With this in mind, I continued my studies in architecture and sustainable development in Europe, where I learned new theories and approaches in ecological design and sustainability. This helped me to think about many of the sustainable aspects of the so-called “informal” sector. However, I could not get over the fact that the new paradigms of sustainability could be so tightly based on numbers, on very specific lines, that defined ecological projects as sustainable or not – and even graded or certified them (with ‘gold’ or ‘platinum’ standards!)
The neighbourhoods in Bogota were far from fulfilling the needs of a sustainability audit in such terms. But I realized that sustainable processes were ingrained in these communities. It was necessary to have a grounded approximation of sustainability and further align them with the needs of the community, and to create solutions based on their needs.
To understand a neighbourhood one should be able to access the site and look at the place through the eyes of the people who live there. A community leader of Ciudad Bolivar got me involved in multiple activities that allowed me to know its reality through stories and conversations with residents. I visited over a hundred homes and found interesting cultural patterns in the urban fabric.
The inhabitants built their homes in stages, according to the financial resources available. In most homes, the owner lived on the first floor and the upper floors were rented to ensure daily income. The terrace area played an important role in allowing the development of multiple activities such as washing clothes and socializing.
The characteristics of a place like Ciudad Bolivar have emerged as a result of its geography: rain, topography, climate, microclimate, etc., that influenced the cultural activities of each community. While visiting the site I used scientific analysis (of official documents and technical specifications) that allowed me to determine climate variations over short distances. This analysis was complemented with empirical knowledge that people have developed over years.
I observed that many inhabitants of Ciudad Bolívar use different systems of rainwater harvesting to meet their water needs. The problem was that the communities that used these systems did not know the necessary devices for optimal performance, resulting in poor management of rainwater flow, which created health risks. I proposed a system for collecting rainwater and treatment based on specific needs of the inhabitants.
In Ciudad Bolivar there exist many workshops, craftsmen and shops that work with recycled materials. I visited many of them and learned from their techniques. I elaborated a system of storage and filtration of rainwater that I tested in situ.