The Local Condition: The Andes– an unappreciated paradise
Environmental awareness, seeking a suitable integration with the environment to generate sustainable development, has transformed the way in which contemporary societies plan their cities and buildings. However, this transformation not only demands an environmental consciousness and good intentions, but requires a constant reflection over our environment, its characteristics and possibilities.
Such reflection has a two-fold approach; on one hand, it must be based on studies related to climate, geography and the biodiversity of our Andean landscape– distinct for not only being the region with the greatest variety of climates and microclimates in tropical latitudes, but also for being the zone with the greatest biodiversity on the planet. On the other hand, it must feed from a deconstruction of anthropological thought, which positions people above every other form of life on the planet, and how –from our realm of action– architecture and urban design, we may contribute to this deconstruction.
In geographical terms, our region is dominated by the Andes mountain range, made up of snow-capped mountains, volcanoes, high plateaus, grasslands, peaks, valleys, and lakes.
The crossing of the warm intertropical zone, also called the Equatorial zone, influences the climate of the Andean region as well as the country at large. This zone is characterized by a humid tropical climate in transition zones towards the coastland and the Amazonian region. It is a mild semi-humid climate in the inter-Andean section, warm and dry in the inter-Andean valleys, and cold weather in the high-mountain grasslands over 3000 masl.
This particular geographical and climate junction results in a vast array of micro-climates, as well as weather and topographic conditions, valuable in terms of urban planning and construction.
A humid tropical climate, at 1000 to 1800 masl can offer inhabitants adequate to optimal thermal comfort. According to the Koppen classification, temperatures do not exceed 18°C in the summer season, nor do they drop below 3°C in wintertime.
We need a deconstruction of anthropological thought that places people above the rest of living entities on the planet.
In this regard, architectural design in these conditions can take advantage, for example, of temperature variations, achieving greater thermal stability –accumulating heat in the hottest moments in the day and releasing it progressively at night. Under these privileged atmospheric and climatic conditions, the calorific variations are softened, not only guaranteeing general comfort, but also allowing the construction of buildings to be passive, without the need for HVAC (heating, ventilation, air conditioning) systems, and allowing the possibility of a direct interior-exterior connection.
It is compelling to think about the urban growth of cities in the region, and reflect on how we can take advantage of its climatic and geographical characteristics. To think about how architecture and urban design responds to geographic and climatic conditions, and ask ourselves if our buildings foster a real symbiotic relationship with the natural environment.
A quick glance at contemporary Andean cities will lead us to an inevitable conclusion: the waste of our natural environment in the built world. It is a worrying dichotomy, living surrounded by such rich and diverse climates and landscapes, but at the same time, neglecting the natural environment in the design and construction of our cities, and thus ignoring the natural environment in our daily lives.
This conclusion also has a firm grasp in our own cultural perception, nurtured by an exclusively anthropological view based on foreign and extractivist planning models, which dictate that nature exists to serve us, when the reflection should revolve around the idea of generating a harmonious relationship with the natural environment.
Architecture is, and should be, a tool for the resolution of this dichotomy, as well as to ensure a cultural deconstruction that may allow us to not only appreciate our natural surroundings, but also to symbiotically integrate it into our built environment.