AWARD WINNER: 2012 FLASLA Award of Merit
This project is located within a developing urban district surrounded by an exploding skyline in Panama City, Panama. The site is composed of two street conditions that are perpendicular to one another and transcend its public boundary to reach from building façade to building façade. This district known to locals as Calle Uruguay, is transformative in program and currently possesses a voyeuristic quality at night. This project intends to enhance the existing voyeur DNA while improving the current state of the street to accommodate a more pedestrian friendly environment that will promote around the clock activity and positively impact local commerce.
The strategy is to understand “urban portraiture, which is where the most public of settings and the most private of genres are abruptly conjoined” (Di Palma 2009, 42). The aim is to catalyze private moments within a landscape (public space) that will grasp the attention of a voyeur while promoting issues of user mobility and engagement. This design objective is supported by the exploration of three separate voyeuristic studies that provide examples through strategic explorations targeting how sensory stimuli, projection and art, and light and shadow affect the relationship a spectator has with its subject and landscape.
Calle Uruguay sits along the border of the Bella Vista district abutting the banking district (area Banceria) and Avenida Balboa, two prominent realms contributing to the development of present day Panama City. The Bella Vista district was a predominantly residential area that has some of the more established older estate homes of Panama City, along with low-scale residential apartment buildings that cater to a middle and upper class population. Within the last decade the Bella Vista district has been in a state of flux, especially along its boundary where the site is located, transforming itself to cater to businesses and venues of entertainment that are responding to the omnipresent urban development Panama City is experiencing. An exploding skyline currently provides for a slew of incoming foreigners attracted to the investment opportunities Panama is renown for, while the composition of this skyline is reminiscent of any contemporary metropolis, accommodating, business and tourism demands, condominiums, residences, hotels and shopping centers.
When entered, the user can immediately sense the presence of a unique condition not reminiscent of the surrounding environment. This area is part of a residential community that has transformed itself to serve its burgeoning context. These two perpendicular streets predominately house daytime and nighttime businesses that cater to the demands of a developing real estate market and a mushrooming urban environment. Types of daytime businesses are consistent with professional services offices, furniture stores and restaurants, but at night, the environment changes dramatically. The street metamorphosis is responsive to the nighttime attractions, which entice a young professional to middle-aged Panamanian population, along with the informed visitor. These types of businesses range from an arrangement of nightclubs, lounges, bars, and additional restaurants that provide for all forms of entertainment, including solicited affairs.
The genius loci of the site begins with the existing buildings architecture and their scale. These businesses along these streets have upheld the integrity of this residential community by maintaining the building common mean height of approximately twenty feet. In most cases businesses renovate an existing home or apartment building and retrofit the exterior and interior to accommodate to their individual needs. High-rise buildings located on adjacent blocks within walking distance conversely range from heights of 200ft to 400ft and reflect the growing condominium market, hotels and businesses the site services. Context and Site Analysis diagrams illustrate this contextual disparity in section.
The spurts of the city’s growth, coupled with a lack of investment in the upgrade of the right-of-ways public infrastructure, has left the site’s streets riddled with imperfections to include surface cracks, obstructed sidewalks, poor drainage, and low-hanging, overloaded power lines. In addition to these issues the outer lanes of the three-lane roadway is used for daytime vehicular parking, resulting in a single operative lane. Similarly, the valet and nightclub parking needs mimic the daytime condition at night. These conditions, coupled with infrastructure and shade trees obstructing locations within the public ROW, constrict and impede pedestrian mobility. Together, these impart an ineffective manner in which users navigate the site. Infrastructure, Street-Use Analyses diagrams, and site photographs further illustrate the inadequate conditions.
Given these site conditions, users, either pedestrian or vehicular, still posses the ability to navigate the site by sidestepping and creating their own distinctive paths. Daytime activity is more static due to the users ability to park at front of their place of destination, preventing the possibility of a user engaging with other spaces and stimulating economic growth. At night the opposite is more true, the grittiness of the street conditions become part of the DNA that compliments businesses and assist with attracting all forms of users. The street congestion at night allows the single lane a place for the vehicular user to observe the activity visible on the street, whether deciding which venue to attend, gazing at others dine, conversing, or simply observing the commotion on the street. The street obstructions play a role for the pedestrian, by establishing moments for pause, which harness activity, create places within spaces, and frame views.
Addressing the betterment of the inherent qualities of the street to serve public safety and promote urban growth while not disturbing the site’s existing DNA is a key objective. The Design Approach diagram demonstrates a strategy taken from exploring this seer seen relationship. By creating these spaces, the site boundary becomes blurred, and the ability to publicize private spaces allows businesses to project their private space onto public space. Simultaneously providing a higher level of spectatorship on the street and stimulating memory within the user. The ability to astonish and create a level of fear will be most notable at night with the affect light and shadow has on the street and the subliminal perceptions realized by the user. This relationship between voyeurism and context is essential to grasp when fostering the types of usable spaces this project intends to reveal, while also providing the user with an around-the-clock ability to move freely about the site.
Program strategy for the design examines the spaces best suited to promote local commerce, while acknowledging the role voyeurism has with these transformative spaces. By canvassing the site, one can acknowledge the current voids that include empty lots and the common spaces in between certain buildings. These voids have the potential to house multifunctional spaces that can simultaneously serve as public nodes while providing economic stimulus to local businesses. Multifunctional spaces can be classified within three realms: urban park infill, loose public space and multiuse public parking facilities. Program diagram further demonstrates the potential each space can have on the site and their ability to foster pedestrian mobility and habitation.