12 facets of master planning in South America

Speaking the universal language of design in four new community plans in Colombia

Designing new developments for a new client in South America had its challenges.

When entering an emerging market with language barriers and a limited knowledge of local culture, our reliance on the collaborative design process proved as important as ever. Following sound master planning practices resulted in a successful design across a cultural divide. We have used this process to create diverse master plans around the globe from Shenzhen, China to Panama.In Colombia, where VOA is currently engaged in four master-planning projects (North Point, Cali, Cajica and Chia), we put our faith in the same interactive design process.

InFuturas is an established development, construction and architectural company based in Bogotá. Its quest for an experienced international design firm to provide master planning input for unique destinations led it to VOA. The diversity of our master planning and architectural portfolio impressed the firm as did our inclusive design process.

In Colombia, we spent two weeks collaborating non-stop in interactive charrettes shaping the ideas for InFuturas’s new developments there. An average day would include writing out the fundamentals of the project, pinning up inspiration images on the wall, drawing ideas freehand and finally, producing a SketchUp model to present back to the group.

North Point in Bogotá Colombia

North Point, Bogotá, Colombia

Today, we’re talking about the 12 facets of master planning that kept us on track as we designed new developments for InFuturas in Colombia.

1. Conversation: 
Initiating a conversation about the client’s identity and vision is critical when master planning for new clients in a foreign land.
Initiating a dialogue is a must for discovering the client’s company and culture as well as its goals regarding the project. This conversation creates a foundation for the design team to develop appropriate concepts that address relevant issues. In Colombia, we learned a lot about the climate and way of life through this dialogue. The temperate climate encourages living outside, so we created designs with a strong connection to the environment and nature featuring communal gathering and activity space as well as green spaces with views to the surrounding mountains.

2. Market:  An awareness of economic trends and emerging demographics is paramount.
In Colombia, an awakening middle class has given rise to a housing demand outside of the metropolis. This demographic doesn’t want to live in dense city centers anymore, it wants improved quality of life, fresh air, daylight and green space.

3. Identity: Know as much about the client, its history of development success, depth of experience in development, design and construction, and size and diversity as possible.
InFuturas has long local history. A multi-generational family business, it began as a small construction company and grew to become an established developer, construction and architectural company. It’s successful because it develops valued places in the culture. Based in Bogotá, it creates some of the most popular, office, shopping and residential developments in Colombia and builds all over Latin America.

4. Culture: Immerse yourself in the local and regional culture.
Colombian culture, its cuisine, music, folklore and language is a mix of influences derived from both the Spanish conquest and indigenous tribes. 90% of the population identifies as Catholic. Family remains the central societal institution, but a North American cultural influence continues to creep in. Today, Colombians seek places with a big idea behind them. They’re looking for a lifestyle that provides a sense of something bigger that reflects the unique aspects of their culture in new ways.

Cali in Colombia

Cali, Colombia

5. Climate: Understand the local climate.
The InFuturas Colombian developments are located 2,625 meters above sea level on the plains between mountain ranges with access to numerous rivers. There’s little seasonal variation in the temperate environment. This allows for a rich outdoor lifestyle.

The climate and topography drove the design concepts. We designed for the landscape, the sun path, the views and the best way to experience the outdoors. Artificial heating and cooling weren’t required, so maximizing shading and air flow were concerns.

Between the climate and the Colombian love for living outdoors, incorporating our next element was a no-brainer.

6. Sustainability:
Address sustainability early in the process as a way to organize and shape the architecture.
In Colombia, our vision of sustainability harmonized with the mild climate and culture of outdoor living. Having the entire team understand the sustainable opportunities from the start helped us form smart, beautiful designs for our Colombian projects that had deeper meaning and reasoning behind them.

The Colombian clients embraced this mentality, too, as it confirmed their love of place and lifestyle. Design concepts which maximized this connection to nature were the ones that resonated with them. InFuturas embraced the idea of developments in harmony with the landscape, and supported our biophilic and organic designs.

Our design process started with a climatic analysis. We used digital tools to study things like daylighting and prevailing winds and this guided initial concepts for creating healthy master plan.

7. History:
Try to understand the community, where it came from and where it’s going.
Towns have unique histories and aspirations for the future. As they grow, their attitude towards change is forged in public discussion between community leaders and residents. As architects we work to find a respectful balance between old and new.

We learned how small towns sprout up in Colombia. This allowed us to be respectful of the urban fabric and patterns of daily life. Often new developments are located on the edge of town creating a connection between the growing town and the countryside. These smaller centers for community gathering must be carefully conceived so they don’t detract from or compete with the original town centers. They become small satellites of urban life connected to the main center of town.

8. Site: Describe the site in detail.
Each site has its own unique characteristics; shape, significant geography such as surrounding rivers and mountains. Some have an urban architectural character or urban fabric, while some are on the edge of town where the urban fabric gives way to rural green space.

In Colombia, we designed near centuries-old cities founded by Indians and settlers which have grown slowly. The projects tended to be located on the edge of the urban developments and connected to the urban fabric via roadways and long ring roads.


Cajica, Colombia

9. Sense of place: We look at sense of place.
How is the project found by visitors? How is it identified as one approaches the site? What statement does it make about itself? Is it a “Wow” kind of place or a subtle humble “good soldier” in the urban fabric? We establish the sense of place during our discussions of project objectives.

For the InFuturas office development, North Point, the client wanted to create a destination on the edge of the city; make it a hot new place. We created towers that resemble trees growing on the mountain side and designed a multipurpose park to cover the structured parking.

In Chia we created a smaller city center as a satellite to the historic city core. There, small towers encircle a large circular public space connecting the city to a public park along the Bogotá River and linking eight cities together with green space.

In Cajica a linear park serves as a main connector linking two main roads that bypass town. Within Cajica, the program consists of a series of experiences unfold organically.

In each site, the topography guides the journey within and maximizes the experience of being there. 

10. Access: Access to the site is critical.
Once the site is identified we must figure out how people get in, whether they’re arriving by bike, car or emergency vehicle and how they will circulate within. Will there be parking? Will there be public transportation? In 2014, the automobile still drives a lot of design decisions, and this was as true in Colombia as it is in Chicago. However, once one has arrived in these communities, the world slows down and life is enjoyed on foot. Living, working or playing in these places becomes about people gathering and interacting.

11. Connection:We examine how the site is connected to the urban fabric of existing roads and building forms.
We look at circulation at a city scale as well as adjacent building massing and architecture. This “connection” becomes a significant part of the conceptual design response as it makes a statement about the nature of the project.

In Colombia, each of the four sites had a slightly different connection. The North Point and Cali developments form destination points along the perimeter of urban circulation. Cajica becomes a bridge, connecting places and cities in new ways which stimulate growth and facilitative the density. Chia is an example of the development of a new nodes, a point along a major public path.

12. Program scale: Understanding the scale of the program necessary to create a successful development is critical.
Often this becomes an investigation; What can we fit? How much can we fit? And does this seem reasonable in relationship to the surrounding program? What can be leased or sold to make the project economically feasible? Here the market study often informs and changes the design. Often these projects start with a density target for the development featuring program types which might be leased to create a profitable project.

Our Colombia master plans looked at program differently. In collaboration with the developer, we created what felt right for the context then analyzed how it compared to the proposed density to ensure the project’s financially profitability. This led to a qualitative discussion in which the important elements of making the place marketable were agreed to by the developer. Then the density was massaged to create a balance between projected profitability and quality of place.


Chia, Colombia


North Point
Construction Area:
290,820 SM
Team members: Michael Siegel, Ben Buehrle,  Lutz Barndt

Construction Area: 63,264 SM
Team members: Michael Siegel, Rebel Roberts, Kris Yokoo

Construction Area: 1.39 million SM
Team members: Michael Siegel, Kris Yokoo

Construction Area: 160,000 SM
Team members: Michael Siegel, Ben Buehrle, Lutz Barndt, Kris Yokoo