Advanced Design Studio: Krier

Krier: Guatemala


Design and Visualization



The impression even after visiting Guatemala City for ten years, is one of persistent disorientation. It is as if generations of planners and builders had refused to deal with the extraordinarily attractive conditions of climate, landform, soil and vegetation, imposing ill-adapted urban grids that not only do not respect the natural topographic conditions but positively ignore them.

Instead of allowing at long last a metropolitan order to emerge through re-development, the new Territorial Development Plan, POT, is on the way to worsen the situation. It legislates a 30 km long high-rise strip redevelopment to plow through the existing urban fabric. At present the central metropolitan area is visted every day by 1 000 000 commuters. The POT will exasperate the already unbearable congestion problem.

We will look at traditional urbanism techniques demonstrating how the colossal suburban sprawl may be redeveloped into a polycentric metropolis of independent quarters. Our demonstration piece will look at the most central urban location.

The Civic Center, a monstrous phoenix having risen from a massive urban bulldozzing campaign of the 1970ies and 80ies occupies the geographic center of the Metropolis. What had been promised as Guatemala’s Brasilia, became a sordid exemplar of modernist failure both in urban and architectural terms. It houses the Municipality and many national headquarters of public institutions as well as those of private banking, industry and commerce.

For the graduate studio I propose a radical and liberating tabula rasa operation. The POT dedicates large parts of that area to high-rise redevelopment, signifying its incremental wreckage anyway. Obliterating the obliteration, we declare instead the area to be a national urban redevelopment project of high symbolic import: Building a New Urban Heart for the orphaned Capital City and Nation. Guatemaya, the new Twin Federal and Municipal City, a 60 acre New Town will rise above the surrounding city and be separated from it by a peripteral 150 m wide Boulevard, the National Mall.New Urban Parkways, following the model of Washington DC’s Rock Creek Parkway, will dip from here into the surrounding green canyons, linking the Capital Center to the new Orbital Highways and the Pan American Highway.

The Guatemala City edges fronting the Mall will be lined by Embassy buildings, the new National Theater, two railway terminals and bus stations and a multitude of mixed-use palacitos.

The major new national and municipal institutions, the Congress, the Judicial, the Executive Mansion, the Municipality, form the monumental armature of the Guatemaya composition. They occupy focal positions on the edges of Guatemaya, and are located on axis with the principal existing Avenues of Guatemala City, converging toward the new National Capital Grounds. They will mark the skyline like the Capitol in DC, St Peters in Rome, Philadelphia City Hall tower.

Students will be assigned three building sites within the Guatemaya master plan, one for a mixed use small urban palacito crowned by a penthouse, another for an institutional building, a third for small urban furnishing piece, a fountain, monument, a campanario or lamp-post. This will allow to exercise in an urban context the greatly different vernacular and classical scales and languages. Each student has to choose amongst the list of the following set of architectural source/idioma. Antigua Guatemala; seven students. Otto Wagner; Art Deco; Le Corbusier; one student each.

The goal of the studio is to make the student understand and use the contrasting and interdependent relationships of the vernacular and the classical within a given traditional architectural language; what role this dialectic plays within the design of a single building in order to create meaning through contrast; how that compositional system articulates the large urban context into a readable and enduring artifact. The introduction of a modernist idiom in this exercise is to subject it to a lexical scrutiny, reordering and where necessary, achieving its formal and technical completion. Art Deco is the last great traditional architectural language with a strong link to Maya esthetic; Guatemala City contains many surviving examples.

The introductory exercise will consist in creating a digital base of vernacular and monumental building elements and building typology representing the constitutive dictionary of the chosen architectural idiom. This lexicon of architectural parts and types is elaborated in view of their use in the Guatemaya architectural design projects.

The Master plan consists of 140 separate building sites, fountain, monuments. The group goal will be to elaborate a digital model of the whole of Guatemaya inserting individual projects within the urban context in order to fine-tune their massing, color and detail. One student may undertake the remodeling of one of the half dozen existing modernist highrise blocks.

While working on their outline building design of assigned sites and buildings, each student has to prepare an "analytique" in digital or painted form and composed of the architectural elements and details of the chosen idiom; chimneys, windows, cornices, balconies, columns, brackets, lanterns, dormers, moldings, bonding patterns etc. Both analysis and project are about becoming fluent with a grammar and syntax and their necessary role in the formation of language and style. We won’t worry about personal expression and style precisely because they reveal themselves automatically with the practice of speech, become in fact unavoidable. It rarely works the other way around.

When in Guatemala City the students will be guests of Hector Leal, the developer, and housed in a just completed Hotel in Cayala.

The 80 acres Cayala development, which I am masterplanning since 2003 with Estudio Urbano, is being built on a mesa near the center city now in its third phase of construction. It is the first large scale and very successful experiment of modern traditional urbanism and architecture in Guatemala. It is the first demonstration in Guatemala City of a non-gated modern community where citizens of various origins and standing mix without fear. A true public realm is being created, something Europeans or North Americans take for granted, represents for Guatemalan society, still marked by a cruel civil war, a hopeful step towards an open and democratic society.

We will pay a two day visit to Antigua, the ancient Capital of Guatemala, which after a century of abandonment has in the last 30 years been restored and revived to became a World Heritage Site of extraordinary radiance. Antigua is graphically well documented and is a safe urban environment to explore. It will be our main architectural source.