Review of the book City of Knowledge, a legacy in construction
By: Patricia Pizzurno, Ph.D. in History and Professor at the University of Panama
Last year, while I was in Puerto Rico participating in the annual session of the Puerto Rican Historians Association, a group of colleagues, sincerely concerned about the future of the Vieques Base, asked me how Panama managed to turn a U.S. military base into a City of Knowledge. What impressed me the most was the admiration they felt towards this act of cultural alchemy. Therefore, this last book by Eduardo Tejeira, published in October 2010, pleases me because it answers many questions about the place and history.
The book is made up of four chapters, deeply documented, harmonically and intelligently structured and profusely illustrated, in which Tejeira explores the different use that the land experimented since the “savannas, wetlands and hills” of the 16th century.
Chapter I: ““Entre el Camino de Cruces y el río Grande”, describes the transformation of the landscape and the use of the land, while elaborating on the diverse social, military, political and cultural scenery that come together in the story of the settlement. It emphasizes the founding of Fort Clayton in 1919, established by an executive order signed by American President Woodrow Wilson, as an infantry base that would reach its peak during the Second World War, only to enter its decline when the war was over. The development of aviation in the 40’s was decisive for enormous traditional military complexes, sustained by military presence, yet they reached a crisis point during the years of the cold war, such as the one that Fort Clayton underwent. Half a century later, in 1999, the City of Knowledge Foundation received 120 hectares of the old Clayton base that, nowadays, serves as a campus for academic institutions, private businesses, research centers and international organisms amongst a natural well kept scenery.
In Chapter II: “Evolución arquitectónica y urbanística de la antigua Zona del Canal”, the author explores the U.S. enclave in order to conclude that the military and civil universes maintained weak relations. The military universe was governed by the Department of War (Department of Defense since 1947), while the Panama Canal Company and the Zone government ruled over the civil cosmos. This chapter reveals the evolution of architectonic zonian models, naturally more flexible than the military ones. It also speaks about the sensible subject of discrimination and racial segregation imposed by the politics of Jim Crow.
The third chapter: “La arquitectura y los paisajes de la Ciudad del Saber”, is an x-ray of the landscape, as well as the evolution and symbology of the architecture samples handed down to the Foundation. In it, Tejeira puts special emphasis in the older buildings, the official residences of the 30’s, the Central Quadrangle, the New Post buildings, the singular buildings such as the old movie theater which is now the Ateneo or the second club of soldiers which is now the Convention Center. He also reveals a certain architectonic permeability between the Canal Zone and the city of Panama.
Finally, the last and fourth chapter: “La cuestión patrimonial ¿qué conservar? y ¿cómo transformar?” gets really close to establishing the Zone memoirs from a national and zonian perspective, as well as the challenges that come with the reconversion of a military base into a civil space, the intervention of historical buildings and the construction of new ones, all which has made the City of Knowledge “a true place, full of history and identity”, but above all, filled with future.
This pioneer Panamanian narrative proposes the discovery of the origins, and the present, of one of the most emblematic postcolonial constructions in Panama, where the landscape and the wisely integrated structures live in harmony. Once again, Eduardo Tejeira Davis successfully opens new territories for the exploration of the architectonic patrimony and proposes an insightful look.
You can purchase the book at: City of Knowledge Foundation, Allegro Galería, Librería Argosy, Smithsonian Institute, Hombre de la Mancha, Servicio de Lewis, the Canal Museum, Centro de Visitantes de Panamá Viejo and Rainforest Discovery Center (Avifauna).