By now, Medellín is synonymous with progressive architecture. The Colombian city has scrubbed out the stigma of war and drugs with aggressive urban design strategies, set up by its former mayor, Sergio Fajardo, and its former director of urban projects, Alejandro Echeverri. Their plan was simple: better buildings in poor areas. Attractive public spaces, they thought, would save the city, and to an extent, they have. (The philosophy has spread throughout the country, and excellent new public buildings have been built in other poor areas like Villanueva, and even in Bogotá.)
Great architecture has become Medellín's brand, so much so that it's no longer limited to the city's poorest places. In fact, the latest news from Medellín is the expansion of its modern art museum by Lima-based 51-1 Arquitectos. While earlier projects like Giancarlo Mazzanti's Parque España library brought "the city...to the barrio", the museum expansion, in the more affluent southern end of Medellín, brings the barrio to the city.
The building is a stack of rectangular boxes, like Herzog and de Meuron's VitraHaus, designed in the same brick vernacular as the barrios. The boxes are connected by external staircases, which turn the exterior of the building into a series of outdoor plazas, like a neighborhood. It's exactly the kind of urban-oriented project that made Medellín famous, and an interesting example of innovation flowing up, from poor areas to rich ones. It's expect to be built next year.