public spaces,” he told me, pointing out that while fewer than 20 percent of public school students here used to test at the national average in 2002, by 2009 the number exceeded 80 percent.

費德里柯·雷斯特雷普(Federico Restrepo)曾在E.P.M.主事,后來成為法哈多先生手下的一名城市規劃師。“在我們的設想里,一切都是關聯的——教育、文化、圖書館、安全、公共空間,”他還告訴我,2002年這里只有不到20%的學生考試成績達到全國平均水平,到2009年這個比例已經超過80%。

“Obviously it’s not just that we built and renovated schools,” he said. “You have to work on the quality of teaching and nutrition in conjunction with architecture. But the larger point is that the goal of government should be providing rich and poor with the same quality education, transportation and public architecture. In that way you increase the sense of ownership.”


But of course ownership can’t just be bestowed on poor neighborhoods; it must also be declared, in small, critical ways. In the troubled Comuna 13, two members of Revolución Sin Muertos (Revolution Without Deaths) — started not long ago by a group of neighborhood hip-hoppers rejecting the gang culture — took me on a graffiti tour. At a crowded street corner, Daniel Felipe Quiceno, known as Dog, and Luis Fernando Álvarez, who is called AKA, pointed to a mural of four of their own, murdered by local gangs. Revolución Sin Muertos paints murals around Comuna 13; sometimes residents put their own tags on them, as if to signal support. Murals, Mr. Álvarez said, have helped people here vent frustration and proclaim ownership of the neighborhood.

當然,歸屬感不是隨隨便便往老百姓頭上一放就行了的;還要通過一些細微而關鍵的方式來重申。在麻煩不斷的13區,“非暴力革命”(Revolución Sin Muertos)——不久前由當地一些反感黑幫文化的嘻哈青年創建的組織——的兩名成員領著我做了一次涂鴉之旅。在一個人頭攢動的街角,人稱“狗子”的基賽諾(Daniel Felipe Quiceno)和“AKA”阿爾瓦萊茲(Luis Ferando Álvarez)指著一幅壁畫告訴我,上面的四個人是他們的成員,被當地黑幫殺害了。“非暴力革命”在13區的很多地方都畫了壁畫;有時候當地居民會附上他們自己的標語以示支持。阿爾瓦萊茲先生說,壁畫能幫助人們抒發心里的苦悶,宣告他們對此地的所有權。

Progress is hard. Venture a few yards from the heralded new squares, library and cable car stations in the Santo Domingo barrio, across town in the hills of the Northeast district, and it’s clear just how dramatic but also tenuous change is here. Mr. Echeverri met me at the cable car terminal one morning for the ride into the Northeast slums.


“We were already working before Fajardo on how to use cable cars to transform the surrounding area, to have the cable car stations as the neighborhood nervous system,” he recalled. “The barrios always had lots of energy but the energy was disconnected from the city.”


Our car rose high above a sea of illegal houses, the cable car stations creating a spine of commercial development up the mountainside. In what used to be a district too risky even for the police to patrol, we got off and wandered through a souk of restaurants, schools and clothing stores, leading onto busy squares and then to the España library, the most conspicuous emblem of the new Medellín.


“A seed to plant trust,” is how Mr. Echeverri described the neighborhood after its makeover. “The main physical transformation is to public space, but it’s only the beginning,” he cautioned, gesturing toward the sprawl of poverty just beyond the new development. Mr. Echeverri said all the headlines about the recovery of this much-photographed barrio have been great, but they’ve also had the unintended effect of inclining some officials to look elsewhere, for less politically complex projects.


He showed me the $4 million España library: three linked black boulders perched 1,500 feet over the valley, designed by the gifted Bogotán architect Giancarlo Mazzanti, which has become a community center and civic symbol. It’s impressive from the outside.

他帶我參觀了投資400萬美元建造的西班牙圖書館:這三幢彼此相連的巨型石頭房子座落在450多米高的峽谷頂端,由天賦過人的波哥大建筑師馬贊蒂(Giancarlo Mazzanti)設計,已經成為一個社區中心和城市象征。它的外表給人留下極好的印象。

But there are serious problems on the inside. The buildings are steel-frame boxes clad in dark stone tiles, with floating concrete cores — in effect, boxes within the boxes with reading rooms, a child-care center, an auditorium and other facilities. Construction is shoddy, navigation confusing, the interior claustrophobic; acoustics are awful, windows scarce.


More impressive but less flashy is another library in Medellín by Mr. Mazzanti: the León de Greiff library in La Ladera also a trio of buildings, in this case well-connected cantilevered pods on slate pedestals, splayed like a fan across the brow of a hill. The shared roof is linked to a park next door. Views are spectacular. The reading rooms and children’s play areas look out through panoramic windows.


Mr. Echeverri took me down the hillside to Andalucía, another part of the Northeast slums. Formerly ruled by gangs who held opposite sides of a garbage-clotted creek, it’s now remade with a sports complex and school, new sidewalks, new mid-rise housing blocks and a bridge over the creek. Dozens of shops have opened. Men were tinkering beneath cars in the hot sun, chatting over beers, when I visited; children dawdled on the way home from school, eating ice cream on the bridge. A thousand eyes were on the streets.


There I found Mateo Gómez, a 20-year-old on his way to work at a local beer company in the city center. The cable car had cut his commute in half, from two hours to one, he told me.

我在這里遇到了正趕去上班的戈麥茲(Mateo Gómez),這個20歲小伙子在市中心一家本地啤酒廠工作。他告訴我,電車把他的通勤時間縮短了一半,從兩個小時變成一個小時。

“The España library changed our conception of ourselves,” he added. “Before, we felt a stigma. But we’re still missing cultural spaces, the library closes too early, the situation is still very uncertain.”


From the hills of the Northeast, I made the circuit of some of the other new architecture in Medellín, much of it in and around the Botanical Garden, which had been the city’s Central Park before it became too dangerous to visit, and was shut down. For a while, the garden was intended for demolition. Then, a decade or so ago, thanks to Pilar Velilla, the garden’s director at the time, and with the support of Mr. Fajardo, the area was turned around.

從東北的山區出發,我一路上又看了麥德林的一些新建筑,其中多數在植物園的里面或周圍。植物園曾經是麥德林的中央公園,后來因為太過危險而被關閉。有一陣子是打算廢棄這個園的。十來年前,多虧了當時的園長維里拉(Pilar Velilla),再加上法哈多先生的支持,這個地方被挽救了回來。

Mr. Echeverri has designed a dramatic new science museum and public plaza across the street from the garden, and the garden has been lovingly renovated, its walls taken down, a gem of a circular pavilion, by Lorenzo Castro and Ana Elvira Vélez, added at the entrance.

埃切維里在植物園的街對面設計了一座極富動感的科技博物館和一個公共廣場,植物園也經過了精心的整修,拆除了墻壁,入口處增建了一座精美的環形展館,由洛倫佐·卡斯特羅(Lorenzo Castro)和維雷茲(Ana Elvira Vélez)設計。

After an initial scheme to hire Norman Foster to devise another pavilion was rejected, a local competition was held, with the idea of advertising Medellín’s own young architectural talent. The winner, JPRCR Architects (Camilo Restrepo runs it), and Plan B Architects (Felipe Mesa and Alejandro Bernal), came up with the Orquideorama, a towering wood meshwork canopy rising 65 feet above a latticed patio. Its 10 hexagonal flower-tree structures, collecting fresh rainwater and woven together like honeycombs, shelter an orchid collection and butterfly reserves. The canopy is at once formally economical and spectacular.

在最初聘請諾曼·福斯特(Norman Foster)設計另一座展館的提案被否決后,當地舉辦了一個競賽,旨在提攜麥德林自己孕育的建筑設計青年才俊。最終獲勝的JPRCR建筑師事務所(負責人是雷斯特雷普)和Plan B建筑師事務所(梅薩[Felipe Mesa]和貝爾納爾[Alejandro Bernal])提出了“蘭景園”(Orquideorama)的方案,這是一個高20米的木質網狀罩蓬,懸在一片格狀庭院上空。它包含10個六邊形的花-樹構造,會收集新鮮雨水,像蜂巢一樣把它們匯聚到一起,形成了蘭花和蝴蝶保護區的安全屏障。這個罩蓬起到了立竿見影的經濟效益,同時也是一道美麗風景。

But the most remarkable building of all is a few blocks away, a cultural center in the neighborhood called Moravia, next to a vast garbage dump. The center is one of the last works by the Colombian master Rogelio Salmona, a quasi-Moorish design of refined simplicity, all transparency, modesty and openness. Carlos Uribe, an artist, who runs the center, showed off the beehive of below-ground practice rooms, the dance studio and theater opening onto the outdoors, the library and courtyard, flanked by low ramps, providing a desperately needed safe and attractive public space, where small children romped before watchful teachers among burbling fountains that recalled the Alhambra.

然而最令人贊嘆的建筑還是要屬幾個街區開外一個大垃圾場旁的文化中心,名叫“摩拉維亞”。這個中心是哥倫比亞建筑大師薩爾莫納(Rogelio Salmona)生前最后幾件作品之一,一個類摩爾式的設計,有著精煉的簡約、通透、低調和開放性。這里的負責人、藝術家烏里韋(Carlos Uribe)帶我參觀了蜂窩式的地下排練廳、舞蹈工作室和露天劇場,兩側有低矮坡道的圖書館和庭院提供了人們迫切需要的安全感,是一處迷人的公共空間,在老師的看護下,孩子們在一個讓人想起阿爾罕布拉宮的噴泉里嬉戲玩耍。

The authorities have lately been moving residents from the unsafe landfill next door to new housing on the city’s periphery, which is understandable but a striking case of thoughtless urban planning, because the move isolates the residents from their jobs and what had become their neighborhood, with Salmona’s building as its anchor.


“Of course we will continue to improve schools and neighborhoods,” Mr. Gaviria, the mayor, had told me. “But we also need to care for the mountains and the river, which to us are like the rivers and Central Park in New York.”


My impression from that conversation was that it’s politically easier to propose new plans for burying highways and building trams in the hills than to untangle old problems, and that the city still had to be vigilant when it comes to housing policies. I met just before I left with eight young architects at the Museum of Modern Art, a steel mill from the 1930s, handsomely converted. “We’re still not thoughtful in terms of social housing, mixed neighborhoods,” agreed Verónica Ortiz Murcia, a partner at Arquitectura y Espacio Urbano.

這段對話給我留下的印象是,提出填平主干道、在山上建有軌電車這樣的規劃議案,從政治上講要比去治理一些痼疾更容易一些,市政府在房地產政策上還是要保持警惕。離開之前我在現代藝術博物館——一座由1930年代的鋼鐵廠改建而成的漂亮建筑——和8位年輕的建筑師見了面。“我們在社會性住房、混合居住區的問題上還是考慮得不周詳:”建筑和城市空間事務所合伙人穆爾西亞(Verónica Ortiz Murcia)對我的看法表示贊同。

 “There’s a general feeling among young architects of a missed opportunity here,” said another architect, Catalina Ortiz. That view was echoed by Camilo Restrepo and Alejandro González.

“年輕一代的建筑師普遍認為自己在這里不容易找到機會,”另一位建筑師奧爾梯茲(Catalina Ortiz)說??琢_·雷斯特雷普(Camilo Restrepo)和岡薩雷斯(Alejandro González)也表達了類似的觀點。

Their skepticism seemed almost the most encouraging sign I had encountered in Medellín. The city has made big strides, after all, using cutting-edge architecture as a catalyst. But here young architects press for yet more creative solutions. They take for granted as their jobs both formal innovation and also the humanitarian role of architectural activism, leapfrogging an older generation of architects and others who have remained fixated on eye-catching buildings to grace the covers of glossy magazines.


It’s this restless energy among an up-and-coming generation, in a city where people already take seriously the goal of greater equality, that seems to promise change will continue.

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