With the support of a 2013 Alumni Council Grant, Ana María Durán Calisto (LF '11) called on a team of all-stars from among Loeb alums and GSD faculty for a complex project in Ecuador.
Among many bold attempts to plan the post-oil economy, the Ecuadorean government has proposed to build Yachay: the City of Knowledge; a new free economic zone where academia, public research institutions, industry and heritage tourism will intersect. San Miguel de Urcuquí, a valley located in the northern Andes of Ecuador, has been selected as the site for this vast undertaking, due to its physical, hydrological and meteorological properties. The academic component of Yachay will focus on 5 fields viewed as central to the economic future of Ecuador: the natural sciences, nanotechnology, information technologies, renewable energies and petro-chemistry. The planning scheme for Yachay–both territorial and urban landscapes–was designed by Ifez, a Korean company, in tandem with a local counterpart.
President Rafael Correa has made the City of Knowledge a centerpiece of his administration, establishing the Yachay public enterprise and appointing a sociologist, Héctor Rodríguez, as General Manager. However, the project is not without its detractors. The Ecuadorean public has questioned the siting of the university and the industrial zones in 5 of the most fertile agricultural valleys of the country. Many residents don´t want to see this project built, but if the government continues to develop it, they want to see it designed in tandem with its patrimonial legacy and its landscape.
The rehabilitation and expansion of the infrastructure of Yachay is already underway, but the master plan developed by Ifez needed refinement and improvement, particularly in areas such as provision of off-the-grid, autonomous and decentralized services (like drinking water, electricity and telecommunications); territorial planning; green infrastructure and landscaping.
This is where Durán’s Alumni Council Grant project came into play. With travel funding from the Loeb Fellowship, she helped to convene a think tank of leading figures in urban planning, urban design, landscape architecture and architecture from among Loeb alumni, faculty and alumni from the GSD and their international networks. In a series of workshops, design studios, charrettes and consultancies, they set to work improving the master plan and proposing a plan of action.
To join Durán, Ana Gelabert-Sánchez (LF’11), and Ian Lockwood (LF’12) came from Florida, Doug Meffert (LF’07) came from Louisiana, and Ramiro Almeida (LF’13) arrived from Quito. Herbert Dreiseitl (LF’11) and Bettina Wanschura (Affiliate ’11) flew in from Europe. Anita Berrizbeitia (professor of landscape architecture), Felipe Correa(associate professor of urban design), María Arquero (MLAUD ’08) and Ginés Garrido (visiting scholar ‘13-14) were among the 18 other members of the think tank.
Their ambitious objectives were to complete:
- A review of the master plan,
- A plan of action to guide the future design and execution of Yachay´s neighborhoods, buildings, landscapes and infrastructures, and
- Recommendations for its design improvement.
They succeeded, and there were important lessons along the way. Commonalities were extracted from disagreements. The landscape features and territorial relations acquired a new dimension within the design. Sustainability reached a more advanced level in its design definitions. And, last but not least, contemporary architecture was revalued within a scheme that had been privileging a neocolonial image.
The think tank engaged local authorities and representatives of municipalities affected by the new city plan. Although the public received the think tank as a step in the right direction of government responsiveness to citizen concerns, and even though the master plan has considerably improved in its design, its scale and siting are still being questioned by many. Suggested modifications to the master plan included recommendations to reconsider the territorial reach of the project and to link Yachay to existing industrial parks that could benefit from renewal and investment. The think tank report urged an environmental vision that does not neglect social and cultural needs and their contribution to sustainability.