Imprecise Tropics

Date: March - June, 2016
Location: La Ceja, Colombia
Work at Harvard Graduate School of Design


The tropic is precise in its definition only when referred to it as latitude. However, it is imprecise in its architecture, in its spatial condition and in the experience of its everyday life, even when we try to define it for architectural purposes or to describe its conditions, especially because it becomes ambiguous and contradictory, sometimes ungraspable.

Peasants and coffee growers

Colombian coffee is famous around the world, but it is endangered. Peasants and coffee growers average age is 55 years old, young people dont want to grow coffee anymore, so if the rate of disertion to the cities continues to rise, in 15 years to 20 years time there will be no labor to grow or pick up the cherries, so none will be there to take care of the harvest or produce coffee. In antioquia, the state (where Medellin is the capital) has 125 towns, 85 of them produce coffee. In a more globalized world, products with high geographical value, or with a Designation of Origin – DO can have a better price in an international market. At the same time, colombian rurality has remained almost “virgin” for tourism, because of the colombian conflict. So this combination can create a different economical basis for growers to evolve and reframe their bussinnes at the same time create oportunitties for young coffee growers to remain in their towns.

La Ceja

The site is located in La Ceja, a small town located at 41km East from Medellin and at 2.183 meters above sea level. With a population of 52.000 inhabitants. La Ceja is a small town trapped between two realities, on one hand the preassure over the rural border has increase due to it nearness to Medellin, making it a great spot for people from the city to have a second home or a weekend retreat. On the other hand the main sources of employmentas flower plantations have decreased due to the preassure over the territory to change from a rural economical condition to a second home for high income families from Medellin, decreasing the income and the job oportunities notoriously. Today, young people living in these small towns don’t want to be there anymore, they migrate to the cities to find oportunities there. Educational facilities or economic alternatives are scarce and options are limited. Therefore, the pavilion for local people and visiting spot for travelers can make spatial interaction very imprecisely.


If modern architecture set the ground for flexibility to emerge as an open response for a changing society in the 50´s, how can we update the idea of flexibility today? but more related to the idea of potential and availability? Understanding potential as the capacity for a space to allow and transform to multiple, diverse and contradictory programs, logics and organization within its same unique and precise logic and boundaries. At the same time and as a complement to the idea of potential we will understand availability as the ability of space to be changed and used in any moment or time, no matter the program or the conditions without loosing itsidentity and material condition.


I created and understood typologies as different spatial organisational models that need to evolve, adapt and transform when inserted into uncertain dynamics, unfamiliar logics, strong constrains, ambiguous availabilities, unexpected variations, constant contradictions, multiple climatic conditions and limited resources. I looked into architecture as a built device for developing “potential an availability” as a frame to tackle uncertainty and ambiguity. I projected multiple and contradictory spatial variables as new conditions for architecture to dispense and create new relations that were previously non existent, opaque, non-logical or were probably lost in time.


The program for the coffee house is a mixed building program of no more than 1000 m2. The program should address housing, production facilities, tourism, education, and other programs. The percentage of diversity of each program type m2 may vary according to the understanding of the situation and its conditions. There are two contradictory programs for different subjects in this one building. One is for the visitors or travelors - Coffee consumer - who do not know the condition or the situation of Colombia, and another one is the local people who is a peasant or a coffee grower. Actually, after the trip to Antigua, I realized that there are no system or any regulation to help the local farmers. They usually learn all knowledge from a father’s generation or neighbors from time to time. Also, the visitors do not know the poor condition of coffee farmers in rural area, and just  have some illusion that coffee grower would be a romantic job. Therefore, to meet those two  conflicting opinions and to understand each other, I made a coffee house  as a community house for the local residents and also a visitor center to educate them and interconnect to each other. Also, the wall system becomes a blind system, and it has different transparancy depends on the room’s program. The light, sound, and  smell can penetrate to another room through this porous wall system.

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