by Jerry ElengicalNov 18, 2022
Quito’s rapidly mushrooming Cumbayá neighbourhood in Ecuador finds its next powerful manifestation with Botániqo, a verdant and cohesive residential complex conceived by Mexico City-based architecture studio, Tatiana Bilbao Estudio, in collaboration with local building firm, Uribe Schwarzkopf. The comprehensive nine-tower development with interlinked modules will be inundated with lush greens, as well as recreational spaces that richly dot its proposed masterplan. Spanning over three acres, Botániqo has been developed with a promising, and much needed “human and community-centered” approach to sustainable urbanism, encouraging its occupants to connect with each other and with its newly generated, shared spaces, its architecture revealing itself as collaborative storytelling and enthused living.
Diverse flora is inculcated for each of the housing’s slightly differing 277 units and its communal terraces, cohesively brought together by Bilbao’s vision for the housing which only occupies 35 per cent of footprint, leaving ample room for public and leisure amenities such as quaint garden squares, verdant boulevards and pedestrian and bicycle paths. To Cumbayá, an additional acre of terrain will be transferred by Uribe Schwarzkopf and the municipality for a fresh transportation hub that will accommodate more than 60,000 inhabitants daily, providing safe pedestrian access to the city’s main square that has lacked an adequate public transit infrastructure till now.
In an exclusive interview with STIR, Tatiana Bilbao Spamer, the Mexican architect, Principal of Tatiana Bilbao Estudio, and Joseph Schwarzkopf, President of Uribe Schwarzkopf, explain how the drawing board project establishes a sustainable way to build in the housing sector, prioritising the needs of its future residents and enhancing their relationship with the built space, and how a persistence of nature in design can be a sure incubator for healthy living.
Jincy Iype (JI): How does Botániqo aim to achieve a “human and community-centered” approach?
Tatiana Bilbao Spamer (TBS): The city of Quito has undergone many processes of growth and changes, but in recent years, its urban structure has had an important evolution and spatial transformation. The rapid population growth has generated a model of a dispersed city that is evident in the continuous urbanisation of the surrounding valleys, such as the town of Cumbayá. The area destined for the project is a residual property with immense development potential, with special topographic characteristics, such as steep slopes and some streams, surrounded by large roads and residential complexes.
Considering the large scale of the complex, we decided to fragment it and play with the topography, to arrange a smaller set of buildings that could be intertwined within themselves, with additional communal spaces that could create an opportunity for natural collective relationships to foster and exist.
“I believe architecture can support interconnectivity and create a community-centered approach, and the goal of Botániqo is to create natural exchanges that would not have happened in a large complex.”
We figured out how to scale up from the individual, private space to create a larger collective one via various zones characterised as private, common, collective and public, that communicate as a whole essentially.
Architecture must become a platform for each inhabitant to develop their own existence. In Botániqo, the human being is at the centre of both the concept and the space itself. – Tatiana Bilbao Spamer, Principal, Tatiana Bilbao Estudio
JI: What are some of the proposal’s contributions to the urban fabric of the city?
TBS: The project in terms of urban contributions, proposes: a green boulevard located on the perimeter of Av. Interoceánica encourages coexistence and reunion between social groups. It is a pedestrian axis with a bicycle lane and landscaped squares that provide the area with pockets of rest and contemplation; a bus station connecting Cumbayá with the city and the surroundings; two green areas of communal contribution; a public road, which links María Angélica Idrobo with Av. Interoceánica; a second public road, a pedestrian axis that connects the lower area, the station and the boulevard, with the green area and the central square of Cumbayá. This exclusively pedestrian route is planned by means of an “active” stairway surrounded by small shops, and mechanical staircases that guarantee the rapid ascent and descent of all users of the station. The purpose of this connection is to create a pleasant journey, both for interstice pedestrians and for station users, through green oases that provide shade and different activities, both for rest and recreation; and intervention and improvement of the flora and fauna to transform the complex into a forest for the city.
The initial concept for Botániqo starts from the idea of placing a mesh of pixels that integrate the house and the green space as oneself so that inhabitants are immersed in their immediate context. These pixels are designed in pure 17.5x17.5m modules and strategically placed on the site to take advantage of the steep slope and use it in favour of the implementation of the project. To these are added, at certain points in the set, half modules to create freedom between the pixels and thus break with the expressive massiveness of the project.
Another crucial component is the subtraction of areas in the volume of each pixel creating a sinkhole, which has the purpose of being an agent of encounter and coexistence for the residents, and they also behave like green lungs. This is how these shared spaces on different levels of the buildings promote social life and create a community for the urban fabric at large.
Similarly, the proposal seeks rigour in the façades through the use of a grid, with strong materiality - concrete blocks in degraded tones qua the pixels advance. Colour is used to inject identity and diversity to the whole, along with variations in the modulation of the facade, where in some cases vertical lines prevail, in others horizontal lines, and in some, where horizontal and vertical lines merge and revel in the same cloth.
JI: What succinct elements subscribe to your proposed ethos for the masterplan and how is it planned to be realised?TBS: Urban Tissue
At the bottom lies the project’s land (reference header image), which through a pedestrian axis reaches a square that is part of an old town in the centre of Cumbayá. This axis also has a connection with the Chaquiñan cycling route as well as a green connector between Cumbayá, Tumbaco and Puembo. The route rehabilitates a section of the old railway that linked the north of the country with the Sierra and the Ecuadorian coast. Finally, through this pedestrian axis and a circuit based on the Chaquiñan route, the project seeks to connect with other primal points in Cumbayá, such as the shopping centre, the hospital and the residential areas.Views and Context
Located in the Cumbayá Valley, the current project is mainly a real estate development with 277 units, distributed over a specific topography. These characteristics are used in the favour of the proposal, where different views are potentiated, such as from and towards the valley, the mountains and the immediate context and ample greens. Through landscape and architecture, various scenarios are created within the same complex, where the vegetation becomes a persistent and perpetual element for each space, which, while generating a connection with the outside, can also isolate you from the immediate environment, to create a more intimate setting.
Due to the project’s topography, and with the intention of creating a dwelling that is more similar to a house than to a housing complex, we took as a reference the housing complex of Tadao Ando on Mount Rokko, Japan. It seeks to generate a project by means of platforms so that all the houses have views towards the exterior of the complex. Taking advantage of the slope of the land, tall buildings that protrude from the ground are not sought, but rather, blend in with the topography, generating the sensation of low-rise, more grounded structures.
The inclusion of a central park in addition to linking the properties becomes a green corridor awash with vegetation, as vehicular circulation is not allowed within the complex.Living
Despite being a dense set, it is intended that when one inhabits the housing, the effect is much more intimate, like a nuclear residential design, where one can appropriate their immediate environment. This is achieved by lending outer space different scales that play with views and stances. For example, the apartments on the ground floor have their own garden with up to 100 sqm of space. On the other hand, the created platforms become private terraces in some departments, while others become public spaces that seek to enlarge your space from day to day, having different meeting points, green spaces, and modules with no strictly defined program. In this way, we give a smaller-scale and informal identity to the project.
Botániqo will also provide a number of amenities, responding to the myriad preferences of its residents, such as a pool, paddle tennis, kids area, gym, spa, pet park, gaming area, meeting rooms, event spaces, and a multifunctional room, to name a few.Views and Morphology
Ecuador is situated not in the north or in the south, so the sun is perpendicular all year round. This guided the pixel system in the buildings, as opposed to a more organic vegetation system, bringing forth an interplay and inclusion of square buildings of varying heights with similar proportions. It is also foreseen that the vegetation will interweave the buildings and help unite the complex.
After analysing all the characteristics offered by the context, the topography, flows, views and the program, as well as the criteria that are sought in the project, these elements are sewn together to give it the same character and prevent one from being isolated of the other.
Despite being a real estate project, we intended to give identity to each of the buildings and seek the appropriation of the people who live in them. In this way, it is possible to avoid an identity crisis that reveals abandonment, insecurity and affects the integrity of the whole. As a response, we play with colour, some details on the façade, various shades, the size of the windows and the way the bricks are laid. Respecting and carrying the same principles and using a single, cohesive language gives unity to the project.
JI: How do you envision Botániqo breathing new life into the Cumbayá neighbourhood?
Joseph Schwarzkopf (JS): Cumbayá is a valley located at the east of Quito, and is one of the new and main urban centralities of the city. It is the neighbourhood of choice for young families and the global ex-pat community. It has access to several restaurants and cafes, health centres, schools, universities, shopping, offices, and more. All of these are within walking distance of Botániqo. With all the growth in the area, we are being thoughtful about bringing in a new, inclusive development that keeps nature at its primal midst. This is why we ensured that the majority of the footprint of the project be dedicated to the community through public space, green areas, and the creation of a public transport station.
The human being is the main axis where the conceptual design of the project is born. The traditional scheme is broken and relationships are created in an escalating manner between the inhabitant and their environment.
JI: The project is presented interestingly as a visual bricolage - what are your thoughts behind this collection of images forming a new whole, and how does it efficiently emote the essence of the proposal, instead of, opting for straight digital renders?
TBS: Our collages and images are representative of our wishes for the project that is essentially a mélange of living elements that come together for a common purpose. It is not simply additive, but a congruence and balance of elements that visually depict our vision for Botániqo.
“Architecture needs to aim for the inclusion of a variety of voices and diverse ways of inhabiting spaces.”
The result is a set of creatively different spaces that overlap with each other to create different possibilities for the different types of people who will ultimately live and flourish there and that is why we decided to go with this style of presentation which typifies inclusivity in diversity.
JI: What is the most aspirational element of the housing concept?
TBS: It would be the creation of a new, wholesome, and vibrant community, and ensuring that we are fostering an organic one. It is a big ambition for housing architecture, but we are excited to see it realised over the next few years.
JI: What audience did you have in mind while designing the proposal?
TBS: We did not have a specific audience in mind because I do not think there ever is a specific audience. I think that every human is completely different, with nuances and needs of their own, and therefore it is impossible to define an audience in this case.
JI: In a nutshell, how will Botániqo address the shortcomings of the current trends in residential complex design? Where are urban planners and housing architects lacking?
JS: Oftentimes we see residential complexes that are designed with a one-size-fits-all mentality. What Bilbao is so strong at, across all her projects, is creating individuality with each unit of her work, especially this one, so that future users feel like they have found a home suited for them. At the same time, her design encourages connection between neighbours through numerous shared spaces, across different scales.
A successful project would be where the residents find seamless connection to the city’s essence and wellbeing - we always emphasise generous communal areas with a diverse offering of activities and services, green-space and easy access to public transport and other facilities offered by the city.
JI: What must the future of urban housing be?
JS: Housing must focus on the human being and how the project improves quality of life, of the overall city and its inhabitants and establish a symbiotic, supplemental relationship between the two. Throughout all our projects we ensure key elements are included in order to contribute to healthy urbanism. This includes eco-efficiency building standards and technology that help reduce the environmental footprint of the buildings and its residents after the project is complete; finding strategic locations that are in need of urban revival that will support the surrounding neighbourhoods; as well as have good mobility such as public transport access and other local services within walking distance. Functional and realistic housing has to be done with cadence, keeping the user at the centre of the experience and respecting nature. Everything else can follow.
Location: Cumbayá, Quito, Ecuador
Area: 41,827.13 sqm
Architect: Tatiana Bilbao Estudio
Principal: Tatiana Bilbao
Partners: Catia Bilbao, Juan Pablo Benlliure, Mariano Castillo, Alba Cortes
Project Director: Mariano Castillo
Project Manager: Valentina Marchetti
Design Team: Abelardo Bravo, Pavel Manzano, William Fox, Karina Gastelum, Paolo Serra, Eduardo Rodriguez, Frida Colin, Delia Nazario
Architectural Developmental Firm: Uribe Schwarzkopf