Located on the equator from where it derives its name, the country of Ecuador neighbours both Columbia and Peru whilst touching the Pacific Ocean on its western edge. The country has four distinct climatic typologies and associated urban centres; influenced by the area’s topography. The coastal region’s largest city is Guayaquil; in the highlands is the capital of Quito, sitting high in the foothills of the Andes at 3000m and Cuenca; The El Orient hosts the Amazonian Jungles, followed by the region comprising the Galapagos Islands.

Ecuador’s rich history can be traced back to the indigenous tribes that inhabited the area, followed by the Incan empire and later the Spanish colonial rule. This rich blend of cultural and heritage periods blends seamlessly into Ecuador’s architectural vocabulary, which is most apparent in its cosmopolitan cities of Quinto, Cuenca, and Guayaquil.

Quinto in focus

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Quito_©Dockwalk

Historic Center

Founded by the Spanish in 1534 on the ruins of an Inca city, Quinto is nestled amidst a hilly terrain on an elevated plateau; Its picturesque and preserved city centre with its narrow winding cobbled streets was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1978. Traditionally a low-density city it features several important sites like the monasteries of San Francisco and Santo Domingo and the Church and Jesuit College of La Compañía. These monuments are examples of the ‘Baroque school of Quito’, a fusion of Spanish, Italian, Moorish, Flemish and indigenous art. The colonial architecture sees the complementary mix of solid and void; the city’s numerous central and secondary squares and connecting alleyways are all aligned on the cardinal points of the compass. Its main square, the Plaza Mayor, has developed organically over the years with few changes.

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Church of La Compañía de Jesús_©Diego Delsa (2015)

In the city centre, the mix of historical monuments and quaint earthen brick homes-stucco plaster homes combine the monumental with the austere. Based on the first plan of Quito, designed in 1734 by Dionisio Alcedo y Herrera, the original plan of the streets and the blocks of houses and squares are mostly the same today. The Historical Centre’s buffer zone and its monumental zone are marked and covered by specific protection measures. Its Territorial Urban Development Plan and the Special Plan for the Historic Centre of Quito are measures developed to counterbalance the site’s threats and risks.

Transition

The city saw its first onset of modernist architecture in the 1930s with notable architects like Karl Kohn, whose private residence, Casa Kohn, is often referred to as the city’s foremost modernist building with its glazed conservatory, built-in furniture and use of wrought iron detailing. The pure modernist clean lines see a hybrid with the vernacular curves to create localised language; for instance, the curved wooden staircase or pitched overhangs to protect against the equator sun.

Later in post-war Ecuador, there was a rise in the International Style with a vernacular blend. The use of concrete thin shell vaults and bright-coloured mosaic tiles offsets the use of steel and glass during this period. Edificio de la Cruz Roja (1955-1957) by the brothers Enrique and Lionel Ledesma stands out for its organically curved façade from this time.

Quito’s Brutalist architecture employs the use of raw concrete in the 1960s, which is most notable in the works of Milton Barragán Dumet. His most monumental building is perhaps the monument Templo de la Patria, partially sunken into the steep terrain. In the basement is a museum and above the building stretches along the contour of the hill, creating a monumental architectural landscape with its concrete pillars. The structure is decorated with an impressive ceramic fresco by visual artist Eduard Kingman. By the ’70s, a collective of architects referred to as the Grupo 6 was a proponent of vernacular in opposition to rigid modernism employing the use of white-washed bricks, wood, and sloping angled roofing.

Present day

The move of the old airport from the city centre to a peri-urban area 12 miles away led to the removal of the 4-story height restriction in the area. As a result, a whole onslaught of transit-oriented development which encourages high-rise mixed-use development is being employed to densify the urban core. This then reduces the effects of sprawl and the increases in automobile reliance, which has shown a sharp upward trend in recent years, with 2 million people in 145 square miles. Several star architects like BIG, Moshe Safdie and Jean Nouvel are being hired for the highly publicised projects to be executed. The first building to be finished under this revised mandate was the 22-story residential building Yoo Quito by Architectonic. A revised zoning code now allows towers in the city up to 40 stories, though air rights must be purchased from the government.

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Jean Nouvel imagines Aquarela_© ArchDaily

Pedestrian Unfriendly infrastructure like uneven and poorly lit sidewalks, coupled with the spillover of new suburbs into the eastern valley, particularly for the affluent property owners, is becoming apparent. This trajectory doesn’t serve the informal housing communities or low to mid-income families that couldn’t rely on inefficient public transport. The government is, however, working to increase city centre density through the city’s first underground metro line, whose first phase will run from north of the former airport to the southern suburbs in 2020

Cuenca

The country’s third largest city, Cuenca, was founded in 1557 on the rigorous planning guidelines issued 30 years earlier by the Spanish king Charles V. The city still observes the formal orthogonal town plan, which is 400 years old. On December 1, 1999, its Historical Center declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in recognition of its historical, cultural, and architectural merits. Cuenca’s architecture is a blend of pre-Colombian, Cañari, and Incan; Spanish Colonial and Republican eras. Urban systems of the city see a connection of green open spaces, courtyards, plazas, alleyways, and atriums, making the area extremely walkable. An efficient and inexpensive tram system in the city centre is also helping to conserve the colonial-vernacular sites like the unearthed vestiges which highlight the Canari, Inca, and Spanish cultures.

Cuenca Cathedral_©Mommy Travels

References:

Century of styles: Modern Architecture in Quito (2022) – Design Hotels™. Adam Štěch. Available at: https://www.designhotels.com/culture/architecture/century-of-styles-modern-architecture-in-quito/ (Accessed: December 18, 2022). 

Fazzare, E. (2019) Why Quito, Ecuador, is the Starchitect’s next frontier, Architectural Digest. Available at: https://www.architecturaldigest.com/story/why-quito-ecuador-is-the-starchitects-next-frontier (Accessed: December 18, 2022). 

Centre, U.N.E.S.C.O.W.H. (no date) Historic Centre of santa ana de los ríos de cuenca, UNESCO World Heritage Centre. Available at: https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/863/ (Accessed: December 18, 2022). 

Centre, U.N.E.S.C.O.W.H. (no date) City of Quito, UNESCO World Heritage Centre. Available at: https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/2/ (Accessed: December 18, 2022). 

Author

Fresh out of architecture school Ana is actively exploring the intersection between architecture and planning in her role as an Urban Designer in Lahore. Questions of inclusive planning systems in the south Asian context with a focus on climate change ,affordability and gender are her key areas of research.

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