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Centro Etnoeducativo Walirumana


Uribia, La Guajira, Colombia



Juan Salamanca Balen (Architect)


Darío Angulo (Earth construction consultant), Juan Carlos Morales (Constructor), Walirumana Communit


Fundación Proyecto Guajira


Juan Salamanca Balen


The flexibility of the space is designed so that the center can operate at different times with a varied audience. The revolving doors at the ends and in the center of the building allow the interior space to be adapted to a particular use. By keeping all the modules closed, a classroom for 50 students and a library with capacity for 12 is generated. When the central modules are fully opened, this main space is linked to the kitchen and the drinking fountain working as dining room. When fully closed, the entrepreneurship center provides the shade where locals can go to practice their craft in an open space.
Many of the elements present in the Wayuu collective memory are materialize in the building. As in the local architecture, the school uses the earth as the main component, but materialized in a different way, blocks of compressed earth. This allows lattices to be generated in the walls to ventilate the interior space and design a typical Wayuu pattern. The folding ceiling refers to the mountains that rise in the middle of the desert and are of great importance not only for being references in the landscape, but also for their connotation in Wayuu cosmology. Finally, the texture generated by the guadua on the walls of the main hall is a reinterpretation of the pattern visible in local constructions when the passage of time reveals the internal skeleton of the bahareque.


Walirumana Ethno-Educational and Entrepreneurship Center is located 20 kilometers north of Uribia, established on the side of the road and railroad that leads to Puerto Colombia, in the department of La Guajira. This region is one of the richest in the country in terms of natural resources: it has coal mines; gas and oil platforms, solar energy and wind farms. Since the mining and energy industry began its activity, an important socio-environmental transformation has been generated, in most cases not favorable.
The few populated centers faced uncontrolled growth and a cultural mix that has put the identity of the locals at risk. Additionally, an important environmental damage has been caused specially by the mining industry, generating serious problems such as water scarcity in several communities.
The desert that extends throughout this region to Venezuelan territory is a determining factor that has also impeded the normal development of this native culture. The lack of state presence has also allowed this land to be used as smuggling and drug trafficking routes, further increasing the social crisis. The difficulty to generate an economy of production and consumption, the lack of infrastructure to communicate and provide basic services, added to other factors, have generated very difficult living conditions.
Amid this panorama, there is a humanitarian crisis where different actors such as particulars, NGOs, and state entities make efforts to reduce the social gap.


The project has impacted in the community and its context in different levels. Since its conception, it has been designed to create a landmark in the landscape and locate a population that had been ignored for a long time on the map. Being able to provide a dignified and comfortable space amid strong climatic conditions to its inhabitants, is a catalyst especially in young people who observe the advances that socioeconomic development brings while several of these communities continue without access to basic services.
It has also been a space to reflect on the role of the architect in a context of convergence between an artisanal conception and a world of constant changes and innovations. Respect for memory and the appropriate process before, during and after the project will undoubtedly help to the correct appropriation by the community.
It is a process that in these almost 4 years after the inauguration and other 3 before the construction does show palpable changes in the community. However, it is only the beginning of a process that will last generations so that these communities can truly demonstrate profound change.

The professional practice of architect Juan Salamanca Balen has always been aimed at positively impacting the territory and its inhabitants. Since 2019 he began working independently at Salba Studio where he had the opportunity to develop different projects of this nature. He firmly believes that the construction process is a space for experimentation and learning, managing to implement volunteering and cultural exchange models in some of his projects. Since 2023, Salba evolved into Salba & Asociados Taller de Arquitectura, where with its new associates has continue to develop projects focused on sustainability.

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