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Schools and markets, 1964-1996

Mexico | Building schools (CAPFCE) | Los Triquis | Indian markets | A market design for Otavalo | A school for Peguche | The Lost Paradise | The Oaxaca Valley | A market plan for Tlacolula |

A market design for Otavalo

In September 1970 T presented the design for the market of Otavalo, Ecuador, with Prof. Carel Weeber, Prof. Tjeerd Dijkstra and Prof. Dirk Dicke as her tutors. At the exhibition ‘Ninety Parasols’ she shows life-size black and white photographs of Indian market traders. There were scale models of the surrounding area, of the market, scale 1:100, and a detail, scale 1:10. Eighty coloured slides of Indian architecture in its surroundings were shown in a continuous series.

Prof. C. van Eesteren was one of the first people to enter the exhibition room. He pulled T by the sleeve and told her he expected to be given an explanation of the slides by T herself. He was visibly impressed and finally seemed to open up to the ‘foreign ideas’ of this student of architecture. On graduation day itself Aldo van Eyck fascinated the audience of architecture students with a lecture on how we should value the marvels of other cultures. He called T a fieldworker. Delft had become part of the Andes for this moment.

The next move was a journey to The Hague to visit the Technical Aid Service (DTH). T put her project to Mr Warmenhoven, head of the service, and told him that realizing the design will cost only 100,000 guilders. He had a ready ear for her ideas and promised to provide the money needed. It was a lot more difficult to persuade the Ecuadorian authorities, but thanks to the intelligent ‘Presidente’ (mayor) of Otavalo, Vicente Larrea, approval was eventually obtained.

T left for Ecuador to start building the market. Rikkert Wijk, a twenty-three-year-old architecture student from Delft asked to be her assistant. They first engaged twelve Indian unskilled workers, a number which later increases to twenty. Three men, ‘mestizos’ (half whites), felt superior to the others and therefore it appeared necessary to find separate work for them. Cutting to size and putting in shape the metal bars (needed for reinforcing the concrete parasols) would be their job.

From the Netherlands T receives some photographs which show Prof. Dicke, who on a TELEAC course explained how the concrete parasol can be built in a simple manner by unskilled workers. Sitting on the seating block of a full-sized cardboard model he told viewers everything he knew about Otavalo and the building of the market facilities. The TELEAC course proved to be a success.

Scale model of a design for the Indian market of Otavalo. It is an open-air market, partly covered by ninety parasols of reinforced concrete and fourteen cypresses. The square measures 80 by 80 meters. The butterfly-like arrangement of the parasols divides the square into smaller squares, where different articles are sold: blankets and ponchos, rope and baskets, hats and ceramics and also raw sheep’s wool. The square provides a view of the nearby green volcano, the Imbabura. On clear days the snow-covered peak of the Cotacachi volcano can be seen.


Detail of the design for the Indian market of Otavalo. It is a scale model of a group of four parasols with an Indian woman on a scale of 1:10. Guadua poles (a thick kind of bamboo) are tied between the parasols on knob-like protuberances, which have been poured together with the concrete columns. On these poles blankets and ponchos can be hung. The parasol base is a seating block, surrounded by low benches, on which merchandise can be piled.

The four parasols are grouped round a small lawn, which can be used as an inner garden by the Indian market traders and their children.


On the building site in Otavalo T began by raising a kerb, marking off the square and thus creating a pedestrian area. Then the pattern of the ninety parasols was measured out. After a while the bases of the parasols appeared one by one. The square looks smaller and more intimate with these new elements. Meanwhile the Saturday market continued to be held. The Indians, who came in on foot from faraway villages, were quite happy to see all the convenient seating blocks appear and started using them as the most natural thing in the world.

At the same time, anthropologists in Quito had started to protest against the fact that a foreign, female architect should be allowed to install market facilities in Otavalo and they tried to obstruct the work. T organized a meeting with the Indian market traders and asked them to give their opinion. The evening was spent in great merriment, as all the answers in the Quechua language had to be translated. They made it clear that they were very pleased with the new market installations. The mayor also expressed his satisfaction. Parasol by parasol the market floor was conquered for the sake of the Indians, a big stride towards a growing sense of self-esteem.

Right at this time tourism was beginning to develop. In 1973 the number of visitors to Ecuador almost doubled from 61,000 to 118,000. In 1995 this number had grown into nearly four times as many: 442,264 visitors. Mostly these tourists visited the market of Otavalo, which the newly built Pan-American Highway had made easily accessible. Tourist agencies were organizing excursions from Quito, so the market of Otavalo benefited from this new development.

There was some doubt at first as to whether the newly equipped market place would have a favourable effect on the financial situation of the Indian market traders. Now after thirty years this effect is indubitably obvious. Jeroen Windmeyer, an anthropologist who graduated from Leiden University, has carried out research into the success of the Otavaleños. It turns out that all those factors, which T deemed favourable at the time, are mentioned in his research results. T’s observation to Aldo van Eyck, that only a little effort would be needed to pull the Indians out of the vicious circle of poverty, has come true in Otavalo.

The town of Ambato used to be Ecuador’s favourite market town in 1969. In this small town, situated in a natural beauty spot and with a milder climate than Otavalo, there were interesting market activities going on in various squares. It is a pity, however, that a large indoor market was built, for this meant the disappearance of the picturesque open-air markets. There are only permanent market stalls in a market-hall and the Indian does not usually have enough money to rent one, nor does he have sufficient goods to sell. This means that a distributive trade is coming into being with mainly mestizos as middlemen.


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