The trip, which is organized by the international Dialogue in Architecture network and the La Salle University of Bogota, isn’t tourism, but an experience of living together, getting to know places, cultures, businesses and associations.
The departure was from Bogota, south of the city. The puzzled looks on the faces of the Italians showed that they had to “shift their gaze” in order to place themselves with their heart and mind in this land of many contrast and with a different relationship to the environment. We passed over the eastern Cordillera and reach Villanueva, a colonial town in the mountains where time seemed to have stood still. We helped out in an earthquake evacuation drill as we gathered in square with the locals, which allowed us to share in this communitarian moment with them.
The journey continued along a long downhill road that twisted through tunnels and led to the discovery of the intense green of the mountains and fabulous landscape views.
We reached the port of Llano, Villavicencio. The temperature was hot, just like the warmth of the people we me. A majestic tree shaded us from the sun.
We got back on the road and passed through el llano, a vast expanse of land. Here we visited the l’Università Unitrópico, which has begun an interdisciplinary course on social architecture. As in all Latin American countries, the architecture in Colombia is an expression of local society and emerges from the relationships with the communities. La Salle’s University’s Utopia Campus can be found in the region of Yopal, a place for young people who come from the rural regions and are often the victims of guerrilla violence. The course provides them with a work-study program that allows them to earn a diploma in Agrarian Sciences, and the possibility to get a job. It’s a concrete peace education experiment that seems to be working.
We were halfway through our trip and after a delicious local style breakfast, we headed towards the colonial villages of Mongu and Tunja, Colombia’s original capital. In the grand colonial plazas, like Villa de Lyva, we came face to face with the indigenous populations who convey their strong identity which today is well integrated with their local colonial architecture.
We returned to Bogotá in the North. The impact is almost stronger than in the south. We drove through the wealthiest zone that has its houses all surrounded by security walls.
The experience continued with the workshop organized by the Urban Observatory of La Salle University on the Altos de Cazucá where we stayed for a week, getting to know families, enjoying their food and sleeping in their homes. It had a strong impact on us. We were in the company of university students from Germany, Bogotá and Yopal.
There the poverty level is quite high, but the solidarity and kinds of relationships that exist showed us the real identity of this place.
The work experience was quite new to us! We had to finish the exterior work on several houses: gardens, paint work, equipping a library and designing murals that depict the life of the community. An entire family was represented by birds, among them a son who was murdered by local delinquents, a sorrow we shared with them. One of the young people from the neighbourhood said to us: “We’ve worked together and made our neighbourhood beautiful now. We’ll carry on, finishing the roads.” Their gazes penetrated our hearts, and we felt great enthusiasm and hope.
The intercultural exchange was real, a true enrichment when doing architecture together. Offering one’s talents as an architect can help to reconstruct the social fabric by providing spaces that help to preserve and grow the identity of a place together with its community.