Spring '13

Emerging & Sustainable Cities

Design for Emerging Latin American Cities

Design Studio

  • Start 19.02.2013
  • ETH Zurich, ONA
  • Prof. Alfredo Brillembourg & Prof. Hubert Klumpner
    Lindsey Sherman, Michael Contento, Lea Rüfenacht
  • Collaborators: Inter-American Development Bank, City of Port of Spain, Department of Environmental Systems Science


This research and design studio is devised as two parts separated into two consecutive semesters: Fall Semester 2012 focused on conducting research, producing feasibility studies and designing conceptual urban design proposals; while Spring Semester 2013 will focus on designing comprehensive and detailed architectural prototypes. As such, it is the task of the studio to utilize the comprehensive critical analysis and strategic frameworks from the previous semester to develop new architectural prototypes within them. These designs will serve as an urban toolbox of operational instruments with a transformative clarity.  Participants are expected to think critically throughout the semester and constantly challenge conventional notions of both design and representation. The final result will be a set of multi-scalar urban prototypes that occupy the critical territory between the formal and informal.

The cities of Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) face daunting challenges regarding rapid urban growth: social inequality, uneven distribution of resources, inadequate urban services, inefficient mobility systems, high levels of pollution, and limited institutional capacity. According to the United Nations, LAC countries constitute the region with the highest degree of urbanization on the planet – doubling over the course of the second half of the 20th century to a 75% urban population. This recent history of rapid urban growth without concomitant urban planning has significantly impacted the physical environment of the region.

The Inter-American Development Bank drew two important conclusions from an analysis of these phenomena.  First, despite high populations and high densities, large cities or metropolises such as São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, or Mexico City are no longer those with the highest rates of growth.  Second, urban population growth in the region increasingly consists of residents in emerging, intermediate-size cities with populations between 250’000 and 2,000,000. Under this dual statement, the Bank launched the “Emerging and Sustainable Cities Initiative” (ESCI), which will actively engage urban and environmental challenges, address the necessity of rehabilitation and upgrading in vulnerable communities, and provide necessary expertise to local governments of mid-size cities seeking sustainable growth (physical, social, economic). Within this initiative, the research and design studio will develop innovative urban design proposals for Port-of-Spain in the twin-island Republic of Trinidad and Tobago – the selected city for the pilot project of the ESCI.

Trinidad and Tobago is listed by the United Nations as a Small Island Development State (SIDS) based on its high levels of ecological, economic, and social vulnerability. Port-of-Spain, the capital of the country, is an urban conglomeration of constantly changing demographic and economic conditions, reflected in its fragmented urban fabric.  As a leading oil and gas producer, the modernization process and rapid urbanization of the city have created marginalized zones. The focus of the studio, East Port of Spain, contains many of these marginalized and isolated communities. The former quarries in the area are occupied today by informal housing settlements with inadequate infrastructure, environmental degradation, and deficiencies in the provision of social facilities.

Architects of the 21st century must tackle these urban phenomena, frame a new mind-set concerning conventional urban development models and strategies, and provide socially and ecologically sustainable design solutions for marginalized populations.