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The Informal-formal Bridge
San Martín de los Andes, Neuquén, Argentina
image: OKABE Lab | CC-BY_black.png some rights reserved
San Martín de los Andes, Neuquén, Argentina
construction preparation
9 August 2021
It consists of two elevators and a pedestrian bridge to improve the vertical accessibility of Barrio Cantera’s residents and to serve as a new trekking climbing route for ecotourists.

Barrio Cantera is an informal settlement on a vulnerable steep slope but close to the center of the eco-touristic city of San Martin de los Andes. The Informal-Formal Bridge was designed to stimulate social inclusion and to generate small-scale touristic business.
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San Martin de los Andes (SMA, Argentina) economy depends excessively on tourism, and its socio-economic inequality is relevant. Several informal settlements have been formed on the vulnerable steep slopes. 


Barrio Cantera is the largest one, and its history remotes to the migration from Chile in the 1970s, escaping from Pinochet’s coup d’état. They have lived without land titling. As not being recognized as urbanized land by the municipality, inadequate urban infrastructure has been implemented. Very close to SMA city center, Barrio Cantera has attracted more and more people, resulting in higher density and a higher risk of natural disaster. 

On the other hand, SMA is a beautiful eco-touristic city by the shore of Lake Lacar and surrounded by Lanin National Park. Visitors enjoy skiing in the winter times. It is said that “while the rich enjoy the snow, the poor suffer the snow.” The people of Barrio Cantera have the fear of sliding accidents on the iced slopes in daily access. They are worried about being evacuated in case of emergencies.

Among 782 residents, one-third is from the indigenous group Mapuche, and a considerable part is immigrants from neighboring countries. They have a low level of education and, therefore, limited access to formal jobs. Domestic violence proliferates. 

The community has got tired in claiming better living conditions since more than 40 years ago. The negative cycle of social exclusion should be addressed urgently.
The project of the Informal-formal Bridge contributes to integrating the informal settlement of Barrio Cantera into the city of SMA from the informal initiative.

It is a climbing route of 70 meters high crossing vertically through Barrio Cantera. Two elevators (EV1 lower big and EV2 upper small) and a pedestrian bridge form the route. It will improve the daily accessibility for Barrio Cantera residents and will be used for evacuation in case of emergency. On the other hand, it is integrated into the trekking circuit that ecotourists can enjoy Lanin National Park from SMA downtown.

Thus, the Informal-formal Bridge will be a public space where people of the local community and ecotourists will share. By opening Barrio Cantera to the tourists, small new business opportunities such as food stalls, guest houses, or art craft shops for the community are expected. Ten small businesses are expected by 2030.

The main structure of the bridge-elevator will be made of wood. It is an eco-conscious solution without altering the original soil and the underground water network.  The timber members are connected with conventional joints.  Residents of informal settlements such as Barrio Cantera used to have experience in the construction sector. The designed structure is open to creative ideas of construction proposed by the local people. Its construction and maintenance process is planned as a capacity building of the local participants. The participatory building of the symbolic Informal-formal Bridge will consolidate their self-reliance and the sense of belonging to Barrio Cantera. 
Core team
Since 2017, the following core team has been working in mutual collaboration towards a "Barrio Cantera: Inclusive and Open”: 

a) Regional Government: officials and external professionals.
The Neuquén Housing and Urban Development Institute (IPVU-Neuquén)

b) Local Government: officials and external professionals
The Municipality of San Martin de los Andes

c) Academic institutions: Professors, researchers and students 
The National University of Comahue (UNCo), Faculty of Environmental Sciences and Health

Comahue University Foundation for Regional Development (FUNYDER)

Okabe Lab from the University of Tokyo, Graduate School of Frontier Sciences

d) Residents and Friends of Barrio Cantera

Okabe Lab from The University of Tokyo, is composed of a multidisciplinary team of professionals and researchers with vast experience in action research in Japan and Asian cities to convert inhabitants into change agents. This approach came up due to new large-scale natural disasters in Japan and stimulated autonomous risk management to reduce them.
Core Team network, project timeline and community practices

image: OKABE Lab | CC-BY_black.png some rights reserved
Image gallery
Barrio Cantera Intro and Project Context

image: OKABE Lab | CC-BY_black.png some rights reserved
Informal-formal Bridge General Views

image: OKABE Lab | CC-BY_black.png some rights reserved
EV Pattern Study and Details

image: OKABE Lab | CC-BY_black.png some rights reserved
View of the Informal-formal Bridge from San Martin de los Andes city that improves the vertical access to Barrio Cantera

image: OKABE Lab | CC-BY_black.png some rights reserved
An inclusive lifestyle and surroundings that opens Barrio Cantera to welcome local residents and ecotourists

image: OKABE Lab | CC-BY_black.png some rights reserved
Interior of the pedestrian bridge that will connect the city with Barrio Cantera offering spectacular scenery from the natural surroundings

image: OKABE Lab | CC-BY_black.png some rights reserved
Local community and ecotourists sharing the Informal-formal Bridge as a public space

image: OKABE Lab | CC-BY_black.png some rights reserved
Technical drawings
EV1 Floor Plan (1 of 4)

image: OKABE Lab | CC-BY_black.png some rights reserved
EV1 Section (2 of 4)

image: OKABE Lab | CC-BY_black.png some rights reserved
EV2 Floor Plan (3 of 4)

image: OKABE Lab | CC-BY_black.png some rights reserved
EV2 Sections (4 of 4)

image: OKABE Lab | CC-BY_black.png some rights reserved
Help bring our project to life!

There are no updates yet.

Help bring our project to life!
Where are we now
The project core team has been working since 2017. We have had periodical meetings with the local community.  First, we have built with people of Barrio Cantera “piling walls” and drainage channels to mitigate land erosion. Second, OkabeLab has elaborated the Master Plan for Integral Development that comprises Public Space and Access Improvement 1, 2 (PSI-1; PSI-2) and Eco-friendly House. 

This project corresponds to PSI-2 and is the next step of our project. We discussed with the community and designed a wooden elevator structure. 

The community of Barrio Cantera and the Provincial Institute of Housing and Urbanism of Neuquen (IPVU) have already approved the pre-design of by OkabeLab. 
An indication of our team’s capacity:
10% funding already raised
70% expertise already found
50% materials / equipment already found
30% builders already found
Finance: € 45,000
When it will be completed, it will be well seen from the city center and will be an icon of social inclusion by bridging formal part of the city and the informal settlements that are formed in slope areas, beyond improving accessibility for local people.

The local professional team are working on the executive project. We keep working with the community in small participative intervention such as pilling walls. In order to scale up our activities to the informal-formal bridge, a funding for the elevator equipment is indispensable.
  • elevator equipment
  • construction instructor fee
Help bring our project to life!
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