This project starts with the acknowledgement of a conceptual challenge which structures the idea that generates the proposal: What characteristics should an overlook have to make it attractive even when the entire area surrounding it offers interesting (and similar) views? This is due to the fact that the project is located at the upper edge of a crater that is part of an active volcano, and which has a lake inside it, multiplying the viewing opportunities visitors have. Because of its geographical peculiarities, the Quilotoa Crater and its lake have become a tourist site of growing popularity in Ecuador. Located in the Andes, this location is 170 kilometres south of Quito. The crater has an altitude of 3,974 meters above sea level, and the its diameter is approximately 3 km. Due to the minerals present in its water, the lake has a distinctive turquoise colour that is the main characteristic of this site. The ecosystem of this area is an Andean páramo, therefore its surrounding vegetation includes low grasses, endemic shrubs and small trees. All these elements create a landscape of restrained beauty.
The area has been traditionally inhabited by indigenous populations of the Ecuadorian highlands who mainly practice subsistence agriculture. The closest settlement is Zumbahua, however, some small, scattered communities live closer to the lake. Shalalá is one of the communities that have ancient ties to the Volcano, and its inhabitants have started a tourist venture to offer accommodation, restaurant service and guided tours of attractions in the area. The Ecuadorian Tourism Ministry responded to the community’s initiative by providing them with a complementary infrastructure for their tourist facilities: an overlook at the top edge of the crater and a footpath to connect it with the main area of the tourist complex. The ministry wanted to support the community’s venture, helping its residents increase their income through their involvement in the provision of tourist services.
The overlook is built on the upper edge of the crater. Its main objective is to create a structure that allows for the uninterrupted observation of the surroundings, where users can safely reach the edge of the cliff. The fact that the site chosen for the overlook has a very similar view to the rest of the crater’s edge, as mentioned above, remained a conceptual challenge, however. The analysis, therefore, focused on what other experiences the overlook could offer in order to become an interest point in the area. The response that this project delivers is based on creating opportunities for the visitor to see the landscape in different ways than from any other point along the crater’s edge. The experience users have is enriched through the creation of a platform extending from the edge of the crater over the cliff, giving the visitor the opportunity to “fly” over the landscape and producing an almost vertigo-like sensation. At the same time, a space for passive viewing is created, where the user is protected from the elements and is able to have a moment of contemplation and introspection.
The attempt to provide these opposite but complementary experiences for users results in the creation of a structure which consists of an upper platform that extents over the edge of the crater, and, directly underneath, a tiered seating area that follows the natural slope, where users have the opportunity to rest and enjoy the natural landscape. These simple but clear architectural gestures give visitor the opportunity to have a different experience than they can have elsewhere in the crater.
The discrete but magnificent beauty of the landscape demands that the architectural response to it be austere, in an attempt to merge itself with the surrounding landscape. A simple form and the uniform use of materials give the intervention the same aesthetic qualities the site has. The overlook is composed of an internal steel truss system while its outer skin is made of wood, which locates the intervention within the chromatic palette and texture of the landscape. The overlook’s edges are designed to safely allow a clear view of the surroundings. Therefore, glass is the only material used at the open ends of the overlook. The footpath that connects to the overlook is built with stone edges and filled with gravel, looking to mark a defined route and to create a walkable surface without altering the natural qualities of the landscape. Every gesture in the intervention attempts to modify as little as possible of the current harmony present at the site, and for this reason the entire structure is designed to be easily dismantled and removed it is no longer needed in the future.
Since the creation of this overlook, there has been a noticeable increase in tourist activity in the community. Additionally, its members have engaged in the upkeep of the intervention and are committed to keeping it in good condition. This could be qualified as a successful case where the interventions of the state, the community and the designers have successfully achieved the expected outcome.
Overlook in the Quilotoa Lake – Shalalá
Location: Ecuador, Cotopaxi, Zumbahua, Quilotoa, Shalalá
Architects: Jorge Andrade Benítez, Javier Mera Luna, Daniel Moreno Flores.
Collaborators: Manuel Galárraga, María Paz Villagomez, Diana Callejas, Christian Rea, Natalia Dueñas, Juan Carlos Cisneros
Sponsor: Ministry of Tourism of Ecuador (Ministry of Tourism Coordinators: Javier Imaicela, Fernando Nieto)
Owners of the Project: Shalalá Community
Structural Engineer: Guillermo Gómez
Signaling design: Francisco Suárez
Topography: Guatama Martínez
Soil bearing capacity study: Zitroci – Carlos Ortiz
Budget study: Andrés Llanos