By Camilo Restrepo O.

No longer understood in a local manner, the planet, supposedly, is interconnected. What happens in other countries can have repercussion in the economy or in local cultures in a matter of minutes; it follows that certain cultures are epicenters and others peripheries and, therefore, that reactions in the former are felt on the periphery. Although this is everywhere spoken of, and all media seem to push it as ideal, in some of the “third world” countries this situation is not absolutely certain.
The daily events of our geography give us no time to think things through slowly.

In a country where it is simply a news day like any other independently of whether a new drain on petroleum reserves is discovered, or if guerrillas or paramilitary operatives attack a town, destroying it, or if corrupt public officials embezzle from the government once again, or if one more of the “top” models effects another aesthetic operation; the media and society alike pay no attention, while in the end, the system proffers an unconscious operation of continuous, collective escape: “let whoever is able save themselves, however they can.”

Amidst this stampede, spatial relations and the limits of the city and the country confound us. These undo and strengthen one another, putting in the veracity of the system and the manner of operating therein in quotes, as much for architects as for the inhabitants themselves.

The state does not predict the development of cities, the majority of which have no guide for the development of public space. On the other hand, municipalities do not invest money in works of architecture, and architecture does not play or signify a role in the image that our culture projects of itself; it is not a form of self-representation or identity. Our city’s cultural authorities, such as museums or cultural spaces, are almost invisible, monopolized or in the best of cases antiquated systems. So that, finally, we have no reference besides self-reference.

Against this background, the city is dead, entombed, and as such open to receive any type of speculation, be it in real estate, or cultural and spatial. Under these factors, the city is simply an accumulation of people, cars, buildings. Cities, at the end of it all, are the reflection of their inhabitants and their social, cultural and economic structure.
But in this situation when the city receives and welcomes whatever force, it is understood, then, that the future of these urban territories remains in the hands of whoever develops and reclaims them; that is to say, it is indeterminate. Our cities cannot give themselves the luxury of self-indeterminating themselves until we destroy them and/or building themselves according to the real estate boom it falls to us to live.

In what way can architects plan other forms of intervening in the city?
The architect-thinker, -actor and -traveler knows how to negotiate his operative models with the economic pressures of investors, the lack of control, and the interests and political ignorance of the current public functionaries.

It is necessary to carry out a plan of action (1) to analyze, understand and intervene in certain phenomena of the city that impede the implementation of new devices. Possibly, comprehending where and in what way the insertion of other variables is feasible, it will be simpler to generate epicenters. (2)

It is not just the analysis of the physical system that produces options. In fact, it is in the systems of information and discussion where it is urgent to construct areas for the existence of a responsive, multipolar critique. Because for architects and their affiliated professions, the world still is not a web. Some believe and labor desiring a clear field from which they can shoot from a trench, under the pretext of experience and ambition. In this way, there is no interchange of information, no variables. From here emerges the static-ness of the system, the invariant of our situation.

“A profession which, in essence, only complains, will never be capable of realizing any constructive contribution.” (3) In these conditions, it is not possible to continue believing that architecture is, “[t]he wise and beautiful play of volumes beneath the sun,” but rather of situations and systems: night, day, rain, mist, temperature, materials, desires, economy, movement, etc. It would be an error not to think this way: the city, through its affectations, phenomena, necessities and organizations is ever more radicalized in its forms of development and in its structure.
Perhaps the vagueness that the city offers is a possibility of action on a metropolitan scale which few world cities world can offer. Possibly intermediate cities, such as ours, peripheries to the world of epicenters, offer greater liberties and possibilities. A new field of action. New areas of work and intervention. Our cities present few areas that are absolutely consolidated; a lack of a historical centers preserved and respected; the fact of not having to respect the borders between municipalities; all this offers spaces for liberty of action, which under an adequate plan of DEVELOPMENT can produce other ways of relating among ourselves and constructing another look and possibly another form of city.

“Without doubt, we are assisting the split of architecture’s ambitions from contemporary society.” (4)

In our environment it is possible that it not be a split, because the two have simply never been united. It is even better if we assist in the opening of interstices, intermediate space, negotiators between radicalized poles. In these “inter-stices,” the relevant thing is the creation of groups of action that think, act and prepare a “sub-version” of the establishment. This can be the manner of operating, of considering what is important and how to carry it out.

It is then when the operative dilemma arises: From what and how is architecture made when it is thought globally, but lives locally? An architecture that is capable of moving itself and changing according to the exigencies that are made of it on different, multiple fronts?
Architects can reevaluate the practice of architecture and redeem its participation. For this to happen, it is necessary to create new (5) programs, new situations (6) (new manners of inhabiting, of entertaining oneself, of moving oneself, other zones of intervention) that identify contemporary necessities. Programs that demand the participation of architects as something indispensable, letting the necessities spring from them, going a little further forward. This is a phase that should be complemented by the development of new legal politics for the use of land, the creation of resources for the development of public space on the part of administrative establishments, and the creation of mixed entities (public-private) for educational investment and dissemination.

These personal ideological diversions do not pretend to be a “must” or a “should,” in the manner of a dogma or the only path to face some situations that might permit one to work in another manner, a manner a little more in harmony with the forces and currents that alter us and guide our operative, socio-cultural reality. On the contrary, it is the possibility of searching out new ways to look at the construction or the interpretation of new corridors of action. To reevaluate aspects and places, programs and memories that in some way always have been suspended in the air or ignored, that for diverse reasons have not been preferred or only understood and looked at in a feigned manner.

It is through the good use of these, still-ethereal, situations that make it possible to undertake a re-definition of the city and the manner of operating within it. The trick, possibly, is to have the ability to see architecture as an open system of transference, where in a specific manner one or more present, possible or desired situations intensify, emphasize, interchange or cross with one another. And of being capable of capturing these situations together.

It is, then, on the basis of manipulating systems of transference (7) that this “new” manner can occur, the “new” programs, so that the unexpected immediately takes a position that stimulates and permits new liberties of spatial operation, making of these strategies something possible that inevitably constitutes new forms of order.


1) A plan of action is an idea to be inserted in a system, an attitude that can be as simple as the written protest for or against a phenomena, or the imagining of new strategies of direct intervention on the city. In a first phase, these do not need to be built interventions.
2) If it is possible to understand the manner of intervention in the city through the implantation of multiple devices of ‘epicentric’ character, it can be speculated that on crossing the waves of influence of these and on their dispersing themselves, these can appear as intermediate spaces. These--in turn interconnected--can form a new net, a substructure of new phenomena and conditions. Which would help to de-radicalize the structural system.
3) REM KOOLHAAS, Conversations with students, GG, 2002
4) Ibid
5) That which by definition separates from what has already appeared, is distinct.
6) The model of inhabiting should be able to extend itself: parks that are covered with other building; the technological cowboys that considered the field as (R)URBAN; the demystification of technics as architectural ideology; the revalidation of the fact that architecture is made starting from situations.
7) Transference: It can be understood as the passage of phenomena and/or situations registered or induced by one place to another. As well as augmentation, collage, reduction, focalization, or whatever other type of intentional capture.

translation by: Benjamin Davis

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this text was published in "Casa tomada" Magazine. in Medellín, Colombia

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