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System of Integrated Patches: Deconstructing the Urban-Rural Limit in the City of Santiago by Francisco Walker Martínez

System of Integrated Patches: Deconstructing the Urban-Rural Limit in the City of Santiago by Francisco Walker Martínez

Courtesy of Francisco Walker Martínez

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!

The project was commissioned by the Metropolitan Government of Santiago along with the borough of San Bernardo and the local Not-for-profit Organization Santiago Cerros Isla. It aimed to develop a natural corridor that could bring together five hills and to become a system of natural areas for the city of San Bernardo, Santiago, Chile. Even though the project by Francisco Walker Martínez was not developed, it has influenced several strategic decisions in this part of the city and remains as a guideline for the local municipal authorities.  

Twenty-six hills emerge in the city of Santiago. Protecting these natural areas against urban predation, along with enhancing them as places for recreation and nature conservation, has been at the center of multiple agendas in the last decade. It is with this purpose that the project emerged.  

Local authorities commissioned a project that could articulate four island hills in the borough of San Bernardo as a new metropolitan plan that would promote urban development around them. They wanted the architects to define a new urban limit for the city, a planned limit in which these hills would be designed and protected.  

Master Plan. Courtesy of Francisco Walker Martínez

The architect’s diagnoses suggested that urban growth in this area of the city was fragmenting local identities as the urban-rural limit was understood as a line. This is the city, this is not: a line that creates a tension between the rural and the urban. It allows farm animals to be located just a few meters away from housing developments. It also differentiates tax payments between neighbors and decides whether local authorities are held responsible for garbage management. It increases or decreases its neighboring land value and pushes communities to settle elsewhere. It is a tricky line, but does it have to be a line? This is the question that accompanied the architects in the project.  

The project deconstructs the urban-rural limit as a line and proposes looking at it as what it is: landscape. The project was addressed as a metropolitan transitioning area that could protect the identities of rural production activities without compromising urban growth while at the same time enhancing nature and biodiversity. To do so, it was decided to think of the five hills as part of a connected system. With this in mind, the studio defined four strategies of intervention:  

Building permeable and dynamic buffers at the city level around each hill: These areas enhance agriculture, recreation, scientific research, and local production activities that can regulate the transition between urban life and areas of natural conservation.  

Building public pathway belts at 20-meters heigh around each hill: To maximize the opportunities of recreation and mobility.  

Protecting the hills as ecological assets: To conserve and enhance the ecological values of each one of these hills by preserving through native species reforestation and a few interpretative paths for hiking.  

Enabling the hilltops as metropolitan viewpoints: To conquer the hilltops with viewpoints so that visitors can contemplate the system as a whole. 

Finally, buffer-zones are to be connected through a mixture of ecological and transport corridors that allow the mobility of both people and wildlife from one hill to another. Included among the many projects offered by the architects are a botanical garden, a metropolitan plant nursery, local community gardens, and a university campus for several agricultural faculties—all of which are pending projects for the city. Finally, to promote biodiversity restoration, a wetland area was proposed on the east hilltop, which would trigger wildlife and their mobility throughout the system. 

LOCATION: San Bernardo, Santiago, Chile / DATE: 2015 / STATUS: Project Research / GROUP LEADER: Francisco Walker Martínez, architect / TEAM: Alejandra Vásquez, Lucas Mateluna, Juan Samaniego, Francisco Salas, architects / COLLABORATORS: Francisco Chatea, Inés Burdiles, architects, Martín Fonck, anthropologist, Santiago Rojas, sustainable development specialist / CLIENTS: Metropolitan Government of Santiago, Municipal Government of San Bernardo, Santiago Cerros Isla NGO  

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