The commission of designing a new public space in the historic center of Quito was a challenge for us, because the old district is considered to be one of Latin America’s most important historic areas, and was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1978. The place selected for this project was a plot of an old building of the 60’s without any architectural value, that was attach to the San Agustin’s Monastery. This building was considered to be demolished several years before. For this reason, we made different questions that we wanted to solve with our project.
How could we recover the urban memory of the place? The first approach to the project was made from the studying of the historic city plans, where we found out some important clues that help us to start the designing process. In the 18th Century´s plan, we realize that the monastery’s block was as twice as the current size, two blocks in one. In the northeast part of the monastery we found small buildings attached and also a big orchard. In the 19th century, the monastery’s block was divided by an extension of the Mejia’s street, which would be connected to the Marin’s square. Meanwhile, In the 20th century the San Agustin’s priests or “Agustinos”, proceed to demolished the small buildings attached to the monastery to build a new building that allowed them to rent it. With this background, we wanted to recover an urban gap that had existed in the 18th century as a private orchard, to convert it into a public space of the 21th century with a neighborhood scale.
How should we design an inclusive public space that focus on people? Besides the fact that we had to work with accessibility matters which includes special pavements, protection curbs, railings, etc., we also adopted certain design ideas based in Jane Jacobs theories of “Eyes on the street”. For our us was very important to design a square where many activities could be developed, so we design a metallic and wood pergola with small food businesses and a public WC’s inside, compatible with accessibility elements. We wanted to create an attractive space by adding urban furniture, endemic vegetation, playful elements like water fountains and innovative playground. The illumination of the project was design to create a safe environment at night but also to highlight interesting architectural elements of the square. Finally, it was important to give more privileges to the pedestrian over the vehicles by making bigger sidewalks, adding new trees and urban furniture. The Mejia’s street was also considered as a part of the project by integrating it at the same level of the the square, to induce drivers to slow down the speed.
How to make a public space into a pedagogic place? The square’s design includes many elements that allowed the visitors to enjoy and understand the real meaning of the place in many levels. First, we recovered the value of the urban memory of the neighborhood by creating the “wall of historic urban plans” exposing the evolution of the block between the 18th century to our days. We also add round bronze plates surrounding the place where the old state building was located. Additionally, we designed three figures of lizards as a tribute of the old urban tale of Luciano Andrade Marin “The lizard whose open the Mejia’s street”, a story about how the street was built in the 19th century.
Almost a year has past since the opening of this square, and many people are enjoying the “Plaza Huerto San Agustin”. Most of these people are neighbors and visitors whose consider this project as a new landmark in the city for its design quality as a new public space in Quito´s Historic Center.
Entrant office name: JARAMILLO VAN SLUYS
Authors: Esteban Jaramillo and Christine Van Sluys
Collaboration Team: Cristina Miño, Gabriela Naranjo, Francisco Trigueros, Andrés Velastegui, David Rivadeneira and Robinson Cueva
Photography: Sebastian Crespo
San Agustín´s Sculpture Artist: Howard Taikeff
Project location: Quito, Ecuador
Client: Ministry of Urban Development and Housing (MIDUVI)
Design year: 2015
Year Built: 2016