Notions of heritage and prevailing city regulations are challenged. The impossibility of detecting a unifying theory is assumed, since its purpose soon becomes obsolete. Montevideo’s heritage is conceived today as a static element. In contrast, this work does not attempt a physical reconstruction, or sponsor the reproduction of sceneries which are likely to paralyze the area. Idealization gives way to reality: imperfect, unforeseeable and ever-changing. In order to change the outlook on the concept of heritage, the idea of “Suspended judgement” as introduced by Koolhaas, in which no story is any more valid than any other, is incorporated. This strategy allows confronting reality instead of repressing it, widening the scope of action within a complex context. A different take on heritage should be accompanied by an alternative way to look at regulations. It might seem appropriate, then, to trust that architecture can be a force capable of transforming the existing support while searching for ad-hoc measures that can produce cities à la carte; an assorted urban design which does not look for solutions, but rather favors evolution. In some cases, this might mean coming up with new guidelines altogether. However, other situations may require doing away with existing regulations. A game of positive addition where, as Juan Herreros has put it, de-regulating some areas in the city becomes a very attractive prospect. An attempt to explore alternatives to enable the short-term development of a historic center in an emerging country. Perhaps there are as many theories as there are places.
Why consider some examples of architecture as untouchable? Why discard awkward things? Why not soften restrictions instead of keeping a collection of regulations? A specific urban element is taken as subject in an attempt to answer these questions: Montevideo's heritage city center, specifically the neighborhood of "Ciudad Vieja”. It can be argued that the area is run down. However, unlike other historic centers, it is not stagnant and has not been taken over entirely by tourism. The historic quarter has a very high percentage of empty structures. By the end of the 70s, many of its buildings had been stripped of architectural heritage protection. This led to them being replaced by outdoor parking facilities, empty lots and generic buildings: at present, only 1.9% of the properties in the area are listed as having the highest level of heritage protection. Throughout the years there have been multiple plans for the neighborhood. But perhaps due to their overly ambitious character, they have proven to be ineffective. The city is still stalled within a public planning system which often limits itself to managerial functions and which insists on a rigid, plan-based urban design. An outlook capable of assessing the area through its slow rhythms, its multiple fragments and its contrasts is called for—one that can take into account all the layers that make up its rich history. The scope of action that interests us encompasses the entirety of this assorted mixture, with all of its attractions and all of its problems.
Some opportunities which make up the field of action are detected: programmatic voids, a consideration for the heritage rating of neighboring buildings, physical voids, empty ground levels, underused rooftops, blind party walls, public spaces that can only be found to the perimeter of the neighborhood, and sparse greenery which is not visible from the street, among others. The field of action delivers operations which may be applicable to different types of land lots: programmatic adaptation, irregular height growths and transitions, spongings, trimmed bases; pathways slicing through blocks, trails currently closed-off to pedestrians, activated party walls, green inserts and extended facades. Different architectural devices can be tested by combining diverse operations. Sometimes it is not even necessary to build anything, since the existing elements may be decisive in tipping the scale towards renewal, simply by generating openings capable of activating anonymous lots. Other cases call for the generation of new buildings and programs. We have developed one of these devices in depth. The building’s program—an interpretation center— responds to a desire to read the neighborhood in alternative ways. Its shape responds to the operations performed: the volume disappears between the lots, extending its arms while taking over the crevices between city blocks. Only the small tower emerges, interacting with the overlooks which by mid-19th century had consolidated as the image of the city. There is no final form. The open system is made up of multiple coordinated buildings capable of integrating the pre-existing elements or incorporating new ones.