Bogotá, the capital city of Colombia, is a modern reinvention of a beautifully chaotic and vibrant, traditional city. Considered the gateway to South America due to its prime location, the city is a central hub for culture and community, exuding these values through extravagant festivals, bustling marketplaces, and a strong connection to tradition.
The city attracts many tourists every year because of its exotic food, pleasant climate, and various art and architecture. Bogotá has a rich history, with stories of glory and loss, all resulting in major changes to the city’s urban fabric.
History and Culture
Bogotá has supported a wide variety of art movements and styles, taking inspiration from various European cities. Historical movements like the Neo-Classical, the Renaissance movement, the Baroque, the Art Deco movement are showcased through buildings that still exist in pockets of this culturally rich city, like the neighbourhoods of Sante Fe, Egipto, and Martires. The Teatro Colon, Bogotá’s Opera House, is an extravagant example of Baroque architecture, its elegant and grand design along with its excellent acoustics and royal undertones accurately complement the thrilling opera performances held there.
La Candelaria, a historic neighbourhood in the city, still houses colonial structures, like cathedrals, museums, universities, former residences along with its plazas and rustic streets. Colour and joyful music play throughout the entire neighbourhood. One can still find a large amount of activity bustling through the marketplaces and narrow pathways of the area.
Politics and Urban Planning
Most of the city’s cultural and societal changes have been the result of major political change in response to various social mishaps, showing how politics, demographics, and architecture are linked to one another. The city’s Graffiti movement, for example, was sparked after outrage at authorities chasing down and killing a 16-year-old graffiti artist, back when it was illegal. Urban planners and architects worked to organize the city, reduce the urban chaos, and better the lives of all the citizens.
Architect Le Corbusier was called to plan the city but only made it to the theoretical sketches, while urban planner Lorenzo Castro devised a plan that incorporated squares, bridges, and pathways for an organized Bogotá.
After going through a period of increased crime and unorganized chaos throughout the city, mayors Anthony Markus and Enrique Peñalosa aimed for a complete urban restructuring of Bogotá to remove the state of social unrest caused in the society due to prior faulty government actions and drug cartel invasions. Plans were made to promote values of democracy, honesty, and peace in the city, to change the urban landscape from a dystopian one to one of learning and hope.
The urban neighbourhood was enhanced by introducing a better transport system, the TransMilenio, a rapid bus transport system for the use of all people of the city, even the poor (though, in the end, it crumbled under its own popularity). Bicycle lanes, parks, and pavements outlined with greenery were also designed for the welfare of the citizens of the area, and to reduce the overall pollution levels.
The Transformer of Cities
Rogelio Salmona, a Colombian architect, was another prime figure in the recuperation of the city after a period of increased violence due to war and guerilla movements. He aimed at using his skill to create spaces that promoted a feeling of harmony and rest, respecting not only the users but also the surrounding environment.
Aptly nicknamed ‘the transformer of cities’, he revolutionized urban design by creating spaces that featured a perfect blend between dynamic structures and natural landscapes. His buildings like the Torres the Parques buildings and the Virgilio Barco Public Library used dynamic forms and a sense of movement to blend the built structures with the city’s public space, through walkways, pools of water, and gardens.
Graffiti is another cultural element found throughout the tropical city. Once considered a crime, this form of street art contributes greatly to the colour and vibrancy of many neighbourhoods in the city and is seen sprawled across buildings, residential containers, staircases, storefronts, and parks. The various artworks, some commissioned by the city, besides connecting present-day society to the stories and traditions of the past, also act as a major societal language.
Many graffiti artists have turned to their art to advocate for political change in terms of women’s rights, climate change, and the war on drugs. Districts across the city, like the La Candelaria district, invite various collaborations with international artists as well, to take part in the artistic ventures of these public galleries.
Even though a good portion of the city is made up of vernacular structures and buildings, several strides have been made to keep up with the times, in terms of technology and construction. The centro, for example, features several high-rises, glass, and steel, buildings, that compliment the cityscape. This area is complete with squares, gardens, street separators, etc., to further improve usability.
An excellent example of modern architecture of modern-day tool and technique used for the betterment of the users is Giancarlo Mazzanti’s “Tree of Hope” in Cazuca. It is a green canopy made of green steel mesh and concrete panels, that covers a plaza where people take to play sports, garden and get together. The structure acts as a landmark for the pride of the residents of the surrounding barrio.
Present-day Bogota looks at a continued state of chaos. With increased cases of crime, poverty, and economic insecurity throughout the city, many systems of the urban fabric broke down under the burden of increased population and social unrest.
Bogotá saw the requirement of a complete urban reorganization. In response to this, the city revamped city plans and neighbourhoods, adding communal areas and green pockets to foster a sense of harmony and community. It set up housing units for accommodating the growing population, improving the living conditions by providing proper sanitation, electricity, and water to its residents. Plans were also made to expand the current transportation services for these growing crowds, and to start a metro line to connect different parts of the city.
The city must take appropriate steps for creating a society that is sustainable and accepting for the citizens of Bogotá. Providing equal and enough amenities, keeping in mind sustainability, for its citizens to live a peaceful and harmonious life with each other and with the environment is essential in the road to the future. One should respect the culture, accept development and strive for harmony so that Bogotá can once again bask in the beauty and colourful chaos.
- Images, J.T. / A.A. / G. (2018). Bogotá’s world-renowned graffiti district – in pictures. The Guardian. [online] 12 Jan. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/world/gallery/2018/jan/12/bogotas-world-renowned-graffiti-district-in-pictures.
- Gill, N. (n.d.). The Ultimate Street Art Guide to Bogotá. [online] New York Magazine. Available at: https://nymag.com/urbanist/the-ultimate-street-art-guide-to-bogot.html.
- The Perspective. (2016). Politics of Public Space – the Transformation of Bogotá. [online] Available at: https://www.theperspective.se/politics-of-public-space-the-transformation-of-bogota/.
- Zampieri, M. (n.d.). “The Transformer of Cities”: Colombian Architect Rogelio Salmona. [online] Culture Trip. Available at: https://theculturetrip.com/south-america/colombia/articles/the-transformer-of-cities-colombian-architect-rogelio-salmona/ [Accessed 25 Jul. 2021].