The Chamanga Cultural Center is the result of a long-term collaboration among academia, civil society organizations, and the community of Chamanga, Ecuador, starting with postdisaster relief efforts and research activities after the earthquake in 2016. The project was organized in two phases within a design/build framework, where students design, plan, and build in collaboration with the local community and professionals. The result is a 175-square-meter two-story building located in a 9- by 15-meter lot. The Cultural Center anchors itself to its context by taking cues from local vernacular architecture, but it also stands out by means of its scale and reinterpreted use of traditional building systems. The center provides a place for local collectives to run their activities while strengthening the community’s ties to its history and the estuary.
Historically marginalized and disconnected from water and sanitation systems, Chamanga faces multilayered ecological challenges. The earthquake that struck the coast of Ecuador in April 2016 accentuated challenges like poverty and lack of public water and waste infrastructure. The building facilitates community-run practices and activities that tackle these larger-scale challenges. A variety of activities, groups, and scenarios had to be incorporated in a fairly limited space; the project had to be open and flexible, yet well-tuned and safe. Several architectural strategies were devised to make this possible in an earthquake-resistant, environmentally friendly, and culturally appropriate configuration.
The project aims to materialize a long-term process of collaboration with the community after the earthquake. It complements far-reaching visions with tangible improvements in the short and midterm. Throughout the process, local partners Atarraya Taller de Arquitectura and Opción Más led on-site research, participatory decision-making, and implementation with a broad range of stakeholders. Atarraya advocated for public discussions of programming, execution, resources, and outcomes. These included problem-definition and visioning workshops, charettes to develop an adequate phasing strategy, and meetings to evaluate specific design alternatives.
Many local organizations have used the Chamanga Cultural Center to host cultural, ecological, and economic activities. Skill-building workshops and technical trainings demonstrate the center’s capacity to strengthen collective economic opportunities. Oral-tradition and music workshops, as well as marimba lessons, point to broader efforts to recover and strengthen traditional Afro-Ecuadorian and Montubio cultural heritage. The center also hosts community actions that aim at strengthening mutual aid networks and other forms of solidarity. An example of this was the fabrication of six thousand face masks during the COVID-19 pandemic.