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