ArgumentNo. 13/2021

Constructive Encounters in the City. Constitución, Chile — Open City?

  • / PhD. arch., “Ion Mincu” University of Architecture and Urbanism, Bucharest, RO


Usually, when we speak of the versatility of the built environment, we speak of a space’s possibility of having different functionalities, at the same time or at different times. The present article argues that versatility, when we speak of the built environment, is also an ethical imperative. Richard Sennett, urbanist and sociologist, proposes analysing the issue of urban ethics through the lens of systems theory, arguing that contemporary cities function as closed systems, whereas a truly just city ought to function as an open one. He proposes three functional characteristics of the open city, illustrating each with a variety of anecdotical examples. While his examples serve to illustrate his concept, they fail to answer a specific question: can a city become open in its entirety? Are there any such cities that check all the boxes in his model? After a violent earthquake shook Chile in 2010, most of the coastal city of Constitución was destroyed, launching an immense reconstruction effort. The present paper argues that the reconstruction process illustrates Sennett’s model of a city becoming a truly open one. We argue that an aspect that Sennett omits in his model, namely inspiration from vernacular practices, was the basis for this process and its results. We argue, thus, that open is an ontological imperative in building a just city.

Keywords: open city, systems theory, participatory architecture, vernacular architecture, urban ethics, urban planning

Published in Argument 13/