Morphing with Philia:
Redefending Boundaries in Guatemala City

Morph: to gradually change, or change someone or something, from one thing to another.1

Fear: an unpleasant emotion or thought you have when you are frightened or worried by something dangerous, painful, or harmful that is happening or might happen.2

Philia: “—is all about solidarity: friendship and communion.”3

Fear inevitably affects the morphing of the city and architecture, specifically urban fear of an unsafety or violent environment. This Design Thesis aims to understand how fear has morphed Guatemala City and propose an alternative approach based on philia. The fear crisis that Guatemala City lives in is not unique yet it is singular. Large cities around the globe share generic metropolitan conditions of urban agglomeration. This thesis explores architecture’s lucid response to fear towards providing a more meaningful urban living in philia.

The research begins with an in-depth analysis of fear— how fear has historically inhabited Guatemala City and how it manifests in today’s city, to then address perceptions and manifestations (materializations) of fear in Guatemala City’s built environment such as fearmongering, and fear of others. Results and conclusions ae expected to inform alternative propositions for societal and architectural boundaries within the city.  

I argue one strong conceptual response to fear is philia; in the built environment philia might redefine the physical (thus societal) boundaries that fear has created enhancing exchanges and co-existence between people within the built environment. This thesis celebrates the possibilities of an architecture of philia traduced in the interaction of public, communal and dwelling (residential) environments.

The architectural intervention takes the form of a large-scale mixed-used project in the city which involves living, working and a communal gathering architectural spaces in one ‘media manzana’ (triangular urban block) in zona 4, Guatemala City. The chosen site has a history and reveals traces of the presence of fear, and latently expresses as well a desire to overcome it. The proposal is for a mixed-use architectural complex with an urban design emphasis, not so much in in scale or dimension, but in its qualitative spatial intentionality towards healing the urban public realm with architectural perceptions and experiences of philia.  



1 “Morph: Meaning in the Cambridge English Dictionary.” Cambridge Dictionary.

2 “Fear: Meaning in the Cambridge English Dictionary.” Cambridge Dictionary.

3 Perez-Gomez, Alberto. Built Upon Love: Architectural Longing after Ethics and Aesthetics. 118. PDF