This project is featured in NESS.docs 2: “Landscape as Urbanism in the Americas.” The issue takes its name from a project lead by the Office for Urbanization 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!
Landscape is defined by the geographer Denis Cosgrove as “a historically specific and consciously constructed way of seeing and controlling the world… developed by, and meaningful to, certain social groups.…” This definition underpins Groundlab’s practice, reflections, and thoughts of the world and its way of intervening in it through architecture. For instance, in the Alameda Providencia project in Santiago, the studio considered Alameda Avenue as a historically constructed urban landscape developed by certain social groups that benefited themselves, which, over time, helped to produce its contemporary image. Today, Alameda Providencia is the main civic and transport axis of the city, concentrating more than one hundred public bus routes and some of the most remarkable monuments, public buildings, and institutions of the country. Despite this, Alameda Providencia’s landscape has privileged private transport over public mobility and pedestrians, accentuating inequalities. During a period of modernization, the construction of the metro system uprooted many of the Alamos that gave the area its symbolic name. This exacerbated further the inequalities as well as reduced the site’s usage as a public space.
General Plan, Courtesy of Groundlab
All these had to be understood and rethought in order to come up with a new image that rebalances the landscape and incorporates other social groups that were historically left out or with little or no voice in its production.
“The questions we asked ourselves were, from a social perspective, what kind of landscape image do we want to produce? And what kind of landscape techniques were necessary to achieve this? We came up with some technical solutions: inverting the pyramid of mobility to privilege pedestrians and public transport as well as recovering the water landscapes to ensure the afforestation of the avenue and to allow for shade and maintenance to provide comfort to pedestrians and other users. However, what was crucial to us was to understand the historical and geographical conditions that gave birth to this landscape: how it came and continues to be, and how this knowledge, including technical knowledge, could be used to evolve and project its future image. We proposed to make the landscape of the Alameda Providencia more inclusive of a wider and collective set of social groups in Santiago through the design and production of what we call a Paseo Civico Metropolitano,” explain the architects.
The studio’s practice and idea of landscape is based on research produced by the Landscape Urbanism Graduate Program at the Architectural Association (AALU) in London, who has developed its understanding of landscape as a model through the lens of territory. Territory is a larger framework than landscape. It allows us to understand the relations between places and power and the ways they shape the world and our practice. Douglas Spencer and Clara Oloriz call landscape a political aesthetic machine, or a way and means through which we create designed environments that are meaningful to certain social groups. In this way, territory includes not only landscapes but also all those places that have not been designed but are the product or by-products of many landscapes—particularly city landscapes— such as productive lands, logistical zones, extraction areas, infrastructural works, etc. Groundlab’s practice is preoccupied with finding and designing alternative forms of urbanization that are based on landscape-oriented models.
Given the climate crisis that we are living through, it is paramount to not only understand and reflect on it but also to design and visualize this thinking. In order to project new and radical urban futures for Latin America and beyond, we need to reveal local, regional, and planetary interconnections and their consequences and challenge the profession. These revelations will help us propose, design, visualize and, ultimately, produce new relations between nature and society.
DATE: 2015 (competition), 2019 (project), 2019 (construction) / LOCATION: Santiago, Chile / AREA: 12 km length / PROGRAM: Masterplan / STATUS: First prize competition / DESIGN TEAM: Groundlab (LyonBosch+Martic, Idom and Sergio Chiquetto, architects)