Article: CUENCA EN RED | The urbanistic project from the lens of the cultural sustainability by Ecosistema Urbano | Cuenca, Mexico

* Written by Vicente Iborra, Iván Capdevila (PLAYstudio).

In More Than Green we have always admired the work by Ecosistema Urbano. It has been a reference for us. Today we want to refer to one of their last works published on their website. If the work of the EU has always been defined by a strong interest on the urban matters, many of their latest works show the maturity of an office that seems to be focusing in the urbanistic project with Latin America as one of their main working environments.

Today we want to invite you to know the Cuenca en RED project, a strategy for the urban reactivation of the historical center of the city of Cuenca (Ecuador), which was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1990. This strategy is an extension of a previous mobility study in which various actions are projected that focus on the domain of mobility and services, such as the creation of pedestrian streets, the introduction of bike lanes, the reduction of intensities and speeds in the roads or the introduction of a tram line. But the project by Ecosistema Urbano is not this mobility plan, but the extension and development of its sustainable development goals beyond the public space and the environmental aspects of sustainability.

This work seems to us to be exemplary for many reasons: the consolidation of a proper work methodology for the large-scale urban project, already advanced in previous plans and strategies such as the Masterplan for the Sustainable Development of Encarnación or the Materplan for the Historic Center of Asunción, the quality and profusion of the material developed (see the various documents in ISSUU format published by the authors), or the development of specific strategies to encourage participation and dissemination among the youngest which had a fantastic KIT for school participation, which seems to us particularly relevant because it uses the cultural sustainability as the main communication strategy with children and between them and the future observers of their work.

However, in this post, we wanted to talk specifically about cultural sustainability, as the articulating axis of the proposal (at least from our point of view). Cuenca is a former Spanish colonial city, whose origin (according to the authors themselves) can be located in a settlement, originated between 1533-34, that responds to the classical morphology of the urbanizing system by that time: an organization of checkered blocks organized around the main garden to which the main representative buildings relayed. This morphology was complemented with a typology in which the buildings were organized around a series of inner courtyards (central patios, transpatios, orchards and corrals for self-sufficiency).

In order to carry out their strategy Ecosistema Urbano develop an intense investigation in which they detected the existence of a whole series of voids in the urban plots, beyond the public squares, that seem to be (at least in part) heirs of the original configuration of the morphology and the typology of the colonial city. It is precisely in these gaps, many of them located on private land, where Cuenca en RED plan operates through two main strategies: the construction of a Network of Active Patios and different actions through Urban Acupuncture.

Thus, the plan proposes to act on 6 thematic areas (defined during the socialization process): Activity, Natural Environment, Culture, Technology, Sport and Children, developing them in a specific and differentiated way in the Network of Active Patios. Therefore, in order to revitalize the city, it is proposed to act precisely on what made it up: the urban morphology (increasing the pedestrian uses through the previous mobility plan) and the building typology (propitiating a plan for the reactivation of the urban voids, both with historical or contemporary origin).

Finally, the authors structure the development of the project in 4 phases to be developed over time, which are activating on different yards and points of the urban network based on a previous feasibility study (developed in Volume 1 of the Strategy). The strategy ultimately develops the design of the 5 urban voids that have previously been defined as high priority spaces and constitute the phase 1 of the Strategy, which you can find here: Volume 2.1 and Volume 2.2.

As we said at the beginning… a clear reference when facing the urbanistic project from the cultural sustainability perspective: learn from what shapes the context and the urban identity of the city to operate on project from this acquired knowledge.