Lack of an architectural heritage plan allows two construction projects to continue on the Barranco

Jul 12, 2023 | 9 comments

The controversy over two condominium projects on Paseo Tres de Noviembre, adjacent the Rio Tomebamba, could have been avoided, experts say, if the city had developed a comprehensive historic district management plan.

One of two condominium projects that will be allowed to continue in the Barranco district due to a lack of Unesco architectural plan, (El Mercurio)

Located in the Barranco district, between the Hermano Miguel escalinata and Calle Bajada de Todos Santos, the large multi-unit housing projects have drawn criticism from area residents and architects who say they violate the “scale and heritage” of the neighborhood.

The two four-level projects are, in one case, adjacent to the Todo Santos church and school, and in the second, across the street from the Todo Santos architectural heritage site that contains Canari, Inca and Spanish colonial ruins.

In the absence of a plan detailing construction rules, city officials say that both projects are legal and were properly permitted by the former administration of Mayor Pedro Palacios.

According to architect and university professor, Fausto Cardoso, all city governments since 1999 are to blame for the lack of a plan. When Cuenca was declared a Cultural Heritage of Humanity site by Unesco, one of the requirements was that it develop a management plan for the protection of Center, which included the Barranco. “It’s almost 24 years later and the city has not fulfilled that obligation,” says Cardoso. “You can’t blame the developers for taking advantage of the situation when the municipal government has not done its job.”

it is true, he says, that the city has historic district construction rules, but they don’t meet Unesco standards.

Cardoso says the lack of a plan meeting Unesco requirements not only affects the Barranco district but could endanger Cuenca’s Unesco status. “If a plan is not developed soon, the city could be placed on the ‘endangered’ list for its designation. There’s a lot at stake here.”

Cristina Carrasco, regional director of the National Institute of Cultural Heritage (INPC), agrees with Cardoso, and says the city should have developed clear guidelines years ago. “It’s not only a Unesco requirement but one that protects the heritage of Cuenca for future generations.”

She says that changes to historic district building requirements in 2022 did not consider the Barranco district. “The amendments allowed higher elevations for new construction but adding an extra floor in the Barranco affects the views from Calle Larga and Bajada de Todos Santos,” Carrasco. “It also changes the nature of the neighborhood in scope, introducing larger projects that will house a larger number of people.”

She adds: “Unesco advises that different areas of the historic district may require different building rules and this was not considered when the city made its changes. This could have been avoided if an overall heritage plan, required by Unesco, had been available.”

Director of Cuenca’s Historical and Heritage Areas, Xavier Aguirre, agrees that the Unesco plan should have been developed years ago. “It’s a priority of tne new administration to do this and it will provide the tools to deal with construction issues on the Barranco in the future.”

He added: “It is true there are concerns with the projects in question, but the permits and permissions are in order and the work must be completed.”

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