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Medellin: Urban Porosity as Social Infrastructure  


Medellin, Colombia has gone through a dramatic transformation over the last two decades.  It is a city that is in a central location for trade in relationship to North America, Central America and South America.  Historically, this prime location of Medellin has been used for illicit reasons. It supported a thriving drug trade which involved the city in several drug wars between the different gangs and caused a climate of danger and unrest. The state government of Antioquia and the city government of Medellin took measures to clean up the city and with the death of the notorious drug lord, Pablo Escobar, the city has been transforming into a new destination for tourism and culture.  The coffee industry has always been inversely related  to the cocaine industry in Colombia depending on trade and economy that involved the farmers.  Many farmers found that it was easier to leave their coffee plantations and plant coca instead. With the decrease of the cocaine trade, Antioquia’s coffee industry is thriving, providing some of the best coffees in the world.  Governor Fajardo is creating a new policy for development in the towns of the state. Unfortunately, the locals do not have the exposure to the process, as coffee in its raw form is exported directly to be roasted and packaged elsewhere, and therefore do not have the appreciation of this national commodity.  The state government is currently trying to create pride for Colombian coffee amongst its people by awareness campaigns, coffee companies bringing in to the country their roasters and production facilities, and supporting a coffee culture amongst the people.


Coffee farming involves a series of steps that include germination, planting, picking, de-pulping, washing, fermentation, and parabolic drying which results in the green coffee that is then sorted and exported via three major shipping ports in Colombia: Buenaventura, Cartagena, and Santa Marta. A new port is promised to be opened in Turbo which would cut the travelling time from Medellin through this extremely mountainous region in half. After export, this green coffee then goes through roasting and packaging and then is sold globally. Medellin still has many urban issues. It is situated in a valley and has a series of informal settlements that creep up the mountain side and cause issues of land erosion. Many of the people moving into these areas come from rural areas and are seeking opportunities in the city. The informal settlements still experience high levels of crime but urban strategies in these neighborhoods, with projects such as the Biblioteca Espana in Santo Domingo, Medellin, are providing opportunities for education and improving these neighborhoods.


This project’s objectives are to: 1. promote new Antioquian Coffee policies to support social and educational content through architecture, urban design and landscape architecture; 2. understand and intervene multi-scale coffee networks of trade and production through specific projects; 3. support, re-value and protect the creeks of the Aburra valley, understanding them as main structures for the built and social form; 4. deploy an alternative system to articulate and mediate informal expansion of the city up the valley; 5. propose a buffer zone that both helps bring the urban to the rural and visa versa, seeing the creeks of the Aburra valley as a natural conduit to foster this relationship. 

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