But there are serious problems on the inside. The buildings are steel-frame boxes clad in dark stone tiles, with floating concrete cores — in effect, boxes within the boxes with reading rooms, a child-care center, an auditorium and other facilities. Construction is shoddy, navigation confusing, the interior claustrophobic; acoustics are awful, windows scarce.
EVERY LITTLE BIT COUNTS
More impressive but less flashy is another library in Medellin by Mazzanti: the Leon de Greiff library in La Ladera also a trio of buildings, in this case well-connected cantilevered pods on slate pedestals, splayed like a fan across the brow of a hill. The shared roof is linked to a park next door. Views are spectacular. The reading rooms and children’s play areas look out through panoramic windows.
Echeverri took me down the hillside to Andalucia, another part of the Northeast slums. Formerly ruled by gangs who held opposite sides of a garbage-clotted creek, it’s now remade with a sports complex and school, new sidewalks, new mid-rise housing blocks and a bridge over the creek. Dozens of shops have opened. Men were tinkering beneath cars in the hot sun, chatting over beers, when I visited; children dawdled on the way home from school, eating ice cream on the bridge. A thousand eyes were on the streets.
There I found Mateo Gomez, a 20-year-old on his way to work at a local beer company in the city center. The cable car had cut his commute in half, from two hours to one, he told me.
“The Espana library changed our conception of ourselves,” he added. “Before, we felt a stigma. But we’re still missing cultural spaces, the library closes too early, the situation is still very uncertain.”
From the hills of the Northeast, I made the circuit of some of the other new architecture in Medellin, much of it in and around the Botanical Garden, which had been the city’s Central Park before it became too dangerous to visit, and was shut down. For a while, the garden was intended for demolition. Then, a decade or so ago, thanks to Pilar Velilla, the garden’s director at the time, and with the support of Fajardo, the area was turned around.
Echeverri has designed a dramatic new science museum and public plaza across the street from the garden, and the garden has been lovingly renovated, its walls taken down, a gem of a circular pavilion, by Lorenzo Castro and Ana Elvira Velez, added at the entrance.
After an initial scheme to hire Norman Foster to devise another pavilion was rejected, a local competition was held, with the idea of advertising Medellin’s own young architectural talent. The winner, JPRCR Architects (Camilo Restrepo runs it), and Plan B Architects (Felipe Mesa and Alejandro Bernal), came up with the Orquideorama, a towering wood meshwork canopy rising 65 feet above a latticed patio. Its 10 hexagonal flower-tree structures, collecting fresh rainwater and woven together like honeycombs, shelter an orchid collection and butterfly reserves. The canopy is at once formally economical and spectacular.
But the most remarkable building of all is a few blocks away, a cultural center in the neighborhood called Moravia, next to a vast garbage dump. The center is one of the last works by the Colombian master Rogelio Salmona, a quasi-Moorish design of refined simplicity, all transparency, modesty and openness.