MAMM’s extension by Ctrl G and 51-1, characterised by overlapping volumes, was inspired by the architecture of the slums of Medellín
Supported by the prosperity of the past two decades, the construction of community spaces to promote urban equity has become a popular social strategy in southern Latin America. Medellín, Colombia, is no exception. Architectural interventions, such as Giancarlo Mazzanti’s Santo Domingo library (2005), are admired for their social impact and their aesthetic contrast with a precarious context.
The city’s successful transformation (AR Feb 2011) has focused on the poorest areas and those most affected by armed conflict, so Medellín’s Modern Art Museum (MAMM) expansion is an exception. In El Poblado, a middle-to-upper class neighbourhood, MAMM seeks to recover the sense of the city as a ‘common good’ in an area dominated by gated communities and a dearth of public space.
‘MAMM offers an alternative meeting point to the mall and a step towards a culturally vibrant city’
It was the result of an invited competition to extend MAMM’s existing building, a former industrial hall and home to the museum since 2009. The winning proposal from Ctrl G and 51-1 Arquitectos embodied the diverse programme in the brief, fragmenting the building into separate volumes in an irregular and accidental overlapping of programmatic containers, an approach drawn from the architecture of the slums.
In the case of MAMM, the new building is the physical manifestation of the museum’s artistic expansion. With the original building, the complex includes 1,615m2 of exhibition space, with 665m2 dedicated to MAMM’s permanent collection of local art since the mid-20th century, such as Débora Arango’s feminist and revolutionary paintings, the Pan American Graphics (AGPA) prints and art from Arturo and Rebeca Rabinovich’s salons. MAMM also provides more space for music rehearsals and experimentation, two education labs, a multi-functional space, three commercial units, 700m2 of offices and a 2,600m2 basement with parking and technical plant.
‘The almost literal use of references taken from slum architecture tends towards its trivialisation and stereotyping’
The new extension’s greatest contribution to the cultural vibrancy of the city is its flexible theatre, which can be used for both open-air and closed performances of film screenings or concerts. With a seating capacity of 256, the non-hermetically sealed shoebox can be opened to the plaza for public events. Film is Colombia’s fastest growing cultural magnet, and MAMM’s film programme which features independent and locally produced movies as well as the concert series has been hugely successful.
To further emulate the randomisation of the slum’s built environment, the volumes are wrapped in different materials: precast concrete for the plinth and the exhibition rooms on the fourth floor, white glass panels on the third floor for the labs and music experimentation room, perforated steel panels for the multipurpose room on the top floor, and concrete fretworks for the offices on the second floor, filtering views and softening the outdoor light.
The composite form creates a series of terraces; in-between spaces that enable people to gather, affording privileged views of the city. A covered passageway on the ground floor serves as an open hall and links the plaza and park behind the museum to the street.
A metal staircase across this central void connects the intricate succession of spaces. This, for Catalina Patiño of Ctrl G, is ‘one of the most important components of the composition, as it allows the continuity of public space across the levels of the museum’.
‘MAMM has developed a diverse programme that attempts to engage people of different ages’
MAMM offers an alternative meeting point to the mall and a step towards a culturally vibrant city. According to its director María Mercedes Gonzáles, MAMM does not simply improve its immediate surroundings. ‘The museum’s DNA is composed of both its immediate and non-immediate context,’ says Gonzáles. ‘It does not directly tackle evident problems such as prostitution or drug abuse, but provides people with critical experiences and qualified information.’
Working on the premise that such insight should not only come from the exhibition of objects but that it must also arise from other cultural and artistic activities, MAMM has developed a diverse programme that attempts to engage people of different ages and with dissimilar interests in a situation comparable to the Casa da Música in Porto by OMA, which similarly complements the prominent concert hall with rooms for early musical stimulation, a restaurant, bar and flexible auditoriums and multipurpose spaces.
Through the inclusion of formal, spatial and urban strategies taken from informal architecture as opposed to the homogeneous context where the intervention is placed, MAMM’s extension embodies a contradiction in itself. On the one hand, the idea of providing a physical manifestation of the highly urban and collective experience of slum-style living in a neighbourhood where people hardly know their neighbours, and barely belong to community, is a success on the way to an inclusive city. On the other, the almost literal use of references taken from slum architecture tends towards its trivialisation and stereotyping. In drawing on the aesthetic qualities of the slum, MAMM echoes the problems of the Medellín cable-car rides, where tourists and even locals, awed by the abundance of built and unbuilt manifestations, fail to recognise the precarious reality that such exuberance represents.
Nevertheless, the intervention’s main contribution to the city is an understanding that ‘urban equity’ should not be exclusively associated with people of lower economic status. As a physical place, MAMM is a platform enabling society to achieve its full potential. In this way, the museum complements the numerous library parks and schools that since the emergence of ‘social urbanism’ have been addressing primary needs.
Architect: Ctrl G Estudio de Arquitectura and 51-1 Arquitectos
Photographs: Cristóbal Palma