The Negotiated Urban Landscape: Archaeological Sites and the Multilayered City in Lima, Peru

by Rosabella Vita Alvarez-Calderón Silva-Santisteban (MDes '13)

The expansion and modernization of the city of Lima during the 20th century was based on the perception that the surrounding territory was a “tabula rasa”—a blank canvas over which the new city would grow. However, this “empty” territory was in fact a cultural and natural landscape containing buildings and infrastructure built by pre-Hispanic native societies over a period of five thousand years. Many of these sites were cleared without thought to make way for the modern city. Today, archaeological sites that have not already been restored, landscaped and developed into open-air museums are constantly threatened with demolition as landowners seek to, develop and profit from the lands they occupy. In a city that is rapidly growing in size and density, the preservation of ancient sites is constantly pitted against urban development.

Alvarez-Calderon argues that the present shape of Lima and its archaeological landscape was not unplanned, but is the result of actions and decisions consciously and deliberately made by social actors. The shape of Lima was thus negotiated, a result of conflict, compromise and conciliation, with the State acting as a mediator and protector of the city’s archaeological sites while simultaneously acting as a promoter of urbanization. The challenge for conservation and urban planning lies in how to frame and design archaeological sites as flexible, open, and meaningful urban places; as tangible links to the past; and as places where the past and the present coexist, and where all historical periods are perceived as having contributed to the unique shape and character of the modern city.

Alvarez-Calderon’s thesis explores one particular site which has survived as a significant urban disruption and provides strategies for its meaningful incorporation into the modern city.