Public Libraries: The Engine of Social and Urban change.

Figure 1. Spain Library Park- Medellin, Colombia by Mazzanti Architects. (Architizer 2014)

It is almost impossible to talk about Medellin and not remember its history of violence marked by the figure of the drug trafficker Pablo Escobar. In 1991, the Colombian city broke the sad record of being the most dangerous in the world (Pantaleon 2015). The shadow of “El Patron” as Escobar was known, and the wars that continued after his death darkened the future of the city. Nevertheless, ten years ago, a recession from violence allowed an urban transformation to initiate and has brought back hope to the capital of Antioquia. (Jimenez 2009).

Social and Urban Transformation.

The creator of this urban transformation of Medellin was the mathematician and university professor Sergio Fajardo, Mayor of the City of Medellin from 2003 to 2007. What was his strategy? Fajardo introduced a positive state presence in the poorest and most violent areas of the city, through social, cultural and integral urban projects accompanied by good architecture, which in the great majority was by public competition and therefore opened space for the youngest Architects of Colombia (BOMB Magazine 2010). For the first time, the City of Medellin considered the “Social Urbanism” as an instrument of inclusion and as a tool to sew, connect, integrate and articulate the city so that it is for everyone and for all. (Duque Franco 2015)

Based on the slogan: “Medellin: From Fear to Hope”, Fajardo’s Government worked on reducing poverty and violence by simultaneously attacking both problems. The idea was to increase opportunities for both employment and business generation and reduce social inequality through educational policies and specific architectural projects (Duque Franco 2015, BOMB Magazine 2010). By means of integrating architectural projects, such as parks, libraries in marginalized sectors, and modernization of schools within the framework of “Medellín, the most educated” policy, the indexes of violence and insecurity were reduced, as well as the social exclusion within the community (Rodriguez, Valencia, and Arias 2013, BOMB Magazine 2010).

Figure 2. Fernando Botero Library Park- Medellin, Colombia by G Ateliers Architecture (Archdaily 2012).
Figure 3. Leon de Greif Library Park- Medellin, Colombia By Mazzanti Architects (Archdaily 2008).    









The Library Parks

The Library Parks in The City of Medellin were born as a strategic city project that seeks to make public libraries the centre of cultural and social development. These libraries are presented as a commitment to the integration, participation, and empowerment of communities by the public space, as well as the meeting points and socialisation for communities that are considered the most vulnerable (Rodriguez, Valencia, and Arias 2013). Likewise, these projects were oriented towards the urban and architectural transformation of the city, with innovative designs that attract the attention of the citizens. A good example of one these buildings is the Spain Library Park by Giancarlo Mazzanti (Jimenez 2009).

The Library Parks were located strategically in vulnerable areas of Medellin, taking into account demographic, urban, social and cultural aspects, in which it was necessary to raise the quality of life of the citizens and rebuild the social fabric for governance (Jimenez 2009).

Nevertheless, it is necessary to clarify that the needs of each community are different; although the concept of the Library Park looks the same on paper, its differentiation is in the management of the different processes. “We cannot think of implementing equal management models in all Library Parks, as the conditions of a particular community or social group might vary” (Rodriguez, Valencia, and Arias 2013).

Figure 4. Spain Library Park- Medellin, Colombia by Mazzanti Architects. (Architizer 2014)

Spain Library Park

One of the most iconic buildings in all this urban transformation is the Spain Library Park in Santo Domingo Barrio, designed by Mazzanti Architects. The project is located on one of the hillsides that were affected by the violence in the 80´s (Architizer 2014).

The project is a sequence of 3 habitable rocks that sought to be visible from the valley as a city symbol. A landscape that redefines the folded structure of the mountain as form and space, hence its structure of order (Plataforma Arquitectura 2008).

Figure 5. Metrocable system – Spain Library Park- Medellin, Colombia by Mazzanti Architects (Architizer 2014).
Figure 6. Public Space – Spain Library Park- Medellin, Colombia By Mazzanti Architects (Architizer 2014).    







Likewise, the architect sought to strengthen the meeting places and tie the network of public spaces by proposing that there be a large urban “dock” that serves as a balcony towards the city, connecting the project, to the existing viewpoints and the Cable Car (Metrocable) (Plataforma Arquitectura 2008).

Giancarlo Mazzanti argues that the main idea of this project was to create a rupture in the culture, without rupture there is no change, and without change, there are no new options in architecture. The only way to obtain change is by building ruptures (BOMB Magazine 2010).



Archdaily. 2008. “Leon de Grief Library Park “. accessed 12-March-2017.

Archdaily. 2012. “Fernando Botero Library Park.” accessed 12-03-2017.

Architizer. 2014. “Spain Library Park.” accessed 12-March-2017.

BOMB Magazine. 2010. “Interview – Sergio Fajardo and Giancarlo Mazzanti ”   Winter 2010:

Duque Franco, Isabel. 2015. “La cultura como estrategia de transformación y promoción urbana en Bogotá y Medellín [Culture as a transformation and urban promotion strategy in Bogotá and Medellín].”  Revista de geografía Norte Grande:25-43.

Jimenez, Yasmina. 2009. “Medellin Borra sus cicatrices [Medellin erases its scars].”, accessed 12-March-2017.

Pantaleon, Israel. 2015. “Medellin: La cuidad que domino la violencia [Medellin: The city that dominates violence].”, accessed 12-March 2017.

Plataforma Arquitectura. 2008. “Parque Biblioteca Espana [Spain Library Park}.”, accessed 13-March-2017.

Rodriguez, Jonatan C, Jackelin Valencia, and Alejandro V Arias. 2013. “Las Bibliotecas Publicas como escenario de participacion ciudadana e inclusion social [Public libraries as a scenario of citizen participation and social inclusion].”  Rastros Rostros 15 (29):73-81.

Juan Gonzalez

Juan is in his final year of a Master of Architecture degree at UWA. Also, he holds studies in Project Management and has established a professional career within the Architecture and Construction industry; both Colombian and Australian, for more than 14 years.
Juan enjoys professional challenges and continually look forward to expanding his knowledge base through new projects, training opportunities, and networking.

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