Sergio Fajardo, former Mayor of Medellín, Colombia, and Alejandro Echeverri, its former Director of Urban Projects, implemented a bold and ambitious public works program that transformed what was “the world’s deadliest city” into a vibrant, more liveable place. Their work has contributed to a drop in crime and the emergence of a nascent tourism industry while it has helped better link Medellín’s disenfranchised to the city’s cultural and economic fabric.
Beginning in 2004, Echeverri and Fajardo led teams of local architects, with the intent of training them, to build a series of striking libraries, schools, parks, and science and cultural centers in some of Medellín’s most impoverished neighborhoods. Each project was built in consultation with neighborhood residents, and paired with sweeping social programs, including micro-lending schemes to encourage small businesses.
A number of these regenerative projects have become landmarks: one of the Medellín’s most-visited attractions is the iconic Parque Biblioteca España, which is perched in the hilltops of Santo Domingo, a barrio once notorious for drug violence. Echeverri and Farjardo also helped extend the city’s modern railway by building a cable car system that connects some of Medellín’s poorest and most isolated neighborhoods to the rest of the city. Today, residents from the sprawling hillside informal settlements have more opportunities to take advantage of schools and the growing construction, textile, and tourism economies of the city.
These architectural and urban projects have “changed the skin of the city,” in Farjardo’s words. A guiding principle of these public works projects was el efecto demonstrativo, or using the “power of example”—in this case, the dramatic symbolism of modern architecture—to instill a sense of pride and possibility in the minds of local residents and beyond.
Our most beautiful buildings must be in our poorest areas.
— Alejandro Echeverri