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During my undergraduate studies, I had the opportunity to work, design, and share with the vulnerable community of Bolonia in a marginal sector of Bogota, Colombia. Profoundly inspired, I co-started an architectural volunteer initiative that helped dozens of vulnerable families develop subsidy application plans for architectural enhancement. Additionally, in collaboration with the community, we created a series of affordable cultural spaces. Witnessing first-hand the resulting joy of the people I got to know and appreciate, was a life-changing experience.
This project is a small and probably unworthy retribution to the inhabitants of Bolonia, their participative design contribution, their captivating informal neighborhood, and their inspiring friendship. In their honor, the project hopes to raise awareness of the urgency and potential of innovative design for vulnerable communities and social justice worldwide.
About the Design:
The Bolonian Community is product of a phenomenon common in developing countries. In the 1970s, threatened by violence, its first members fled their countryside dwellings with what little they could carry. After a struggling journey, they settled within a marginal pirate urbanization in Colombia’s capital, self-constructing a dozen miniature houses and establishing an eclectic community of diverse backgrounds. In the following years, the community fought poverty and other hardships with joint conviction, and, by 2021, it had grown into a vibrant neighborhood of about 500 members. Today, despite the captivating colorful spatiality of their neighborhood, the settlement displays deficiencies on multiple habitational attributes, including a landslide risk that demands the relocation of 40 households.
Unlike most common, simple, repetitive, and site-oblivious social housing buildings, this project is conceived as a resilient spatial system for those 40 Bolonian households interrelated with their local knowledge, self-management, culture, and territory via 36 strategies arranged in the following categories: Urban Connectivity, Architectural Flexibility, Collective Management, Urban Productivity, Participative Design, and Dynamic Spatiality.
On an urban scale, Urban Connectivity intends primarily to mitigate territorial fragmentation through self-managed social initiatives co-designed with local community leaders. For instance, the self-construction consulting network promotes a unified knowledge community around structural security.
On the neighborhood scale, 5 cross-category emplacement strategies mitigate fragmentation and other crucial habitational issues, like the Height and Grid Transition strategy that deconstructs symbolic and physical barriers, promoting encounter and territorial continuity.
Finally, on the architectural scale, the project operates 24 wide-ranging strategies. Within the Collective Management category, Cooperative Sharing drastically increases dwelling size. Then, Architectural Flexibility responds to the changing family structures and needs. Additionally, Urban Productivity focuses on financial viability and alternative income, like, for instance, the food security urban agriculture system. In turn, Participative Design brings forth graffiti, gardening and self-construction workshops and certificate courses, generating appropriation and exploiting Bolonia’s rich aesthetic legacy. Subsequently, the Dynamic Spatiality category maintains the vibrant spatial and aesthetic experience of Bolonian settlements.
It is essential to understand this strategies, not as isolated elements, but as a one organically embroiled cross-scalar system. In the end, the resilience of the whole is what generates a promising habitational solution for the Bolonian Community and beyond.
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