What was your overall impression of the library parks? Did they exceed your expectations? Fall short?
In MedellÃn, I visited five different library parks. Each had its own reading as far as how successful I found it to be within its context. The most famous works are by Giancarlo Mazzanti, and are often used to publicize the library parks; however, I actually found those to be the least successful. Mazzantiâ€™s work seemed to focus on being object or form-driven rather than functioning as a successful community space. I visited these projects six years after they were constructed, and both of Mazzantiâ€™s buildings were in severe disrepair. One was even partially closed for repairs. Overall, though, the five library parks in general exceeded my expectations as far as how they were being used and how they were connected with the life of the neighborhood.
What prompted your visit to the Library Parks of MedellÃn, Colombia? Did you travel there to document this project, or was it an incidental discovery?
As a Master of Architecture student, Iâ€™m particularly interested in how architecture either does or does not affect the quality of life people experience in an urban environment. In my research on this topic, I came across the example in MedellÃn, wherein architecture has played a huge role in transforming the city from its status as the most dangerous city in the world in 1992 to one that won an award from the Urban Land Institute for innovation in 2015. Having read extensively about this story of seeming success, I wanted to visit these sites for myself to find out if the projects were in fact working as the academics claim. What I found is that, largely, they are successful. While some appear to have issues of construction quality, spatially they are all proving to be an amenity utilized by the surrounding neighborhood. What is important to remember is that while architecture was critical in this urban transformation, it was just one piece of the puzzle. Efforts at multiple scales â€” from policy level to individual outreach â€” were required to realize the library park projects such that they now function as positive contributions to the built environment.
Which Library Park did you find most interesting?
The library that I found to be the most successful was Biblioteca La Quintana. In contrast to Mazzantiâ€™s work, the architecture of this project acts as a frame or anchor for the public life that takes place around it. The â€œparkâ€ connects seamlessly with a busy street above, inviting a flow of neighbors to use the space. Teenagers meet on the outdoor balconies and covered area beneath, children play soccer in the open brick plaza, and mothers and grandmothers watch from the giant staircase that functions both as circulation and inhabitable space. In visiting this project, I felt like I was seeing a slice of neighborhood life, an active extension of the community itself.