When Professor of Architecture Rene Davids was invited to teach at the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru last year, he was surprised to see the dozens of sacred sites called huacas* in a state of disrepair, some even being used as garbage dumps. These man-made, pre-Hispanic shrines, were once centers for communal worship, bringing together shared citizenship and unity to Lima’s ethnically diverse population.
“Today, most of the huacas are in bad condition -- destroyed, eroded, or used as garbage dumps -- and sometimes even roads go through them,” he explained. “I just thought they looked amazing, yet were being treated so poorly. Nobody seemed to care very much about them.”
Professor Davids’ interest in the huacas led to the creation of the Spring 2017 ARCH 202 course, “The Huacas of Lima: Archeological Sites as Anchors for Urban Revitalization,” which took a cohort of 15 graduate students from the College of Environmental Design on site to Peru this past spring break. Students studied and re-envisioned possibilities for huaca revitalization, and were challenged to re-establish the sites’ historical function as a unifying public space in a modern context.
“The premise of our studio was to incorporate this long tradition of trails, walking paths and of longitudinal spaces in Peru,” Professor Davids explained. “These huacas are virtually unknown to both outside visitors and the area’s residents of Lima. So we thought if we could find a way to join them together, they could acquire some sort of presence.”
Using seven primary sites as a case study, Professor Davids’ students were presented with the challenge of reimagining the huacas to incorporate much-needed open space and community facilities into dense urban neighborhoods while also protecting the integrity of Lima’s archeological heritage.
Inspired by the Unidades de Vida Articulada (UVA), a new urban typology developed in the neighborhoods of Medellín, Colombia to create space for public recreation and community participation, students proposed designs for a circuit of seven linking huacas in Lima’s Pueblo Libre district. Students met with architects, archaeologists and journalists during their visit who helped to inform the design process and gave historical background on the importance and legacy of the huacas.
“For years, huacas have been considered to be impediments for development because they are indigenous sites. The country in general is looking toward industrialized progress, so preserving the past has been seen as backwards,” said Professor Davids. “Given the history and tradition of path and linear spaces in Lima, we thought joining the huacas to make something bigger of them would be interesting.”
The students’ work culminated in a series of studio presentations to a cohort of architecture students at Lima’s Pontifical Catholic University and to a group of fellow architects from the region that were most importantly informed by their experiences exploring and learning about huacas in Lima. While many of them, including Professor Davids, expected the audience’s reaction to altering and enhancing the huacas to be one of hesitance, they were surprised by the positive feedback they received, reaffirming what the studio was about in the first place.
“When we went to Lima, people took our side because they agreed that the only way we could actually recover the sites was by acting on them,” Professor Davids explained. “The students learned that they can re-envision a historic landscape not by destroying it, but by bringing people into that landscape and making them conscious of the location’s unique history.
*Huacas are sacred places that can be as simple and natural as a stone or as elaborate as a pyramids.