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RIBA Students Competition - Empty Cities and Silent Spaces

We are delighted to announce the winner of the RIBA Students Competition "Empty Cities and Silent Spaces"

19 August 2020

We are delighted to announce that the winner of the RIBA Students Competition “Empty Cities and Silent Spaces is Andrés Matías Herrera Rubiano, from Universidad Piloto de Colombia, with his entry titled “Public Space In Pandemic And Its Community Dynamics”.

The proposal looks at the extent to which architecture can work as an extension of the public realm. In doing so, it aims to create a sensitive approach towards the notion of hospitality as an integral order of community actions. The open spaces of the house should be understood as an extension that does not limit the public space. The terraces, patios and orchards will be inhabited in community. The fear of the current situation cannot become an urban principle, but a possibility of new forms of socialisation in communities.

View the entry.

An interview with the winner

In this video, Andrés answers questions from the Jury Panel and explains the reasons behind the choices made in his project. The video was conducted in Spanish, and an English translation will be available soon. 

Feedback from the Evaluation Panel

German Nieva:

"The entries for the RIBA student competition Empty Cities and Silent Spaces showed very imaginative yet possible ways to deal with the issues highlighted by the pandemic in South America. There was a high level of understanding and commitment to deal with long term socio-economic impact and the need for more resilient neighbourhoods. It is refreshing to see students aware and committed to investigating ways to develop more sustainable and accessible public spaces as platforms to create a sense of community; essential to face future pandemics.

"The winning entry 'Public space in pandemics and its community dynamics' demonstrates a deep understanding of the issues highlighted by the pandemic that goes beyond the immediate response to the social distancing and isolation recommendations. This entry recognises the need for better housing provisions to promote well-being and mental health though, more importantly, it prioritises the need to respond to the socio-economic impact the pandemic is having in the more deprived areas of South American cities.

"The proposal identifies the need for long term changes to the way we currently live in cities to better connect with our local communities making them more resilient in the case of a new pandemic. The small scale interventions on the roofs, streets and parks create a new public space and social and economic network. These provide the opportunity for new recreational spaces, food production, access to sunlight and increased public realm as an extension of individual homes. This can help the inhabitants of the María Paz neighbourhood develop a positive sense of identity creating a self-sustainable hub in Bogota. It is a proposal that looks at how to futureproof our cities by reimagining the streets and redefining the public space."

Yves Besancon:

"First of all, I would like to congratulate RIBA for organising this competition around the conditions of life during pandemics in the cities of tomorrow.

"Regarding the entries we assessed during the panel assessment, there was no doubt a great effort of participation from students of Colombian Schools of Architecture, I imagine, in not easy conditions and liaising online with their professors. It is also remarkable that the Colombian Schools of Architecture participating in the competition are validated by RIBA.

"The winning entry, 'Public Space In Pandemic And Its Community Dynamics' represents a good answer to the challenge reflected in the understanding of the issue. The project is grounded in reality and not in science fiction. The proposal raises a common neighbourhood in Bogotá, María Paz, notoriously beaten by the pandemics. The evaluation criteria the jury had to evaluate the project against were reflected in the winning entry, demonstrating a depth of understanding of the problem, sending an imaginative answer to the challenge with a good drawing, transforming a public space to a social reunion and social gathering space. It proposes to extend the public space by taking parts of the street, using roof areas and creating terraces, patios and orchards. The solution is a revival of the neighbourhood life in small but numerous places in the city, like what was done one hundred years ago in less crowded cities.

"I am very proud of taking part in the evaluation panel and of reviewing the entries. All of them were very interesting and well presented."

“Public Space In Pandemic And Its Community Dynamics” by Andrés Matías Herrera Rubiano

About the Competition


In these extraordinary and challenging times, governments across the world have taken extreme confinement measures to respond to the coronavirus (COVID‐19) pandemic. These measures raise important challenges and questions about spatial and urban configurations, questions to which architects are uniquely placed to respond.


Is it possible to rethink the functions of the street and public space from the dichotomy between the need for collective life and physical distance?

We invited students to imagine:

  • what forms will public spaces take when confronted with social distancing that will possibly be installed in society from this juncture?
  • what new functions can the street assume in times of confinement? What happens to large empty public spaces? What would new forms of socialisation will there be?

Competition entrants were asked to share their thoughts with us, via a short narrative (250 words), and a submission of one design/sketch in response to the brief.

The process

The competition launched on 1 June 2020 and followed a two‐phase ideas competition format. In the first phase, Schools of Architecture in Colombia were asked to hold an internal assessment and select (using their own method of selection) a maximum of five entries to be submitted to the RIBA to go forward to the final competition assessment.

The entries submitted were assessed by an evaluation panel made of three architects, on 13 and 14 August 2020.

The panel assessment

German Nieva – Architect. Associate Architect at the award-winning London based Delvendahl Martin Architects. Since 2018 has been working in partnership with Estudio Flume on socio‐economic projects for traditional rural communities in Brazil. In 2019 participated in the XII International Architecture Biennale of Sao Paulo with the installation “How much does it cost to preserve the Amazon rainforest?” and is a finalist in the 2020 - 7th Edition of the Tomie Ohtake AkzoNobel Architecture Awards.

Cristian Undurraga – Architect. Founder with Ana Luisa Deves of the architecture studio Undurraga Deves Arquitectos, in Chile. Member of the board of directors of the Museum of Visual Arts in Santiago, Chile. He is also a member of the board of directors of the AOA (Architecture Offices Association), where he presides over the Competition Committee.

Yves Besançon – Architect. Principal partner of Alemparte Barreda Wedeles Besançon Arquitectos y Asociados (ABWB), Chile, since 1977. Since 2002 he has been a professor at the School of Architecture of the Faculty of Architecture and Urbanism of the Universidad de Chile. Currently Director of the AOA (Architecture Offices Association) Competition Committee. In 2018, he received the AOA Grand Medal, the highest distinction awarded by the Association of Architectural Offices for his Architectural work, union work and academic university work.

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