Reconstructing Chamanga: Improving Public Space in Post-Earthquake Ecuador

Reconstructing Chamanga: Improving Public Space in Post-Earthquake Ecuador

7_chamanga_rubbleEarthquake-hit Chamanga

On April 16th 2016, a magnitude-7.8 earthquake devastated coastal Ecuador, killing over 700 people just one month before being rattled once again by a second magnitude 6.8 quake. Roughly 10,000 buildings and 560 schools were either damanged or destroyed, affecting mostly small communities in fishing villages along the coast, where sixty to seventy percent of houses collapsed.

In the coastal town of San José de Chamanga, the site of our master program’s field trip this year, an estimated 60% of homes were damaged, as were many of its public spaces and infrastructure. Our workshop titled Reconstructing Chamanga, organized and led by our codirector Carmen Mendoza Arroyo of School of Architecture UIC Barcelona in collaboration with Professor Santiago del Hierro of the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Ecuador (PUCE), contributes to the rebuilding efforts in the area. Collaborating on site was guest professor Sergio Palleroni of Portland University, Professor Mika Araki of University of Tokyo, Professor David Gouverneur of University of Pennsylvania, as well as professional volunteers Lorena Burbano and Sebastián Oviedo from Quito. In addition, our UIC students were joined by students from RMIT’s MoDDD program, and former student of our master program Monica Salazar, who has been working on reconstruction efforts in her native Ecuador.

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A Collaborative Workshop

Building on the town’s existing post-earthquake recovery plan developed by Ecuador’s Public Housing Company (EPV) and Ministry of Urban Development and Housing (MIDUVI), as well as on previous studies carried out by University of Pennsylvania (UPenn) Department of Landscape Architecture and Technical University of Delft Global Initiative, our workshop focused on developing strategies and specific projects related to the public space and urban fabric of Chamanga.

Despite a handful of successful collaborative rebuilding efforts on the part of community members and NGOs, the reconstruction process has been slow-going. Local community leaders often express their frustration at the lack of progress in rebuilding their city. In many ways, the earthquake revealed or exacerbated preexisting social and planning problems, and the lack of basic public services and housing.

“We wanted to contribute with technical proposals, but also leave a physical contribution on site which could be a boost of energy for the community,” said program director Carmen Mendoza Arroyo.

10_chamanga_building_public_stairwell17_chamanga_construction_toilets11_chamanga_reconstructionTechnical Proposals and Physical Interventions

During the two-week workshop, our students worked on proposals to be included in Chamanga’s reconstruction plan, contributing detailed architectural plans for facilities and open space improvements in five different sites using a holistic approach to bridge the waterfront, port and civic axis of the Master Plan. The proposals prioritized not only the necessity for environmental and economic recovery, but also the viability of these interventions through clear implementation strategies.
Their physical intervention took place on what they designated as an “action day” in which part of the group made improvements to a public stairwell that connects Chamanga’s riverfront to its urban core. Revitalizing deteriorating public spaces is a crucial yet often neglected aspect of post-disaster reconstruction. Other students worked on the construction of public toilets and a shower block initiated by a cooperative in the informal settlement of Nuevo Jerusalem. Both the physical interventions and reconstruction plan proposals factored in the historical and cultural values of the place, while integrating earthquake-resistant and disaster-risk reduction measures such as construction with local materials like bamboo and timber, and improvements to the artisanal fishing infrastructure through a new floating docks system.
The work produced in the workshop will be collected into a shared document with the community, local government, and partner universities that will continue to be developed by the local partners as a tool in further negotiations about the future of reconstruction in Chamanga.
“The workshop is meant to be part of an ongoing process in which we apply our technical expertise. We understand our contribution as part of a process that has to be validated and shared by the community and local organizations in order for it to be useful,” says Carmen.
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A Local and Global Network

The experience also highlighted the importance of social networks in recovering from a disaster. “It was amazing to see the social cohesion that can develop in a community after a disaster,” says our assistant coordinator Allison Koornneef, also an alumni of our program. “The leader of the Nueva Jerusalem cooperative explained to us how while the earthquake was a disaster for everyone, it had a positive affect on their community in a way they had never imagined. Many people chose to resettle near their family and friends, and a sense of comradery quickly developed with newcomers in the efforts to rebuild. The support of their new social networks has allowed them to take collective action and create new community spaces and services that benefit everyone.”

Former student Monica Salazar also pointed to the role of design itself in bolstering community ties. “The workshop really demonstrated the power of architecture and urban design, even in a place where everyone has lost it all; where small urban interventions become spaces of social reconciliation.”

In the summer of 2017, Sergio Palleroni of Centre for Public Interest Design and Akiko Okabe of Univerity of Tokyo will return for a design-build workshop in collaboration with PUCE. Likewise, the Technical University of Delft Global Initiative will be focusing on proposals on water and sanitation.

“The value of the workshop is that we are now part of a network of local and foreign universities that are immersed in the reconstruction of Chamanga,” Carmen explains. Going forward, our students will have the opportunity to complete their internship with a number of the local institutions involved in the town’s reconstruction.

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