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American Society of Landscape Architects

 

February 2007 Issue

Security on the Rambla
New public spaces surround the U.S. embassy in  Montevideo, Uruguay.

By Jimena Martignoni

Security on the Rambla Roberto Schettini

Protecting public buildings against possible terrorist attacks can, in the worst cases, transform attractive, welcoming public spaces into lifeless or even frightening ones. Nowadays, designers and policy makers face the challenge of designing or redesigning public landscapes to be more secure, yet still appealing and pedestrian friendly.

This is especially true in national capital cities, where changes made in the interest of security can end up reshaping the urban context. A case in point is the U.S. embassy in Montevideo, the capital of Uruguay, where until 2001 an unsightly barrier of white bollards around the building prompted continuous complaints from locals. Residents objected not only to the site’s appearance but also to the displaced parking and altered flow of circulation within the district caused by the embassy’s blocking off two streets during the previous decade.

In truth, the United States was not alone in creating unloved spaces in Montevideo; other embassies, including Israel’s, were just as off-putting. One reason why residents resented the U.S. embassy in particular is that it disrupts the city’s connection to one of the most beloved public places in Montevideo, a 14-mile-long, pink granite waterfront promenade known as the rambla. Built between 1935 and 1940 by Uruguayan architect Juan Scasso, the rambla follows the natural contours of the shoreline of Bahia de Montevideo, or Montevideo Bay, where the Río de la Plata, or Plate River, flows into the Atlantic Ocean. The locally quarried pink granite created a distinctive character and sense of place.

A main avenue runs parallel to the rambla around the edge of the city, with Montevideo’s streets making perpendicular connections to this outer route. At the same time the rambla was built, the city also developed some attractively planted boulevards and linear parks parallel to it. Residents responded immediately to this lush new waterfront district, which has remained popular ever since. Architect I. M. Pei built the U.S. embassy in the 1970s as a large concrete box facing the rambla and one of the historic landscaped boulevards, visually intruding on part of the promenade’s green edge.

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