Sergio Fajardo and Giancarlo Mazzanti

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Sergio Fajardo and Giancarlo Mazzanti

In recent years, Medellín has become a necessary stop for architects visiting Colombia, and indeed, anywhere in South America. Conferences and events are held to display and promote the city’s new architecture, student excursions are organized around visits to these buildings, magazines are noticing them, and the sites are slowly being converted into symbols for the city, the images that don its postcards. Medellín has become an example of how urban transformation based on good architecture can reshape the mentality of its inhabitants.

The mastermind behind the city’s transformation is the mathematician and university professor Sergio Fajardo, who was elected mayor of Medellín in 2003 and served until 2007. He is a presidential candidate in Colombia’s 2010 election. Using a coherent and inclusive urban strategy, he has changed the face of a city that in the ’90s was considered among the most violent in the world. Fajardo has introduced a positive state presence in the poorest and most violent areas by initiating multi-level urban projects, the foundation of which is architecture, most of which originates in public competitions that are open to Colombia’s youngest architects.

In the late ’90s, tired of his city’s corruption, Fajardo formed the Grupo Compromiso Ciudadano (Citizens Commitment Movement), which sought to transform the city and create greater opportunities for its citizens. This aim would carry the group to the mayor’s office, where they would undertake one of the best examples in the world of urban transformation, basing their policies on the slogan “Medellín: from fear to hope.” They worked to decrease poverty and violence by creating opportunities for employment and entrepreneurship, all while reducing social inequality through educational policy reform. In this way, they decreased the indexes of violence and insecurity and reduced the isolation of the inner city’s poorest areas through integration-focused architectural projects like parks, libraries, and modernized schools.

To be in the new Medellín is to find oneself in the surprising Orquideorama and the sober entryway of the Botanical Garden, the Plaza de la Luz, the Explora Park, the Plaza de los Pies Descalzos, the Moravia Center, and the EPM Library. There are five new libraries, ten new schools, new pedestrian streets, and more than fifty new urban and architectural projects characterized by challenging contemporary architecture. It is not enough simply to do works if they are not done well, something that can be measured by the degree of pride that the city’s inhabitants feel for its new face as well as by the fact that Medellín has become a city to see as opposed to one to avoid.

Medellín’s new architecture represents a novel way of making a city out of policy; it also represents a new generation of architects facing the world, concerned with developing discourses and architecture in greater alignment with the present moment. Their architecture works with the places into which it inserts itself, with the culture and historical moment it belongs to. The architects of the new Medellín do not seek to develop a totalizing and solitary discourse. Theirs is an architecture of synthesis, while respectful of differences. These are architectures in which the global and the local are united and crossed, reflecting the pluralism, experimentation, and respect enacted by Mayor Fajardo.