This past February, students embarked on our annual field trip to continue the reconstruction work that our previous student group began last year in the coastal town of San José de Chamanga, where an estimated 60% of homes were damaged after two consecutive major earthquakes in 2016.
From reconstruction to development
While last year’s workshop, titled Reconstructing Chamanga, focused on revitalizing deteriorated public spaces, this year the brief shifted its focus to Transitioning from Reconstruction to New Urban Sites, which involved tracking the evolution of the five previous sites of intervention, assessing the perception of the community and local government of the ongoing reconstruction process, proposals for the prioritization of certain spaces and voids, and a small-scale physical intervention.
“Going back to Chamanga a year later has had the wonderful outcome of creating a stronger link to the community and the local government,” explains codirector Carmen Mendoza Arroyo, “which enhances our possibilities of making our contribution more relevant. It was really satisfying to see that one of our interventions on the urban staircases last year was finished by the community and another one was even improved by them.”
Strategic proposals for a new neighborhood
In particular, students analyzed the urban transformation Chamanga has undertaken due to the relocation of most of its waterfront residents to the new neighborhood of Ciudadela located on higher ground, which has brought up old and new debates on relocation related to the top-down process that often results in a lack of community integration as well as typological and urban problems.
Proposals included providing technical spatial and social assessments for a more adequate relocation of residents—mainly fishermen—to a ridge street with a typology that is integrated with the steep topography and that connects them to their livelihood on the waterfront through a series of existing staircases. Students proposed ways of better integrating the new Ciudadela into the existing urban fabric, as well as improving the typological and spatial configuration of the neighborhood. Another group proposed ways to enhance a civic network by linking public facilities and open spaces and the rehabilitating existing spontaneous paths as evacuation routes.
Revitalizing public space
Finally, the physical intervention involved upgrading an additional public stairwell, adding elements for shade and waste collection.
An inclusive approach
“Due to our systemic approach in a post-disaster situation working with a socio-spatial methodology, we believe these kinds of urban interventions can have a catalyst effect whereby the community actively engages in the reconstruction process,” our codirector adds.
As for our students, “the learning experience in these workshops transcends the academic and acquires a personal connection, in this case to the culture and community of Chamanga, which can only be achieved through the inclusive lens of cooperation.”
The workshop in Chamanga was a joint collaboration with the local government and community and in partnership with RMIT University, Sergio Palleroni of Portland State University, PUCE Ecuador and local architecture studio Atarraya Taller de Arquitectura.
Photos by students and participants of the field trip.