Narrating Bogotá

Narrating Bogotá

Narrative Inhabitation and its use to reimagine social relationships in public space



Narrative is a powerful thing. A story sticks. The description of a place lodges in your mind,as vivid to you as any image, as genuine as any memory. Sometimes 1000 words is worth more than a picture.


Approaching Bogotá was a challenge. An unfamiliar city with an unknown culture, ostensibly impenetrable with only the shortest of threads that could be pulled to unravel the story. The city offered scraps of information to describe its spaces: stories, events, chance encounters and evidential artefacts. By taking these scraps and combining them, a picture starts to form,a collage of city life. The scraps were varied, their one constant was the spaces they took place within, spaces bearing witness to the life happening around them. These spaces within the city became characters, conscious beings with their own stories of what happened before them, and through their stories Bogotá became knowable. I called this technique Narrative Inhabitation.


By listening to the city its assets and limitations became obvious. One place of limitation was the Rio Arzobispo, a forgotten canal running through a residential neighbourhood, unused by its neighbours. This became the site for intervention. All cities have struggles, and Bogotá is no expectation. One issue is dealing with flooding caused by tropical afternoon thunderstorms, inundating the city with shocks of water. Another is the friction between its residents, where public encounters between citizens all to often result in disagreement.


In this project the Rio Arzobispo is turned into a series of water plazas, floodable public spaces. When dry they are spaces for local people to interact, different sections serving the various communities that border the Rio, office workers and students, residents and restaurant goers. When the storm clouds burst open, upon contact with the Andes Mountains the Rio fills, with pools once holding basketball games and picnics now containing millions of liters of water. The Rio is designed to hold the water back, easing the risk of flooding downstream, and once the rain stops the water is slowly released.


The design for the Rio solves concrete issues, relieving pressure on the water infrastructure of Bogotá, increasing the amount of useful green space in the city, preventing flooding in poor areas of the city and encouraging connection between the different communities. It also creates more prosaic effects. Bogotános have a place to encounter each other, but also encounter the nature that is in abundance, just out of reach on the slopes of the mountain Monserrate. Through encounter and experience comes empathy required to change behaviours, be that arguments with other people of the city, or damaging the environment through the pollution of day to day life. All in all the Rio gives a chance for stories to form and be told, for life to happen just as the Narrative Inhabitations of Bogotá showed it can. The Rio gains life, through activity and unpredictability, benefiting the city, and those living within it.