‘In Search of Identity in Amazonian Human Settlements through Participatory Planning & Design’

My life has always been in awe of academic scholars! I have utmost respect for individuals, who achieve academic excellence with their sheer commitment to not only better themselves, but also lives of others with their academic quest. I suggest every individual in the world to meet such noble souls to get enlightened by their sheer genius and expertise. Dr. Daniela Hidalgo Molina’s humility is infectious in nature and her knowledge is extraordinaire. Her passion about research and teaching is truly unparallel. Dr. Molina is an Urban Planner, Architect, a Jewelry Designer and owns her niche brand ‘Amatista by Daniela’.

Dr. Daniela Hidalgo Molina has led significant research projects, like “Improvement of public space through community participation in neighborhoods of the City of Guayaquil” at the UEES – University Espíritu Santo-Ecuador, where she also holds the position of Academic Director of the Faculty of Architecture and Design. With a Doctorate in Urban and Rural Planning and a Master’s in Architecture from Tsinghua University, along with an Architectural degree from Universidad Católica Santiago de Guayaquil and Associated degree in Interior Design at Montgomery College-Maryland, Dr. Daniela Hidalogo Molina is currently serves as an Advisor in City Space Architecture.


Daniela Hidalgo Molina’s professional journey has seen her work as a designer at MGE Architects in Miami, 6 months’ internship at Kengo Kuma’s Beijing office and as researcher in different projects during her PhD’s studies at Tsinghua University,  where she traveled to Taiwan at Building and Planning Research Foundation NTU and Politecnico de Torino. Interestingly, Dr. Daniela Hidalgo Molina’s research initiatives have focused on community development, incorporating participatory processes in the Amazon, Santo Domingo de los Tsáchilas, and various communities throughout Ecuador. She has made significant contributions to the field through her publications in indexed magazines and books, primarily focusing on community participation projects in public spaces.

It has been a delightful meeting and interacting with Ecuadorian urban planner-architect Dr. Daniela Hidalgo Molina. It has enriched my knowledge about the Amazonian community Pañacocha.

Land use of the Monte Sinahi Sector – Research Center UEES, 2021

What was your childhood’s ambition? Did you always wanted to be an architect?

At first, I did not exactly know what I wanted to study, but I always had a strong interest in art and design. Additionally, I greatly enjoyed exploring new places and learning about different cultures. Due to my father’s job, I had the opportunity to live in various locations, from small towns to large metropolises, and those constant changes fascinated me. Each new place meant new experiences and the possibility of meeting interesting people.

You have an impressive repertoire with a Doctorate in Urban and Rural Planning and a Master’s in Architecture from Tsinghua University, Beijing; an Architecture degree from Universidad Católica Santiago de Guayaquil, Ecuador; and an associate degree in Interior Design from Montgomery College, Maryland. Briefly elucidate your academic quest

From the beginning, my love for art led me to pursue a career as an Interior Designer, studying at Montgomery College in Maryland. During my studies, I had the opportunity to work at a flooring and kitchen design studio, which was my first job. However, it was after graduation that I discovered my true passion for architecture when I was hired by the award-winning hospital architecture firm, MGE Architects in Miami.

Aerial View of the Informal Settlement of Monte Sinahi

I decided to return to my homeland Ecuador, as I deeply love my country, to study architecture at the Universidad Católica Santiago de Guayaquil. During my time there, I had the privilege of learning from excellent professors, many of whom I still maintain contact with. After that, I made the decision to pursue my Master’s and Doctorate studies in China at Tsinghua University, a place that had always sparked great curiosity in me. The fact that I received a full scholarship for my studies was a great incentive to move forward.

During my time in Asia, I had the wonderful opportunity to work at the office of one of the most renowned architects – Kengo Kuma. Additionally, during my Doctoral thesis, I conducted research exchanges at the Planning Research Foundation in Taiwan and the Polytechnic University of Turin in Italy. Each experience has been vital to my growth and has allowed me to continue developing as a professional, seeking new knowledge and opportunities to make a significant contribution in the field of architecture and urban planning.

Diseño Participativo Book Cover

Elucidate briefly your Doctoral thesis ‘In Search of Identity in Amazonian Human Settlements through Participatory Planning & Design’.

My doctoral thesis focused on seeking strategies to improve the physical environment and promote cultural continuity in the Amazonian communities of Ecuador, as one of the issues faced by these communities is the loss of identity. To achieve this, a study of various national and international cases was conducted along with an applied case, which involved conducting ancestral workshops to learn construction techniques and explore the relationship between people and their environment in the community of Pañacocha.

The main objective was to identify the most important elements of these communities’ culture and their relationship with the physical environment. I firmly believe that by understanding and appreciating the relationship between culture and the physical environment, we can contribute to the protection of these unique ecosystems and the well-being of indigenous communities in the Amazon.

Aerial View of the Limit Area of the Informal Settlement of Monte Sinahi

Please elaborate on the effective strategies you proposed to improve the quality of life of Amazonian human settlements in Ecuador, in terms of economy, society and environment, reviving culture as an opportunity to achieve sustainability; exploring theories and practices with methods from different parts of the world.

One of the strategies is to promote ancestral workshops. Anthropologists refer to this as Indigenous Traditional Knowledge. It involves the rescue of indigenous ancestral knowledge and its application in modern times, involving all members of the community, especially the younger generation. These workshops bring together different members of society: the elderly as mentors for the young, and technicians or researchers as guides for the workshop process. This interaction allows for the integration of knowledge from both community members and external sources to restore cultural continuity.

Aerial View of the Canal and New Informal Settlement of Monte Sinahi

When conducting these workshops, it is important for community members to actively participate in the process, learning construction techniques that their grandparents used to practice. Thereby, ideally motivating them to make changes to their homes using locally available materials, that is more accessible than urban materials. Additionally, if they move to cities, they have ancestral knowledge to offer in the globalized market, thereby adding value to the world of architecture.

Since time immemorial, we have witnessed how the indigenous people in various continents have been either decimated or were slaughtered with human intervention to exploit their territories for various natural resources – Your views.

In the name of development, rapid urbanization of modern civilization around the world has witnessed how we humans have destructed the forests, thereby disturbing the ecosystem of Planet Earth to a point of no return.

Aerial View of Agriculture Areas and Informal Settlement of Monte Sinahi

How do you see things changing with policy makers and urban planners to protect the forests and the indigenous people at large to mitigate the herculean challenge of climate crisis?

Cities are constantly changing, and one of the main challenges is how to improve public transportation to discourage car usage. It is imperative to enhance public spaces to create walkable cities. Additionally, promoting native vegetation within urban areas is essential to achieve more sustainable cities. Urban policies should prioritize pedestrians, native vegetation and resilient public spaces.

Monte Sinahi Sectors

Regarding forest protection and the well-being of its inhabitants, it is crucial for them to reclaim their identity. The lack of identity leads to low self-esteem, which consequently affects the immediate environment. Policies should focus more on ancestral education, forest guardianship and environmental conservation.

What are the major challenges on the real grounds to implement your thesis, so as to not harm the indigenous people’s lives and their acts of preserving forests? Please elucidate.

I consider it crucial to rescue the cultural identity of Amazonian communities, many of which have lost their connection with the forest and their own identity. To achieve this, it is essential to focus on education, promoting culture and ensuring that it is reflected in their physical environment.

Urban Mobility Book Cover

It is important to emphasize that this approach does not seek to return to the past, but rather to keep cultural continuity alive and strengthen the self-esteem of these communities. If the physical environment does not reflect their culture, it is because it has been lost along the way and needs to be rescued.

Through workshops and educational programs, we can help communities regain their lost identity, allowing them to reconnect with their natural surroundings and ancestral traditions. This will not only give them a sense of belonging, but also provide them with tools to face current and future challenges from a cultural perspective.

Aerial View of Quarries and the Informal Settlement of Monte Sinahi

Urban master planning has become more challenging for urban planners and architects all over the world. With climatic catastrophes happening on a daily basis, how do you see cities around the world making mandatory changes to overcome the dire current situation?

Contemporary cities face numerous challenges and it is imperative that they adapt. One crucial aspect is to rescue the identity of each city. Let us take my hometown, Guayaquil, as an example, whose identity is closely linked to the river. In the past, the river was a significant focal point for the community and featured extensive mangrove forests. However, nowadays, the river can no longer be used as a recreational space due to pollution and sedimentation, and a large portion of the mangroves has been cut down, putting its identity at risk.

Community Workshop – Route and Activities to Identify Loved and Hated Places

It is essential to revive the history of rivers and mangroves, if we want our cities to be more resilient to climate effects. This involves taking measures to preserve and restore these ecosystems, promoting environmental education, and fostering greater awareness of the importance of our relationship with nature in the urban environment. By reconnecting with the identity of our city and working towards the preservation of its distinctive elements, we can build a more sustainable, and resilient cities.

Architecture Workshop to know Ancient Construction Techniques

What role do you play as an Advisor on Public Space and Advisory Board Member at City Space Architecture?

I am a member and part of the Advisory Board at City Space Architecture, which is a non-profit organization based in Bologna, Italy, led by Luisa Bravo, provides me with the opportunity to actively participate in various international events and share research experiences related to public spaces. Recently, I had the privilege of attending a workshop and conference in Bologna, where I presented cases of public space improvement carried out with Research project from the Research Center CIN and the Faculty of Architecture of the Universidad Espíritu Santo-Ecuador.

These events allow me to broaden my perspective and learn different strategies to improve public space. Additionally, I participated in the Public Space Academy workshop, an interdisciplinary educational program on public spaces, with the support of the Ove Arup Foundation and UN-Habitat’s Global Public Space Program.

Indigenous Traditional Knowledge Workshop, to Learn Ancient Construction Techniques, Pañacocha

As the Directora Académica de la Facultad de Arquitectura y Diseño at Universidad Espiritu Santo, what role do you perform and what are your main responsibilities?

My role is to work closely with the Dean of the Faculty of Architecture to drive continuous improvement in academic quality. This involves promoting the internationalization of the faculty, strengthening relationships with public and private companies, and fostering participation in research projects and community engagement. We have an exceptional team of professors, who are committed to the ongoing pursuit of excellence.


Which significant aspects of the global platform ‘zerobeyond – the new frontier!’ did you liked the most, and why?

What I like about ‘zerobeyond – the new frontier!’ is that it offers the opportunity to read interviews with architects from all around the world, including landscape architects, interior designers and urban planners. The global platform allows me to immerse myself in different perspectives of architecture, learn about various approaches and styles, and gain inspiration from distinguished professionals in the field.

Indigenous Traditional Knowledge Workshop, to Learn Ancient Construction Techniques, Pañacocha

How would you describe Dr. Daniela Hidalgo Molina as a professional and a person?

I love challenges, always seeking to do something new, in constant learning, and constantly improving my teaching methods. I enjoy exploring new places, getting to know different cultures, and I have a great passion for research and teaching.

Books Published:

  • DISENO PARTICIPATIVO: The book explores participatory tools for the development of urban and architectural projects, with two case studies, where these tools were applied, and architectural intervention was carried out. Printed version, upload at ResearchGate. Authors: Alina Delgado y Daniela Hidalgo

The Napo River as a Public Space Integrates Communities as the Main Axis of Activities

  • Movilidad Sostenible: The book is about sustainable mobility, explores concepts, interviews national and international urban planners, and makes an urban proposal in the city center of Guayaquil, based on the thesis of Alicia Alava, of whom I had the pleasure of being her tutor. The book is printed and has an online version. Authors: Alicia Alava y Daniela Hidalgo
  • ATLAS: Spatial study of informal human settlements: Monte Sinahi case, the largest informal settlement in Ecuador. The Book is printed and has an online version. Authors: Daniela Hidalgo, Natalie Wong, Carla Orozco, Carlos Velasco, Juan José Jaramillo

Small things can bring back identity, through story-Telling Workshops

  • Architectural Guide of Ecuador: DOM Publisher. Printed version. Author and Editor Daniela Hidalgo. Co-Authors: Martín Durán, Luis Alfonso Saltos, María José Iturralde, Juan Diego Ponce

Image Courtesy: Dr. Daniela Hidalgo Molina

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *