This project is featured in NESS.docs 2: “Landscape as Urbanism in the Americas.” The issue takes its name from a project led by the Office for Urbanizationation at Harvard GSD. It explores the potentials for landscape as a medium of urban intervention in the specific social, cultural, economic, and ecological contexts of Latin American cities. The issue will be available very soon. Sign-up to our newsletter to be the first to know!
This project, built in 2006 and designed by Husos, began as a commission for a building for a small fashion atelier run by five women based in the Colombian city of Cali. However, through collaborations with neighbors, both in and outside the atelier space, it eventually developed into a project that promotes social and cultural activities and initiatives aimed at stimulating environmental care.
The building is home to live-work spaces and a shop. Simultaneously, it is a vertical garden with host and nectar plants that provide a comfortable microclimate within the building. This reduces energy consumption and at the same time attracts local butterflies, offering a home for many insects and birds in the area that rely on a network of biological corridors to move around.
These energy-saving and biological processes have been carried out by using bushes and climbing plants from the local ecosystem—mainly nectar and host plants for butterflies but also plants that are habitats for birds and other local insect species. The presence of butterflies, and their periodical monitoring, has made the building function as a sort of biometer, which was devised to try to measure the quality of the environment and lend visibility to the unique value of the biodiverse ecosystem in which it is built. Butterflies are generally one of the most effective indicators of an ecosystem’s quality and biodiversity, and they are especially important in this area, which is home to the greatest diversity of butterflies in the world.
Vertical garden maintenance. ph. Manuel Salinas
In parallel to the architectural interventions that made the building eco-friendly, several activities in the building were organized to spread awareness of environmental issues. Through inviting people to plant seeds on their balconies, front gardens, or patios, the ecosystem is preserved and improved and the neighbors become a part of the process. Both the building and these local efforts helped the fashion atelier to strengthen its connections with the neighborhood and also worked as a strategy for the business’ transnational micro-expansion through its small but widespread network of sellers and customers.
Every unit is accessible from the corridors and this enabled the spaces to be separated and rented out individually, without depending on any of the others to function. This layout, consisting of a division between property walls and the main building, has not only proven to be suitable for accommodating several changes of use over time but it also increases the garden surface on the detached building’s façades, generating a separate mass covered with vegetation. This gap also facilitates airflow, working in a similar way to the spaces left between traditional houses in hot, tropical areas of Colombia to remove heat from the interior and help to create a comfortable indoor climate. The feeling is one of being immersed in local flora, recreating the atmosphere of some rural constructions in this area.
Both the design and the different micro-community-driven actions developed in the garden building produced a set of effective devices that created a space for new relationships between the house-workshop and its natural and cultural environments, acknowledging both as ecosystems that operate on different scales.
LOCATION: Cali, Colombia / DATE: 2006 (first phase) – 2016 (second phase) / SITE AREA: 510 sqm / PROJECT: Diego Barajas, Camilo García, architects. Francisco Amaro, biologist, building inhabitants community / SPECIAL ASSISTENCE: Fundación Zoológico de Cali / CONSULTANTS: Rodrigo Gallegos, Jorge Mejía, engs., Diego Gómez, Ángela María Ramírez / CLIENT: Taller Croquis / PHOTOS: Husos, Javier García, Manuel Salinas, Pedro Ruiz