Lima, the horrible
"Lima is horrible", Peruvians say. The city is chaotic and full of ugly architecture and informal housing. And things only seem to be getting worse. But not everything! Some young architects already have plans up their sleeves… Read More
Lima, the horrible
A friend returning home after living in Scotland for several years recently told me how she watched the Peruvian coast from the descending plane: The clutter of the fields, the houses, and even the distribution of the ships at sea, she said, showed the lack of control and authority in Peru.
People from the Peruvian capital Lima experience this clutter every day. “Lima la horrible” (Lima the horrible) is a common saying, a phrase taken from an essay by Sebastian Salazar Bondy published in Mexico in 1964. Lima is chaotic, marked by an unplanned construction boom and informal settlements. Living in this city can be a nightmare, especially for poor people.
Raul Silva is a landscape architect who runs a nursery – a refuge for children right in the middle of the bustle of the city. While his garden used to look out on the “Moche” archaeological site, now he only sees a concrete wall. “We don’t know why the Peruvians build cities as ugly as this,” he reflects. “We have a history of such beauty and do nothing to improve our cities.”
“We don’t know why the Peruvians build cities as ugly as this.”
Neither the authorities nor the architecture schools really seem to care. Is it even possible to make Lima a better place? Well, we might try…
But first let’s explore why Lima is so “horrible”.
From the “Ciudad de los Reyes” (City of Kings) to “Lima la horrible” (Lima, the horrible)
Lima was officially founded on January 18, 1535 by the Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro. It became an important Latin American metropolis during the 300 years of Spanish Viceroyalty. The 40 viceroys built hundreds of religious temples, cathedrals, monasteries and seminaries for various religious congregations – and laid a beautiful architectural foundation.
Much of this colonial architecture heritage doesn’t look Spanish though: "The houses, windows and colonial balconies are originally Arabic, with many mosaics and azulejos on the walls," says Raúl Silva Yepes, a landscape architect in the Peruvian city of Trujillo. He explains: "When the conquerors wanted to bring their wives, the women often refused to travel to the unknown. So in the end, the ones that arrived with the conquerors were domestic servants – most of them of Arabic origin."
The urban landscape dramatically changed with the independence of Peru in 1821. Modernity arrived: the telegraph, the electric light, the train and the phone found their way to Lima thanks to the proceeds from the sale of guano. The first car arrived in 1899 and soon after, Dr Ricardo Flores Lima brought the first steam engine to Lima, manufactured in Massachusetts in 1903. In 1905, car imports took off and soon the carriages and horses soon had to share the streets with modern cars.
The automobile allowed people to cover long distances in a short time. The expansion of the city began – and Lima began to decongest. According to engineer Thomas Unger: "The phone and the car were the two factors that radically altered life."
At the same time, the republican Peru was losing ground. The nobles, bourgeois and wealthy classes quickly became a minority, and Lima started to lose touch with European cities. Peru fell into a gradual decline resulting in backwardness and isolation. In the end, population explosion and immigration were the determining factors that made the city collapse:
La Ciudad de los Reyes became "Lima, la horrible."
Ten years ago, the economic boom brought the middle class back to the country. A new era had begun. The economic indicators are auspicious, and The Economist magazine has forecast sustained growth of 6% annually over the next five years for Peru. This economic solvency is not only reflected in the purchasing power of an average Peruvian family; it has also been reflected in new real estate offers. The morphology of the city has begun to change and there are no signs it will stop.
The Economist magazine has forecast sustained growth of 6% annually for Peru.
But does a housing boom necessarily mean urban development? Adriana Doig Mannucci, CEO at the Viva GyM real estate company, says no. "The construction boom is messy and disjointed. The new houses often don’t have access to roads, or green space nearby for the people who live there to relax in. There is a lack of planning and knowledge. And this holds especially true for less affluent neighbourhoods."
Much remains to be done for poorer families. Ruben Voerman, a Dutch planner, says he simply cannot understand why there is no state program dedicated to social housing, where people pay rent according to their incomes.
Peru continues to grow and, along with Lima, this is affecting the coastal cities of Trujillo and Arequipa. In all three, residential towers are rising, all with the same aesthetic.
Is there any professional reason these constructions have to look this way? Why does autonomous construction predominate in our urban growth, without taking geographical, climatic and cultural differences into account?
What’s wrong with Lima?
“All apartment houses look pretty much the same,” mourns Manuel Salazar, who is working on a bachelor of architecture. “They meet the basic requirements but do not address the quality of life and how people will feel living there. The developers build apartments they would never inhabit themselves!”
It’s frustrating, Luis Miguel Rodríguez, another architecture student, agrees: “I see them raising massive buildings all around, but these are all constructions of low quality.”
Raul Silva, the landscape architect, knows why: Universities are not open to innovation and new ideas. “A new director from Argentina once came to our school of architecture, and he was actually fired for being innovative! He had invited me to join him and teach landscape architecture. But he did not last three months, and I left the school with him.” He laughs, remembering the incident.
“It makes me panic when I see the buildings constructed by some architecture graduates from our universities – and the mess they are causing in the city!” says Adriana. “If you get to a place that is junky anyway, you won’t mind throwing a banana peel on the ground. But if you see a place that is well maintained, you'll think twice before making a mess. You can experience this in the new Lima Metro, at the Cultura Metro stop: When people come here, they behave differently than outside. I believe this is a positive sign. And now we use seat belts in our cars, something that was unthinkable years ago. What we need is a new generation of professional actors in the municipalities that make a commitment and respect the rules.”
What Luis and Manuel criticise most is the lack of more human approaches: “Something that everybody seems to have forgotten is that architecture should make us happy as individuals – so that people can actually enjoy their homes.”
But these two are hands-on: Instead of just moaning, they have developed new architectural paths for Trujillo, a city in the North of Peru. Maybe these ideas could be a solution for Lima’s problems, too.
Manuel starts from the premise that mankind is an organic being that changes over time, and that your home should respond to this principle. Manuel designed social housing that can be adapted to the changing needs of the people inhabiting them.
Imagine you’re a young couple, and you live in a house – and then you eventually have children. Usually, you would have to find a new home. In Manuel’s apartments, you can just modify the interior: adding or subtracting rooms or changing the room size!
Manuel is constructing his project in San Luis in the Trujillo district in northern Peru. His 4-hectare housing complex will provide more than 1,000 apartments at low cost.
And let’s not forget the green inner courtyards. For skating, playing, talking – anything is possible.
Luis Miguel Rodríguez
Poorer families in Peru are used to living on the outskirts of the cities, without access to water or electricity. They are not linked to public transport and occupy lands that will never become their own. It takes many of them an average of 4 hours a day to travel from their home to the workplace!
Luis Miguel therefore proposes using public spaces inside the city, mainly abandoned spaces, for temporary social housing. His housing complex, a huge oval construction, will therefore be placed in Huanchaco, a beach village close to Trujillo.
The housing complex will include basic health care centres, day care centres for children and a police post. All the apartments will have the basic amenities like water, drainage and electricity. Providing all the basic services that a family needs to live with dignity allows the parents to focus on their work and the education of their children.
The apartments should be rented at low cost or even subsidized by the state. The price is 80 soles per month.
Families should live here for a maximum of 10 years. After that time, they should have saved enough money to build a permanent home – and thereby make way for new families that need housing support.
The complex will occupy almost one hectare of land – but since the land belongs to the state, land prices are not an obstacle. Since it is in an area of low population density, the complex prevents further congestion of the city and unlocks new neighbourhoods.