This Holcim Awards winner by Medellin-based architects Connatural aims to salvage a badly damaged 5.5km-long wetland in Bogotá, Colombia. The vision to transform the wetland into a socially and ecologically significant park brings together art, architecture, and landscape design.
Wetlands are fragile yet vital ecosystems that are estimated to store at least ten percent of the world’s carbon. They also regulate water cycles, prevent flooding, retain nutrients that sustain a rich biodiversity, and act as reservoirs. Wetland destruction has deep environmental consequences on a global scale, and Bogota’s rapid population growth has led to the loss of 99% of the original 150,000 hectares of wetlands that initially surrounded the city. The remaining 1,500 hectares also have significant cultural value, tying in with the heritage of the area originally identified by the indigenous Muisca people as Bacata, or “high field”.
Restoring balance to a natural space
With over ten million inhabitants, Bogotá is one of South America’s fastest growing cities. West of the city, close to El Dorado Airport and bordering the Bogota River, the Jaboque Wetland was one of the few areas that remained largely untouched. But its proximity to urban sprawl had caused heavy pollution from sewage and garbage dumped by informal settlements of displaced people.
As part of the Wetlands of Bogotá, the Jaboque Wetland is listed on UNESCO’s Ramsar Convention list of the world’s most important wetlands. The municipal government aimed to conserve the area as part of a wider approach to addressing pollution of the Bogotá River, where sewage and industrial effluent have caused dead zones starved of oxygen.
Connatural was awarded the commission thanks to their expertise on hydraulic basins and ecological restoration. The architects designed a park that is as natural as possible by collaborating with biologists, civil engineers specializing in bio-construction, and the Bogotá Botanical Gardens. The project aims to ultimately re-plant 121,000 square metres of endemic flora while removing invasive species.
A social and cultural vision
The project also provides social and cultural amenities by creating much needed recreational outdoor space for residents. It also features an element of development: illegal and inappropriate structures were removed from the site, while various trails made of permeable concrete were built along the edge of the wetland. The paths provide various tracks for walkers and cyclists, while preserving the wetlands from being overused through minimal deployment of built infrastructure. “Amphibious” trails such as bridges were also included in the design, bird observation decks were installed, and environmental classrooms will eventually be set up to integrate nature education into the life of the community.
Community input was part of the project, with social workers, an anthropologist, community leaders and schools all helping to engage with local residents. The community recognized the value of the wetlands and wanted to take part in preserving them, as well as create spaces for community gardens.
The resulting project is a 5.5 kilometre-long park at the interface between nature and the city, restoring a vital natural habitat while building community and identity for residents around an enjoyable outdoor space.See more
The winners of the global Holcim Awards for Sustainable Construction showcase the cutting edge of approaches to sustainable design, green architecture, and materials innovation. In the 6th cycle of the world’s most significant competition for sustainable design, offering prize money totaling USD 2 million, most of the global prizewinning projects came from the Asia Pacific and Middle East Africa regions; one top prize each also went to Colombia and Switzerland. The prizes were presented at a handover ceremony at the International Architecture Biennale in Venice, Italy.Read more »
Project description by regional jury
The landscape design proposal for an intervention in the Jaboque wetland in Bogotá recuperates a very delicate area of transition between the urban fabric and the natural ecosystem. The consolidation of the 157,000m2 wetland is achieved via a 5.5km-long linear park that integrates recreational and natural areas, and also offers educational opportunities for the community. The selection of plants for the landscape is determined by each species’ impact on the ecosystem and ability to strengthen wetland flora and fauna.
The urban, environmental and landscape project thereby creates a live botanical collection that restores the ancestral values of plants that were made invisible by the trauma of colonization, while also contributing to the food security and economic viability of local populations. Beyond the benefits provided in the local context, the Jaboque Territory project also delivers a broader environmental contribution since wetlands are estimated to store over one-third of the world’s terrestrial carbon and their destruction has nefarious consequences at a planetary scale.
Regional jury appraisal
The proposal was recognized by the jury as an outstanding example of how landscape design can be the most effective way to preserve a natural environment – in this case a wetland system – and to create a dialogue with the urban fabric and its inhabitants. The project’s adroit approach to move beyond an environmental recovery intervention to include a social dimension that also recovers the identity of place was very much appreciated. The intervention remediates an ecosystem type that is vital for human survival and also upgrades the local community’s quality of life by offering inspiring spatial and cultural opportunities. Despite the large dimension of the project, the Holcim Awards jury Latin America was very impressed by the level of detail provided in the proposal and the refinement of the landscape design. The quality of the drawings was also highly commended.
Global jury appraisal
This project integrates a wise, sustainable, pluralistic and participatory logic, aiming to repair a long-lost relationship between humans and nature through wetland restoration. The jury was impressed by the holistic approach of the project that includes actions of environmental, social, spatial and cultural order. The level of detail of the landscape design as well as the quantity of information underpinning it demonstrates the maturity and quality of the proposal while supporting the feasibility of the intervention. The jury recognized the high potential for transferability of the project that will be able to serve as a “knowledge bank” for future interventions of this kind. The educational purpose embedded in the intervention, aimed at the promotion of more ethical and socially inclusive practices, was also considered exemplary.See more
As a Main category prize winner in the regional Holcim Awards 2020, Wetland Vitality in Colombia automatically qualified as a finalist in the Global Holcim Awards 2021.
Wetlands are vital to our planet’s survival. They are sources of water, serve as waystations for migratory birds, and store a third of the world’s terrestrial carbon. This project aims to consolidate the Jaboque wetlands in Bogotá. The consolidation is achieved along a 5.5 km-long linear park that integrates recreational and natural areas and offers educational opportunities for the community. The landscape planning was used as an opportunity to create a live botanical collection. Plants were selected depending on their impact on the ecosystem and their potential to strengthen the wetland flora and fauna.
“The project embodies sustainable concepts through different approaches,” explains prizewinner Sebastian Mejía of Connatural, Medellín, Colombia. “It recovers the ancestral relationship between humans and their territory. Also, it aims to establish a symbiotic relationship between wetlands and urban development, assuring the preservation and the strengthening of this fundamental ecosystems for climate-change adaptation.” The Global Holcim Awards jury found that the project integrates a wise, sustainable, pluralistic, and participatory logic, aiming to repair a long-lost relationship between local communities and nature through wetland restoration. The level of detail of the landscape design as well as the quantity of information underpinning it demonstrates the maturity and quality of the proposal while supporting the feasibility of the intervention.Read more » Más información (Spanish) »
Regulation of the water cycle
Wetlands are vital for human survival. The interaction of physical, chemical, and biological elements form part of the planet’s natural infrastructure, lending innumerable ecological “services”. Wetlands are waystations for many types of migratory birds and home to great biological diversity, both animal and botanical. They are sources of water that help regulate local water cycles, mitigating rising waters and permitting the loading and recharging of aquifers. They retain nutrients, sediments, and pollutants while naturally purifying the water; they contribute to the stabilization of local climatic conditions, helping regulate climate change.
A symbiotic landscape
Landscape design is an opportunity to create a live botanical collection, contribute to the conservation of native flora, and establish educational opportunities for the research of genetic heritage on-site. The specific criteria for the selection of plant material include taxonomic, ecosystem, economic, cultural importance, and whether or not the plant is native or adapted to the area. The plants in the landscape are organized based on their impact on the ecosystem (terrestrial, amphibious, and aquatic) and their ability to strengthen the wetland ecosystem. Sequential replacement of foreign species by native species is achieved through the establishment of seed forests, allowing for improved natural succession, and strengthening the development of fauna associated with the wetland.
Citizen participation and use
The project generates spaces for a relationship between inhabitants and the wetland.
The visibilization of archaeological artifacts is accompanied with community gardens, showcasing plants that were important within Muisca traditions and acknowledging the ancestral values that were made invisible by the trauma of colonization. Placing these in spaces of contact with the urban landscape, they become transition zones. These gardens are also opportunities to contribute to the food security and local economy of local populations.
Because the wetland is located close to various educational institutions, the wetland can act as a type of environmental classroom, this guarantees that local youth feel a sense of ownership over the space, helping ensure its preservation over future generations.
According to the RAMSAR convention on wetlands: “Wetlands preserve large amounts of carbon. When these areas are destroyed or become degraded, they liberate large quantities of CO2. Preserving these wetlands is a viable way of maintaining existing carbon deposits and avoiding needless CO2 emissions. Wetlands contain approximately 10% of all global carbon deposits. Wetlands are natural sinks for carbon, living elements that transform CO2 into oxygen in a natural way, helping improve air quality.
A landscape design for the recovery of a wetland in Bogotá creates environmental and social sustainability.
Author comment by Sébastian Mejía and Egdar Mazo of Connatural, Medellín, Colombia on Wetland Vitality in Colombia – …
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