Gustavo Diaz

Master Plan for the Estuary of Virrilá: Platform for a Local, Economic and Environmental Coalition.

Project Site: Virrilá Estuary, Piura, Perú
Disciplines:  Urban Design, Architecture, Landscape Design, Ornithology and Conservation Biology
Collaborators: Center for Research on Architecture and the City (CIAC) of the Pontifical Catholic University of Perú (PUCP), Provincial Municipality of Sechura, NGO Nature and Culture International-Perú (NCI), and the National University of Piura.

Gustavo Diaz Paz is an architect from the Pontifical Catholic University of Perú and an urban planner from Harvard University. He has specialized in a wide variety of areas that interlace urban planning, landscaping and territorial management, with specific topics on water, ecology, geo-statistics, educational infrastructure, risk management, transportation, and social housing. He has been focusing his professional work on public, private and academia.

He has served as a consultant for the Ministries of the Environment and Education of Perú for projects on sustainable cities and territorial management. Currently, he belongs to the team of the Ministry of Housing in charge of the Callao Metropolitan Plan. As an architect, he has worked in prestigious offices in Lima, and, as an independent practitioner he has won various awards in competitions related to social housing and landscape design in Perú and the US. Additionally, he is a professor in a variety of universities in Perú and U.S., such as the Pontifical Catholic University of Perú, Scientific University of Perú, Catholic University Santo Toribio, and the University of Arizona.

The Estuary of Virrilá, in Piura, is the largest in Perú (14,000 ha) and one of the most important wetlands in the coast, with a significant biodiversity of coastal birds and other species. Unfortunately, Virrilá does not have effective conservation measures that will be able to overcome the growing threats, which are originated by local booming economies of fisheries and aquaculture. Just 20 years ago the estuary only hosted a small fishermen settlement, but it has been rapidly growing, generating several environmental challenges. On top of that, there are new hazards related to rainfalls by El Niño and its new patterns influenced by climate change, as well as the intentions of the flood defense plans that could transform the estuary into a freshwater channel that would cause critical ecological disturbances.

Even though there is a basic legal framework for the preservation of the estuary, the conservation of this ecosystem is not working effectively. In such context, the project aims to support activities that generate real benefits to the community and, at the same time, a necessary defense of the estuary. As a platform for a local coalition, Gustavo proposes a masterplan that includes urban and landscape projects that leverage two set of sustainable economic activities, from a holistic and participative vision in contrast to the current isolated initiatives. The first set of activities are based on sustainable tourism to ensure the preservation of the buffer zone as an “ecological beach”, while the second component takes advantage of the higher amounts of rainfall produced by El Niño to allow sustainable rural economies in the local territories which are mainly arid.

Figure 1. Preliminary project activities. Yellow: buffer strip and sustainable tourism. Green: zone of eco-production and where El Niño rain discharge accumulates.

Gustavo’s mentor during this project is Dr. Jose Canziani Amico, Senior Professor at the Department of Architecture at Pontifical Catholic University of Perú and director at the Center for Research on Architecture and the City (CIAC), the host institution. CIAC develops studies and proposals on architecture, urban planning, the environment, and territorial management of various regional areas of Perú. The cross-sectoral collaborator, biologist Frank Suárez Pingo, has experience in the study of shorebirds in the wetlands of the Piura coast, including Virrilá, and has overseen the census of migratory birds in these wetlands. This project also includes the participation of the Provincial Municipality of Sechura, Nature and Culture International-Peru (NCI), and the National University of Piura.

Coastal Solutions Fellowship Program

The Coastal Solutions Fellows Program builds and supports an international community to design and implement solutions that address coastal challenges across the Pacific Americas Flyway. Our main goal is to conserve coastal habitats and shorebird populations by building the knowledge, resources, and skills of Latin American professionals, and by fostering collaborations among multiple disciplines and sectors.