The Story of Serena del Mar, the Dreamed City

2017 SEGD Conference-Story of Serena Del Mar

On June 10, Sean Scensor will join a top-notch lineup of speakers at the 2017 SEGD Conference Experience Miamiand detail how renowned architectural firm Safdie Architects shaped a visionary masterplan and designed an innovative health sciences center in the heart of Cartegena, Colombia.

As a Principal at Safdie Architects, I’m lucky to work alongside Moshe Safdie and a talented group of partners and colleagues. There is a culture of excellence that permeates all that we do. Moshe is an extraordinary teacher and is very active and hands-on, serving as an example for all of us and setting the bar high.

We work on a wide range of building types and project scales, in many different countries, and working remotely is quite normal for us. We are also very active during all phases of our projects.

This level of involvement tends to surprise people, who might otherwise expect a concept sketch and then a “handover.” Our clients appreciate that we don’t work like that. We are involved with every detail through the end of construction—and beyond.

Serena del Mar

In 2010, we were approached by a client who had the vision to build a new city on 2,500 acres on the north coast of Cartagena, Colombia. The family has held the land for 60 years, waiting for the right moment to build something extraordinary. The project is called Serena del Mar, the Dreamed City.

The client wanted a model of development that would be respectful of the region’s rich cultural heritage and exquisite natural environment, as well as socially responsible. That means being sustainable in the way we approach materials and resources. But it also means design that is inherently buildable and practical. It means building in a way that naturally responds to the local geography, climate and culture.

For this project, we developed a 350-acre master plan for the main civic district containing housing, institutional and shopping zones clustered around a new central waterway, El Gran Canal. The canal offers wonderful amenities to the city’s residents, but also gives the whole project a clear hierarchy, a sense of orientation and a powerful sense of place.

In addition to the master plan, we designed a major new hospital for the city, anchoring the master plan, in many ways.  The hospital is designed to meet advanced international standards. The project maximizes patients’ access to daylight, gardens and water and is designed to be calming and serene.

The political situation in Colombia is stabilizing, the economy is thriving and the region around Cartagena is expanding. The development provides a way for the city and the region to grow sensibly—without overburdening the existing city—and preserving the special character of Cartagena.

When we have visionary clients and world-class consultants, it put us in a position to build something great. With this project, there was a natural resonance between our client’s vision and our own philosophy as architects and planners. This common vision is built upon a respect for the natural environment, a respect for the specificity of site and culture and a respect for design with inherently humanist principles.

We see Serena del Mar as an unfolding, optimistic story, which promises to be a future model for responsible regional development. It was a humbling and inspiring challenge for us, both as planners and as architects.

Time is running out to join Sean Scensor at the 2017 SEGD Conference Experience Miami, June 8–10. Register now!

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