In a recently completed project in Medellin, Colombia, Carlos Pardo was determined to create a better model for living for the residents without sacrificing the security that residents have come to expect
In the 1980s and early 1990s, a forest of speculative apartment towers replaced the middle class houses and gardens on the hills of El Poblado, a fashionable district in the south-east of Medellín. These banal towers crowded in on each other, blocking views and overloading the narrow streets. Fearful residents were cut off from their neighbours and the social life that flourishes at street level in settled communities.
Carlos Pardo was determined to create a better model without sacrificing the security that residents have come to expect. He lives in the base of a medium-rise block he designed in 2005, facing out to a wooded canyon, to the south of the blighted zone. It’s named Guayacan de Avinon for a flowering tree and a farm owned by a French family called Avignon, and three years later he designed a more ambitious companion block fronting the street.
The long narrow site falls sharply away to the north, and Pardo accommodates that drop by dividing the block in two horizontally. The lower half accommodates three retail spaces set back behind a terrace with benches and a podium of parking fronting the street and, to the rear, eight apartments opening onto a shared green space. Eighteen duplex apartments occupy the upper half, six to each wide spaced floor. They are accessed by a sculptural stair that is partly open and from a detached elevator tower. The public facade bends to reflect the sinuous plan of the street; the sides and rear are sharply cut away in an alternation of mass and void.
As with the school in Santo Domingo, Pardo was inspired by the accessibility and openness of the popular quarters, where people cannot afford to isolate themselves. The lower apartments open directly onto the communal gardens, and the duplexes onto broad covered terraces that the architect likens to aerial streets. People sit out here as often as they use the private balconies and roof terraces. Projecting wood-clad volumes containing the interior stairs of each apartment play off the expanses of red brick, the preferred cladding for buildings in Medellín and, still more, in Bogotá. Clean-lined and unpretentious, the Avinon apartments are distinguished from their neighbours by a generosity of proportion and a visceral contact with nature.