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The Torres del Parque: fifty years of an icon of Colombian and Latin American architecture

The Torres del Parque: fifty years of an icon of Colombian and Latin American architecture
The Torres del Parque: fifty years of an icon of Colombian and Latin American architecture

The Torres del Parque are located in the heart of Bogotá, close to another work by Rogelio Salmona, the Museum of Modern Art of Bogotá.

Photo: Jimmy Malagon

Las Torres del Parque, a brick heart with its own heartbeat.

The three subtly twist around each other, replicating the ring of the hills.

Splendid and protective, they crown Bogotá.

They embrace the city as if they really loved it.

Because they really love her. And they affirm it.

Laura Restrepo.

The Torres del Parque, designed in Bogotá by the Franco-Colombian architect Rogelio Salmona at the end of the sixties and delivered to the city in May 1974 due to its strategic location in the city and its architectural qualities, have been and will always be a reference point in Colombian architecture and in the Bogotá landscape.

The Park Towers celebrated 50 years of construction during the month of May.

Photo: Jimmy Malagon

About the location

Since the beginning of the 20th century, when the city began its expansion towards the north and west, what is now Independence Park was conceived as the strategic place to build the capital’s first metropolitan park and a meeting point for its inhabitants and visitors. It was ideal to commemorate the centenary of our independence, a celebration that was held with a large agricultural and industrial exhibition that, in some way, emulated the exhibitions that were held in Europe around the same time. It was also adjacent to the pre-existing Centenario Park that commemorated the centenary of the birth of the liberator Simón Bolívar (1783-1883).

This is how the point of highest urban hierarchy was indicated on the plan due to its immediacy with the hills, the historical and administrative center, in addition to the confluence of the roads that came or went north: first Carrera Séptima and later Avenida Caracas, Carrera 10 and Carrera 13. In addition, those who came from the Magdalena River arrived in Bogotá along what is now Calle 13. The Avenida de las Américas was soon built, which gave an elegant and spacious welcome to those who landed at the airport. of Techo, which in the 1950s moved to where El Dorado is today, giving rise to 26th Street or the Avenue of the same name, which ends in the park sector.

Starting from Independence Park, a center of encounter, culture, recreation and definition of the city under construction was consolidated. The great Olympia Hall was built in its vicinity, later came the Santa María Bullring, the National Library and, in the 1960s, the District Planetarium and the International Center. At the beginning of the 70s, those who were needed to give life to the sector arrived: the inhabitants.

The Torres del Parque, a complex of 294 apartments and several commercial premises, were an initiative of the Central Mortgage Bank in response to the directive of Mayor (1966-1969) Virgilio Barco Vargas, who promoted the densification of the center with high-rise housing projects. . The young Rogelio Salmona, with a short but brilliant experience in Colombia, was then entrusted with the design. At his age, he already had the prestige of having worked in Paris for seven years in the workshop of the then most influential architect in the world, the Swiss-French Charles-Édouard Jeanneret, better known as Le Corbusier.

Upon arriving from Europe, Salmona undertook the “quixotic” action (as he called it) of recovering the remains left by the construction of 26th Street, which mutilated Independence Park, demolished the pavilions that were there and left out of the same to the National Library. This action also erased the neighboring Centenario Park from the map, which caused the equestrian statue of S. Bolívar to be moved decades later to the also disappeared monument to the Heroes.

Many of us regret this latest disappearance, but others celebrate it: Bolívar finally returned to Independence Park, neighboring his place of origin. He also made the valuable statue of the bather Rebeca, once located in Centenario Park, which suffered displacement to reach an insubstantial cut of what was left of the passage of 26th Avenue through the sector.

Salmona referred to this issue in an interview for the La Macarena Community Action Board, in October 2005: “Trying to recover the park… I did a project that I maintained for a long time since 1961. The Ministry of Public Works was in charge of the national parks and I, in my desire to recover not only the Independence Park, but also the National Park, went through several ministers… Within the area were the properties on the eastern side of the Plaza that the District had acquired in the 50s and which he handed over to the Central Mortgage Bank.”

Although he never imagined that with this action he sought to build a group of buildings nearby, with it he managed not only to recover the park, but also to give Bogotá, Colombia and Latin America an emblematic work of architecture and a milestone in Colombian urban and cultural history. . Without it, neither the park nor the sector would be what they are today.

Next, and in his words, here is the first decision of the architect: “As a result of the concern for the park in that sector, I made the project for the Towers and convinced the Central Mortgage Bank to recover the street that crosses the park…”.

Area where the Park Towers were built in Bogotá.

Photo: Saúl Orduz – Bogotá Archive

With the last phrase “recover the street that crosses the park”, Salmona’s interest in building an integral project is defined that, as in medieval castles in Europe, both the exterior space and the palaces form an integrality. It is not that the Palace of Versailles is inside the Garden, it is a single project, but both the one and the other – the building and the garden – correspond, the same as happens with the Independence Park, the Bullring, the planetarium and the Park Towers. These solidify the bulk of this space and demonstrate the decision to convert the old vehicular route into a pleasant stopover route.

In this way, the architect Salmona designs a communication route from the Planetarium to the villa. A delicious route and place for the meeting, a crucial aspect in his interest in unifying the other two properties: the “corbatín” on the eastern side of the Bullring and what was left of the then Independence Park, which the architect redesigned and, With this, it turns the sector into this fabulous urban unit.

View of the stairs of the Torres del Parque.

Photo: Jimmy Malagon

The plants—those in the Park Towers gardens and those in other gardens—do not rise or fall. They grow and are pruned, which is not going up and down. They are in the shadow of the towers and do not want to reach them. – Carolina Sanín.

The other managers of the Torres del Parque

Last, but not least, the protagonists. Always, or almost always, Rogelio Salmona is mentioned as the author of the architectural design, which is strictly true and is not in dispute, however, it is fair and appropriate in this celebration to recognize the work and dedication that other people or entities did. that this Bogota milestone was a reality. Without some of them, the Torres del Parque as we know them today would not be what they are.

The gestation of this project occurred when Mayor Virgilio Barco Vargas (1966-1969) issued measures to promote the construction of high-rise buildings for housing in the city center, with the certain conviction that a city is made by its inhabitants. population. This is how three or four other complexes were built in this sector in the same decade.

At the time, Dr. Jorge Cortés Boschell was at the head of the Central Mortgage Bank. On the board of directors was, among others, Mario Calderón Rivera, who later became its manager and great promoter of the construction of the complex. “In this project we must highlight the efforts of Mario Calderón Rivera, who has not been sufficiently recognized for the task he has carried out at the Bank,” said Salmona. The structural project was contracted with the engineer Domenico Parma, designer of the structure of the most important buildings in the city. This is how the golden duo that the project required was formed. “There is no architectural project that is not a structural project,” R. Salmona told the poet Harold Alvarado T. in the magazine Arquitrave.

A key player within the Banco Central Hipotecario was the architect Samuel Vieco, at the time deputy construction manager of the Banco Central Hipotecario. This is what the architect and historian of this field, Silvia Arango Cardinal, said: “The project was publicly criticized in strong terms and by different people. If it had not been for the continuous defense of it by Samuel Vieco from the offices of the Central Mortgage Bank, which financed it, it is likely that it would not have been able to be built.”

Finally, Urbano Ripoll, the person who directed and coordinated the work of the three towers. Each of them had a different builder: Cuéllar Serrano Gómez (tower A, the center), Esguerra Sáenz Urdaneta Samper (tower B, south) and Pizano Pradilla & Caro (tower C, north).

Together with his wife, the artist Beatriz Gonzales, Ripoll lived in the towers for 50 years. He was director of the work and partner of the firm PRS Parma Ripoll Salmona. “No one knows very well everything that went into the construction of the Towers. An absolutely novel work of engineering… A pioneering example of design…—the references to the landscape, the historical importance of the environment, the majesty of the tutelary hills—; but it was an enormous challenge due to its geological complexity… I coordinated the planimetry, the discussions and the construction,” he said.

It shouldn’t have been easy. Unfortunately, these types of projects are not common in our environment. If today we are celebrating the 50 years of life of an exceptional work in Bogotá and Colombia, it is because those present here and their collaborators – including the last assistant who mixed the concrete by hand on a fragile scaffolding on the 35th floor of these towers – , they achieved the masterpiece. Finally, it is concluded that “yes it can be done.”

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