Plaza Victor J. Cuesta by DURAN&HERMIDA arquitectos asociados, in Vargas Machuca, Cuenca, Ecuador. What is the significance of public space? Many things can be said with regard to this particular question. In general, people perceive public space with a social connotation; others see it as an essential element in the sustainability of cities for political, economic, public health, and reasons of biodiversity. Public spaces include a variety of different places, from old historic city centers to suburban development sites. Residents of many countries have seen how local authorities are giving priority to open green spaces, urban renewal, and the revaluing of historical buildings. However, there is still a lot to be done. In South America, several countries face similar mobility problems and overpopulation. Local authorities have a tendency to prioritize the construction of expressways and bypasses to give more space to the millions of cars and informal public transportation that take our cities under siege, instead of developing the social side of urban intensification.
Plaza Victor J. Cuesta
It is both inspiring and encouraging to find projects such as the Plaza Victor Cuesta, located in the historical center of the city of Cuenca, Ecuador, which seek to revalue open spaces and give society an interval in the daily vortex. The Plaza Victor Cuesta is a renewal project that was started in 2006 and completed in 2008. The project was designed and built by Durán & Hermida Associated Architects. A young studio formed by Javier Durán and María Augusta Hermida, both architects have extensive experience in housing and urban projects.
First Prize Winner
In 2008, this project was awarded the First Prize in the category of Urban Design Projects in the XVI Architecture Biennale of Quito in Ecuador. The jury’s decision highlighted the challenge of building a medium-scale project with harmonious details, which prevailed on the value of its historical context.
Public Space and the Plaza’s Renewal
In the beginning of the 19th century, the urban area of Cuenca was formed by “quintas”. The meaning varies from country to country, but generally stands for a suburban typology of low-density housing in which houses share a cul-de-sac or dead-end. They are often occupied by the working class. These “quintas” were located next to farmland. In 1920, Cuenca city officials decided to transform this area into a public space, but it remained empty and was not used for 20 years. The lack of a project transformed it into an urban blight and an insecure area for the community.
The Challenges of Public Space
Unlike the traditional way of creating plazas and open spaces in South America, which vary depending on the taste of the local governors and are often closed with fences to protect the green areas from pedestrians, this project proposes a homogeneous surface that integrates circulation and the greenery.
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The studio decided to divide the platform into seven strips in order to generate terraces and control topographic variations. The complex is perceived as an accessible platform from any corner, creating fluidity by the absence of physical barriers in its tissue.
A Good Public Space is Multi-Functional Space
Spatially, the Plaza Victor Cuesta gathers a variety of uses that are integrated meticulously with its urban surroundings. The area where the stone prevails was thought out for social gathering, a meeting point, and pedestrian flow; it is also used as waiting space for public transportation. The green area located to one side of the square was conceived as a playscape for children, with a pergola built to give shade during the summer. The project included existing local trees found in the area and added five new ones, as well.
The aesthetical care is also reflected in the combination of materials and the close relation with the landscape. The studio opted for materials such as wood, rust-colored steel, and stone. The material featured is rock stone used in the platform, which subtly disappears and gives way to grass carpets. Taking advantage of the retaining walls, the architects designed wooden benches that are supported by these structures, reducing the height difference among its terraces.
The lamps placed along the slopes and circulation ways are the focal point during the night and add a modern atmosphere to the project. The final touch is given by the strategic relocation of the monument of Victor Cuesta, which was installed in a higher podium so that it could be seen from any place on the square.
Durán & Hermida studio evidences the thoughtful and responsible way of the design. After analyzing the location and relevance of its past, the designers proposed a contemporary design with the understanding of its forms and the relation as an urban structure. The Plaza Victor Cuesta is a plan linked to the past that at the same time initiates opportunities for the future.
The Key to Making a Sustainable Public Space
The form of public space, its uses, and maintenance raise important questions regarding urban planning, from the local to the metropolitan scale. Over the last three years, the Plaza Victor Cuesta has been facing degradation due to the inattention of authorities and occasional vandalism that has contributed to damage of this valuable project. It is of fundamental importance that authorities practice good public administration, to pursue the plaza’s preservation and establish a joint effort with civil society by generating cultural programs to show the importance of this space for them as a community.
Full Project Credits For Plaza Victor J. Cuesta
Project: Plaza Victor J. Cuesta Architects: DURAN & HERMIDA arquitectos asociados / Javier Durán y María Augusta Hermida Location: Vargas Machuca, Cuenca, Ecuador Photo credits: Sebastián Crespo Completed: 2008 Contributors: Sonia Guzhñay, Edison Castillo, Fernanda Aguirre, Josue Vega, Cristian Sotomayor Construction: Illustrious Municipality of Cuenca Recommended Reading:
- Urban Design by Alex Krieger
- The Urban Design Handbook: Techniques and Working Methods (Second Edition) by Urban Design Associates
Article by Claudia Canales Return to Homepage