Being the 24th most dangerous city in the world with a homicide rate of 53.5 per every 100,000 people, the residents of Guatemala City are accustomed to corruption, gang violence, and insecurity of many resources considered basic necessities in the United States. Given three months, it was our task to change this weekday car park into an inhabitable space that the local residents could be proud of and to give a sense of security while withstanding the threats of theft, heavy summer rainstorm, and year-round intense sun. At the same time, we had to be respectful of the water tower and railroad tracks due to their historical significance to the government as well as continuing to allow the lot to function as a parking lot for the nearby ministry office during business hours.
Following the first successful FUNdaMENTAL (a design-build initiative in Guatemala City) in 2016 run by the NYC/Guatemalan firm Taller Ken, founders Gregory Melitonov and Ines Guzman sought out to do it again the summer of 2017. What makes FUNdaMENTAL stand out from other programs is that it exposes young architects and designers from around the world to all aspects of a built work: site analysis, brainstorming, fundraising, project management, sourcing materials, pre-fabrication, onsite construction, and preparing materials for publication. During this time, each of us took on the role of urban designers and actively engaged with the community to create a positive impact that they contributed and would continue to maintain for years to come.
INITIAL SITE CONDITIONS
By day, the site is a car park for the nearby government building. By night, it's a vacant lot. Due to gangs, poor lighting conditions, and the absence of people, Guatemalans know better than to hang around a place like this. Why would anyone want to be here?
Proximity to Resources
From the beginning, we worked to incorporate the local community of 20+ households into our design process. In the initial interviews, we asked adult residents their opinions towards the current usage of the lot and what they desired the space to become while the children were guided into drawing activities that allowed them to contribute their visions in a fun, engaging way. As we moved through the design phase, we hosted community meetings designed to inform the residents of recent developments as well as allowing them to give feedback about what would and wouldn't work in the space.
From the earliest stages of building, we had little helpers that made the physical labor comical and enjoyable. The behavior of the children allowed the adults in the community to gradually warm up to us and they grew accustomed to our presence during the weekends when the site would be barren of cars. By the time the project was almost over, it was quite common for some of the adults to join in as well. Not only did this serve to strengthen our bond with the local community, it also gave the residents a powerful sense of accomplishment and ownership of the space.
Our top priorities were to provide a safe, inhabitable public space that allowed the local community to feel a sense of belonging.
DIFFICULTIES IN PRACTICE
One of the biggest roadblocks we had to deal with were the parking lot "owners".
Two women - Sule and Norma - ran the parking lot during weekdays despite the property being legally owned by the federal government. Despite the questionable legality of this situation, circumstance like this are quite common in Guatemala City and their respective families depend on the profit the parking lot brings in to sustain themselves.
Nonetheless, they'd agreed to let us improve the space, as long as we weren't taking away their ability to make a profit. This not only put a constraint on work days - it was hard to get much done on the site during weekdays due to cars being everywhere and it was dangerous to be working when the sun started to go down. The cars also restricted the amount of change we could actually do since the number of parking spaces had to stay the same. As always, there was the time constraint of how much could be done in three months with the limited on site hours that we had, as well as how we were going to get the money or donation for the supplies. Everything that went into this project was fundraised, hence we had to be smart about what was necessary and cost efficient.
The main objectives we decided to tackle were seating, shade, lighting and identity.
There was no seating on the site, often times while taking a break from eating lunch, we'd be sitting on the sidewalk, ready to move in case a bike or motorcycle came down it (as they often do). There was no place to dwell on site, which is a problem if you want people to hang out there. The only shade offered on site was the avocado tree. With the high altitude and thing atmosphere, it's important there's shade to improve the overall experience. Lighting was also crucial because it deters illegal activity, improves the feel of the space, and allows for the possibility of nighttime community activities.
HOW DID WE DO IT?
Clearing the Site, Filling the Tracks with Gravel
Earth Bags & Poured Concrete Benches
Canopy and Ribbons
THINGS DON'T ALWAYS GO ACCORDING TO PLAN...
We'd originally planned to embed lights into the canopy but due to issues with which power line to hook the lights up to and the possibility of the community footing the electricity bill, we'd decided to forgo lighting at the moment. At one point, we had the option of solar panels that had been donated to the project but they weren't energy efficient enough to provide constant sources of power and would have serve as a theft risk if mounted on the roofs of the neighboring residents.The original canopy was also supposed to be in three parts and connected to both the bodegas (white) and houses (yellow). We found out two weeks before the end of the project that the bodega owner did not want us touching his building to paint or to be the support of the shading structure. Hence, the design of the canopy changed to accommodate . The canopies incorporate hula hoops to give a playful nature to the support system. As a result of the bodega owner, we also had to switch to painting the designs on the fence in front of the yellow houses instead of the white wall. From the leftover canopy pieces (a result of reducing the canopy size), I cut white, long strips to weave into the fence in an attempt to tie the entirety of the fence together with the rest of our influence.
THE FINAL RESULT