Why Design Now? Social Transformation In Medellìn, Colombia
We don't generally think about the sociological impact of design. But in the poorest areas of Medellìn, Colombia, design is changing the lives of hundreds of thousands of its inhabitants with a strong message of education, jobs, and inclusion in the culture of a city with a very proud history. The Smithsonian's Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum has recognized the profound impact of design on the poor communities of Medellìn in its current exhibit Why Design Now? The National Design Triennial.
Medellìn has the lingering reputation of being the crime capitol of the world, dating back to the late 1980's when the drug cartels essentially took over the city. The city lived up to its reputation for several years, but the Colombian and local governments were able to reign in the 'reign of terror' by the late 1990's. Nevertheless, the poorest areas of Medellìn were still filled with crime and hopelessness.
But the mayor of Medellìn between 2004 - 2008, Sergio Fajardo, had the idea that "Our most beautiful buildings must be in our poorest areas." The son of an architect, Farjardo and architect Alejandro Echeverri had a vision for Medellìn's 'inner city' that involved public buildings and parks, new schools, libraries, and museums and, interconnecting these buildings, would be a cable car to transport people from the hillsides into the city.
That Farjardo's vision for Medellìn was accomplished in four years is incredible. According to the Cooper Hewitt exhibit this accomplishment included the building of 10 new schools and upgrades of 132 schools, 5 library parks, the cable car system, Botanical Gardens, interactive museums, public buildings... all by employing local architects, builders, and workers from the community to get the jobs done. Additionally, the mayor and his team were able to set up the essential public services like childcare, job placement, and credit facilities that made the use of the city's opportunities more accessible.
The answer to Why Design Now? is expressed poetically by the children of Medellìn where, not long ago, their fascination was drawn to the remains of dead bodies on the street.... The video is 7 minutes long, but just watching a bit of it will demonstrate the promise of social change brought about by design.
That's Why Design Now! The National Design Triennial Why Design Now exhibit will be on display until January 9, 2011 at the Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum in New York City.
NOTE: On Saturday, May 22, 2010, from 2:00 to 4:00, the Architecture League of NY is holding a program called Medellín: Design Transformation. Seats must be reserved so visit the link for further information
(If you enjoyed this blog, you might like to see my prior blog on the exhibit: Why Design Now? Design's impact on energy saving)