Architect Restoring Civic Pride, One Library at a Time

Is it possible to transform lives in depressed and deteriorating urban areas by building libraries and parks? Architect Giancarlo Mazzanti will discuss how the process has worked in his native Colombia in  “Library Parks:  Using Architecture as a Catalyst for Social Change,” a UT Dallas lecture scheduled for Tuesday, Feb. 22.

Mazzanti has been a key figure in the revitalization of a sector of Medellín, Colombia, that was once regarded as one of the most violent places in the world. Notorious drug king Pablo Escobar held reign there before his death in 1993.

Giancarlo Mazzanti

Giancarlo Mazzanti has been a key figure in the revitalization of a sector of Medellín, Colombia, that was once regarded as one of the most violent places in the world.

The presentation, hosted by McDermott Library, is at 2 p.m.  in Davidson Auditorium.

Mazzanti recently responded to questions dealing with topics he will address:

Enmeshed in an area formerly tormented by drug traffic violence, on what basis was the $4 million public-commissioned library complex expected to benefit the impoverished barrio?

“The challenge as architects in a context like Colombia is to develop projects that are capable of generating social inclusion. The problem lies not only in creating buildings in deteriorating and declined areas but also in our reluctance to activate new ways of using ownership and pride of the communities. It is important to see how this building has become a matter of pride for the surrounding community and a mechanism for improving the economy of the district.

“The value of architecture not only lies in itself, but in what occurs. To define these arguments, we must extend our gaze beyond the architecture itself.

“The architecture is action. We seek to develop the capacity and performance of the architecture rather than merely the representation of its abilities or visual qualities. That is why we want an architecture defined by what it does, not by its substance.”

Despite divided opinions in the Colombian architecture community over the project, the library has won several impressive awards. Now Medellín is a must stop for architects visiting Colombia. How statisfying is that?

“Independently, the importance of these awards is to see the library as a transformer of the physical and mental value of the sector and in how the building became a symbol and a monument of Medellín, visited by people of the sector and tourists.  What’s satisfying is to …  see how residents proudly show you what the area was like and how it changed.”

Medellín adopted a similar social master plan employed by the capital city of Bogotá that included new infrastructure, architecture and community programs to improve the overall quality of life. As a somewhat radical institutional change, has the library achieved the goal to help the lower classes?

“Medellín is a model of social transformation in which architecture plays a major role, but does not act alone. It is part of a political project undertaken by the last two mayors seeking to reduce social inequalities under the motto ‘The Educated Medellín’ and in which education is the cornerstone of social transformation. The project aims to restore people’s dignity from the painful drug wars in 1980s and ’90s. After that difficult time Medellín decided to become more equal, socially and culturally inclusive, and respectful of its traditions. It is being built facing the world with the architecture to reflect this new attitude.

“In the past seven years the city has changed its appearance and what its inhabitants think about it. It has undergone countless projects:

  • Five library parks, which are conceived as transformative of society.
  • A city where people can go freely with their families.
  • More than 20 new schools, pre-schools, centers of technological development.
  • Pedestrian walkways, plazas and parks.

“In these public spaces one can access knowledge, education, culture, recreation, entrepreneurship, and sports in different spaces that form a new city.”

The Parque Biblioteca España has been credited with restoring citizens' pride in Medellín after years of drug cartel crime.

Biblioteca España's design has earned it the nickhame “Three Rocks.”


Mazzanti was commissioned to create another library park in Medellín's Ladera area.

Media Contact: The Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected].