Colombia – Urban Acupuncture


Program Information

Building Type: 

Community Center, Cultural Display, Health Clinic, Laundry Facility, Library, Marketplace – Outdoor, Public Space/Gathering Space, Recreation Facility, Social Service Centers, Technology Facility, Urban Planning, Youth Center


Agit Prop/Policy/Politics, Culturally Sensitive, Economic Development/Livelihoods, Education, Green Design/ Practices, Materials – Local/Indigenous, Non-Profit/ Community-based, Participatory Design, Self-Help/Volunteer Construction

Location: Santa Marta & Barranquilla, Colombia


Today in Colombia, there is an opportunity for urban renewal in the informal settlements of cities where the countries long standing conflict has led to entrenched unemployment and economic disenfranchisement.

This innovative pilot project is bringing together an inter-disciplinary team of design professionals and others to use design as vehicle for change. Through small-scale interventions in a number of informal settlements, the project aims to build community and offer innovative solutions to sustainable, long-term development.

By engaging the community at every stage from planning to construction, the project aims to use design as a tool to address systemic political, social and economic issues that reach beyond the built environment. The resulting structures themselves may take many forms: Cultural centers, job training centers, technology centers, laundries, street markets, transportation hubs, libraries, schools and daycares, to name just a few examples. What they share in common, is their power to create lasting economic and social change.

The program learns from a number of successful precedents both in Colombia and elsewhere, including in particular the program of peace and reconciliation in the city of Medellin, Colombia (pictured in the slideshow above). Other precedents include the Favelo Bairro Project in Rio de Janiero, Brazil, the work of Jaime Lerner and his successor in Curitiba, and design programs such as the Global Community Studio led by Sergio Palleroni in Mexico and elsewhere.

The pilot program is taking place in neighborhoods in two cities: Baranquilla and Santa Marta. In each site, community members are invited to shape a micro-urban plan for new public spaces and gathering places in their community. Each neighborhood-based intervention includes a mix of parks and open space development and buildings such as job centers, micro lending insitutions, libraries, schools and other structures to serve the community.

An inter-discplinary project team is based in centrally located design centers in each of the two cities to implement the pilot projects. Each project team includes:

  • Urban Planners
  • Architects
  • Landscape architects
  • Community Development Liaisons
  • Communication Strategists
  • City officials
  • NGO Partners and others.

Project Goals:

  • Strengthen communication and collaboration among different groups in the community
  • Provide community members with access and tools to improve their neighborhoods
  • Create access to jobs and stimulate small business development through new community spaces and facilities
  • Employ local labor and materials as much as possible
  • Train local builders in sustainable building methods and technologies
  • Increase the capacity of local leaders to instigate change, lead programs and attract investment in their neighborhoods
  • Reduce acts of violence and crime through the creation of safe public spaces
  • Support the reintegration of ex-combatants and those displaced by combat into civil life.
  • Instill a sense of hope and signal positive change in the neighborhood through innovative design

Benefits of Community Design:

Community design, or participatory design, engages community members of all ages and walks of life. By engaging the community in the planning and design of simple structures, the very act of creating architecture creates a platform for sustainable development. Through the design process, community members to learn to overcome barriers to communication, to find common ground and to create shared vision for their community. Jaime Lerner, the renowned urban planner and Mayor of Curitiba, Brazil coined the phrase “Urban Acupuncture,” to describe the catalytic effect of these small, but pivotal projects.


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