Functional City in Medellín, Colombia: the endurance of the modernist planning paradigm
Calderón, Edwar A.
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In Latin America, the post-war period marked a significant epoch of architectural and urbanist experimentation of modernist ideas coming from the other side of the Atlantic. This was the case in Medellín, Colombia and the Functional City approach by CIAM (Congrès Internationaux d'Architecture Modern, in English: International Congresses of Modern Architecture) which conceptualises “the four urban functions,” proposed in the Athens Charter as decisive city planning principles: living, working, recreation and circulation. However, by the late 1950s (with the dissolution of CIAM) and the subsequent decade (1960s) CIAM’s ideas started losing credibility and support. While modernist urbanism was declining, large-scale economic-oriented approaches by international agencies permeated the formulation of development plans. This was the case with the planning approach proposed for Colombia by BIRF (Inter-American Bank for Reconstruction and Development) based on industrial production. These approaches led to (ongoing) transformations in the Colombian urbanist approach, concentrating on socio-economic development. Despite these transformations and in contrary to local urbanists’ impression that CIAM principles have been surpassed decades ago, the dissertation argues that Functional City principles continue to shape Medellin’s urban development today. The research involves a historical study of CIAM, its philosophy (especially regarding urban design – Functional City) its application and ‘’centre of gravity’’ relocation to Latin America, where this approach has been implemented over last 60 years. Consequently, a comparative case study, based on historical primary and secondary sources was undertaken. The Functional City plans of three cities were analysed: Buenos Aires (1938-9), Bogotá (1953), and Brasília (1957). Subsequently, an in-depth case study of Medellín, Colombia, including recent plans was carried out. It was based mainly on primary data sources; local historical archives (original plans and reports), which produced a unique set of evidence that was supported through interviews with key participants and direct researcher’s observations. This study contributes to a better understanding of current urbanisation patterns In Latin America. Furthermore, this study will invite reflection and public debate over questions such as: urbanization for whom/against whom and who decides? Particularly, it provides indicators for a desirable future course of action in Colombian urban planning that would benefit directly local and national authorities. This benefit would be through the provision of new insights and evidence to enable their work supporting resource management and sustainable urban development. Moreover, this will contribute to the design of effective policy and practice for facilitating longer-term development in ways that are positive for the population, which may well have applicability to other cities in Latin America.