Guayaquil – Ecuador’s main port and largest settlement – is a 70% self-built city located amidst the most biodiverse estuarine complex of the South Pacific. The city’s first low-income settlements proliferated in ecological fragile zones, expanding the urban frontier into the estuarine landscape.
The urban fabric and public spaces were crafted incrementally over various decades by more than one generation and through a multitude of design decisions. After living many years on stilts, piecemeal densification and basic service provision radically transformed the appearance of incipient ‘squatter’ living spaces into consolidated settlements – that today accommodate close to 40% of the urban population. The incremental tissue has an ongoing use value for younger generations and fulfilled an important role in absorbing new residential spaces, different neighborhood functions and income-generating opportunities and features a variety of block typologies, intermediate and public spaces.
The city’s rapid urban growth also severely compromised the estuarine landscape and natural floodplains exposing diverse urban communities to a number of water-related problems. In the face of climate change, this issue will only become more critical in the nearby future. Guayaquil recurrently experienced the immediate consequences of environmental hazards and is considered one of the world’s coastal cities at highest risk of damaging floods in relation to climate change.
This design studio aims to contribute to a resilient and sustainable future of Guayaquil’s consolidated riverbank settlements. The project explores the extent and the ways in which the incremental estuarine city can take up new social and environmental challenges through the construction of urban design scenarios. Students will engage in a critical exploration and interpretation of the socio-ecological dimensions of the rapidly changing estuarine living spaces across different scales: from the documentation of transformative urban morphologies and daily practices, to cartographic inquiry into ecological infrastructures combining the urban with assets of water and the natural landscape. They will serve to formulate a projective vision for enhancing the quality of urban habitats, while building resilient ecosystems.
The studio builds further on the design workshop Designing Inclusion (organized in 2015 by KU Leuven in collaboration with the University of Guayaquil and with the support of VLIR-UOS), and an ongoing partnership between the Faculty of Architecture and Urbanism in Guayaquil and the ICP programmes at the Department of Architecture, KU Leuven.