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19 things to do in Quito if you love architecture and design

Ecuador’s capital blends its colonialist history with modern flourishes

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Quito isn’t likely to be first on a list of must-see destinations for architecture and design in Latin America. Bogota, Sao Paulo, Buenos Aires, and Montevideo all offer rich architectural traditions powered by local institutions and designers.

But a closer look at Quito reveals that Ecuador’s capital has something unique to offer. Originally founded by Spanish colonists in the 16th century, the city has transformed over the last 50 years from one dominated by single-family houses to a more vertical urban landscape, powered by a roughly ninefold increase in its population.

Architecture and design in Quito today blend the city’s colonial history with its modern redevelopment to include everything from grand ornate churches to Brutalist hotels to coworking spaces born out of old jazz clubs. We’ve collected from the people who live there the 19 spots in the city most deserving of a visit.

Disclosure: Curbed participated in a weeklong press trip provided by Uribe & Schwarzkopf. As per our ethics guidelines, coverage was not guaranteed, and all reporting was done without input or undue influence from the firm.

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Medialab CIESPAL

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Built as part of a push for architectural modernity in the 1960s and ’70s, this Brutalist treasure from 1979 is just a short walk from the southern tip of Parque La Carolina and features multiple stories stacked atop a narrow concrete pillar. The building is home to Medialab CIESPAL, a media organization that hosts educational events and media archives and collaborates with universities and other institutions in Quito and abroad.

Jeff Andrews

Parque La Carolina

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Nestled in Quito’s northern financial district, Parque La Carolina offers multiple modes of escape from urban life, including soccer fields, basketball courts, skateboard surfaces, and a nautical park with a river where ferries run. While it’s small relative to other grand parks of the world at just a quarter of a square mile, it serves a similar function in Quito to what Central Park does in Manhattan.

Jeff Andrews

Fundación Guayasamín

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Influenced by Pablo Picasso and the Cubists, Oswaldo Guayasamín is among Ecuador’s most renowned artists, best known for filtering horrific tragedies of the 20th century through cubist paintings and sculptures. Fundación Guayasamín is his former home, the ground floor of which has been preserved much as he left it. Below the house is a museum dedicated to his work.

Jeff Andrews

Teatro Politécnico

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Another of Quito’s Brutalist gems, Teatro Politécnico is the centerpiece of the campus for Ecuador’s public polytechnic school, Escuela Politécnico Nacional. The school was founded in 1869 and is the country’s second oldest public university. It operated out of a small building in the La Alameda neighborhood until 1960, when it moved to its current location in La Floresta, just northeast of La Alameda.

Jeff Andrews

Cumandá Urban Park

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This urban park sits on the site of a redeveloped bus terminal outside of Quito’s historic Old City and hosts a number of activities and amenities that are free to the public, including dance classes, wall climbing, soccer, and a full gym. It also has art installations, murals, and other open public spaces. Outside the old bus terminal is a roofed soccer field.

Cementerio de San Diego

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Located on the burial ground of soldiers who perished in 1822’s Battle of Pichincha, this cemetery features structures designed by some of Quito’s most iconic architects, including Francisco Durini, Muis Mideros, and Pietro Capurro. First opened in 1872, it also is the site of a convent that serves as a museum dedicated to Father Almeida, subject of a popular local folktale.

Olga Fisch Folklore Flagship Store

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Olga Fisch came to Ecuador in 1939 as a Jewish refugee from Hungary, and rather than exporting her Bauhaus sensibilities to Quito’s art scene, she imported Ecuadorian folk culture and art into her own aesthetic. She collected and preserved Quechua artifacts, many of which are on display at the flagship store for her rugs and clothing accessories, which incorporate ideas and designs originating in Quechua culture.

Edificio Cofiec

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This monument to concrete, built in 1974, is the work of Ecuadorian architect Ovidio Wappenstein, whose family fled to Quito along with other Jewish Czechs during World War II. Originally a bank, the building can be viewed as a symbol of the boom times that followed the discovery of oil in Ecuador in the late 1960s.

Hilton Colon Quito

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Another Brutalist work from Ovidio Wappenstein, the hotel opened in 1968, with an extension completed in 1978. It sits next to Wappenstein’s Edificio COFIEC just north of Parque El Ejido in the central part of Quito.

Jeff Andrews

El Panecillo

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Bernardo de Legarda was commissioned by the Church of San Francisco to create an image of the Virgin Mary in 1734, producing a 12-inch-high wood sculpture of a winged Mary that became known as the Virgin of Quito. Almost 250 years later, a 656-foot-tall aluminum replica was erected by the city and local religious leaders on El Panecillo, a large hill in the center of Quito. The statue is visible throughout the city.

Casa Gangotena

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This boutique hotel is a restored neoclassical mansion that sits in Plaza de San Francisco at the heart of Quito’s Old Town, a UNESCO World Heritage site awash with churches, covenants, and remnants of the capital’s colonial history. While the UNESCO designation limits development in the area, a station of the city’s new metro will open nearby in 2020, connecting the hotel with the rest of Quito.

Hotel Quito

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This boutique hotel in the upscale district of Gonzalez Suarez was designed by architect Charles McKirahan, a Florida-based architect who was prolific in the 1950s and ’60s. The front of the hotel’s office is covered by an angular modern structure, and the hotel itself features a seven-story tower that overlooks the valley to the east where the districts of Guápulo, Cumbayá, and Tumbaco lie.

Ochoymedio Ecuador

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Named after Federico Fellini’s classic film 8½, this movie theater, cafe, music venue, and lounge has been a cultural staple of the La Floresta arts district since 2001, and the organization behind it has even produced its own films. The space features an enclosed greenhouse-like structure in the front and numerous sitting areas inside.

IMPAQTO La Floresta

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Pobre Diablo has lived several lives, one as a coffee factory and another as a jazz club. Today it’s a coworking space operated by local business IMPAQTO. But the layered space retains numerous remnants of its past, including the stage and bar of the jazz club, exhaust hooding from the coffee factory, and a bathroom wall featuring pictures of every president in Ecuador’s history. The space was redesigned by local architect Daniel Moreno Flores.

Parque Bicentenario de Quito

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This park was originally the Mariscal Sucre International Airport before Quito’s new airport outside of the city opened in 2013. Many of the runways remain in place and have been redeveloped as a running track. A convention center was built next to the park in hopes of spurring redevelopment in the area, but zoning restrictions that limit building height and density have stood in the way.

Jeff Andrews

Quito Publishing House

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Located in the heart of Quito’s bohemian arts district La Floresta, the Quito Publishing House was designed by architects Jaskran Kalirai, Ana María Durán Calisto, and Esteban Cervantes, who described the building in ArchDaily as mixing modernity and nature. A hanging staircase over a garden greets visitors in the lobby, and the roof is also a garden.

Jeff Andrews

Iglesia y Convento de San Francisco

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Construction on this massive church and monastery began shortly after the Spanish arrived in Quito in 1535, creating the centerpiece of the city’s historic Old Town. In addition to its lavish chapels, the church holds a museum of colonial art, including the locally beloved original sculpture of the Virgin of Quito. There is a courtyard in the middle of the church, and the front empties into the Plaza de San Francisco.

Jeff Andrews

Villa Flora

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Located in the south-center of Quito’s city center, Villa Flora illustrates the way the city has integrated its colonial past with its metropolitan present. The area was originally a citadel. Architecture scholar Felipe Correa describes it as “a tightly knit urban fragment.” At the center of the district is the circular Parque de los Enamorados.

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Centro Comercial Atrium

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This work from Milton Barragán Dumet, who contributed to a number of Brutalist works in Quito in the 1970s, features a flat facade that faces the street, plus a series of terraces in the back that face the Guápulo valley, mimicking the slope of the surrounding land. Completed in 1981, the building features shops and duplex homes.

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Medialab CIESPAL

Jeff Andrews

Built as part of a push for architectural modernity in the 1960s and ’70s, this Brutalist treasure from 1979 is just a short walk from the southern tip of Parque La Carolina and features multiple stories stacked atop a narrow concrete pillar. The building is home to Medialab CIESPAL, a media organization that hosts educational events and media archives and collaborates with universities and other institutions in Quito and abroad.

Jeff Andrews

Parque La Carolina

Jeff Andrews

Nestled in Quito’s northern financial district, Parque La Carolina offers multiple modes of escape from urban life, including soccer fields, basketball courts, skateboard surfaces, and a nautical park with a river where ferries run. While it’s small relative to other grand parks of the world at just a quarter of a square mile, it serves a similar function in Quito to what Central Park does in Manhattan.

Jeff Andrews

Fundación Guayasamín

Jeff Andrews

Influenced by Pablo Picasso and the Cubists, Oswaldo Guayasamín is among Ecuador’s most renowned artists, best known for filtering horrific tragedies of the 20th century through cubist paintings and sculptures. Fundación Guayasamín is his former home, the ground floor of which has been preserved much as he left it. Below the house is a museum dedicated to his work.

Jeff Andrews

Teatro Politécnico

Jeff Andrews

Another of Quito’s Brutalist gems, Teatro Politécnico is the centerpiece of the campus for Ecuador’s public polytechnic school, Escuela Politécnico Nacional. The school was founded in 1869 and is the country’s second oldest public university. It operated out of a small building in the La Alameda neighborhood until 1960, when it moved to its current location in La Floresta, just northeast of La Alameda.

Jeff Andrews

Cumandá Urban Park

This urban park sits on the site of a redeveloped bus terminal outside of Quito’s historic Old City and hosts a number of activities and amenities that are free to the public, including dance classes, wall climbing, soccer, and a full gym. It also has art installations, murals, and other open public spaces. Outside the old bus terminal is a roofed soccer field.

Cementerio de San Diego

Located on the burial ground of soldiers who perished in 1822’s Battle of Pichincha, this cemetery features structures designed by some of Quito’s most iconic architects, including Francisco Durini, Muis Mideros, and Pietro Capurro. First opened in 1872, it also is the site of a convent that serves as a museum dedicated to Father Almeida, subject of a popular local folktale.

Olga Fisch Folklore Flagship Store

Olga Fisch came to Ecuador in 1939 as a Jewish refugee from Hungary, and rather than exporting her Bauhaus sensibilities to Quito’s art scene, she imported Ecuadorian folk culture and art into her own aesthetic. She collected and preserved Quechua artifacts, many of which are on display at the flagship store for her rugs and clothing accessories, which incorporate ideas and designs originating in Quechua culture.

Edificio Cofiec

This monument to concrete, built in 1974, is the work of Ecuadorian architect Ovidio Wappenstein, whose family fled to Quito along with other Jewish Czechs during World War II. Originally a bank, the building can be viewed as a symbol of the boom times that followed the discovery of oil in Ecuador in the late 1960s.

Hilton Colon Quito

Jeff Andrews

Another Brutalist work from Ovidio Wappenstein, the hotel opened in 1968, with an extension completed in 1978. It sits next to Wappenstein’s Edificio COFIEC just north of Parque El Ejido in the central part of Quito.

Jeff Andrews

El Panecillo

Bernardo de Legarda was commissioned by the Church of San Francisco to create an image of the Virgin Mary in 1734, producing a 12-inch-high wood sculpture of a winged Mary that became known as the Virgin of Quito. Almost 250 years later, a 656-foot-tall aluminum replica was erected by the city and local religious leaders on El Panecillo, a large hill in the center of Quito. The statue is visible throughout the city.

Casa Gangotena

This boutique hotel is a restored neoclassical mansion that sits in Plaza de San Francisco at the heart of Quito’s Old Town, a UNESCO World Heritage site awash with churches, covenants, and remnants of the capital’s colonial history. While the UNESCO designation limits development in the area, a station of the city’s new metro will open nearby in 2020, connecting the hotel with the rest of Quito.

Hotel Quito

This boutique hotel in the upscale district of Gonzalez Suarez was designed by architect Charles McKirahan, a Florida-based architect who was prolific in the 1950s and ’60s. The front of the hotel’s office is covered by an angular modern structure, and the hotel itself features a seven-story tower that overlooks the valley to the east where the districts of Guápulo, Cumbayá, and Tumbaco lie.

Ochoymedio Ecuador

Named after Federico Fellini’s classic film 8½, this movie theater, cafe, music venue, and lounge has been a cultural staple of the La Floresta arts district since 2001, and the organization behind it has even produced its own films. The space features an enclosed greenhouse-like structure in the front and numerous sitting areas inside.

IMPAQTO La Floresta

Pobre Diablo has lived several lives, one as a coffee factory and another as a jazz club. Today it’s a coworking space operated by local business IMPAQTO. But the layered space retains numerous remnants of its past, including the stage and bar of the jazz club, exhaust hooding from the coffee factory, and a bathroom wall featuring pictures of every president in Ecuador’s history. The space was redesigned by local architect Daniel Moreno Flores.

Parque Bicentenario de Quito

Jeff Andrews

This park was originally the Mariscal Sucre International Airport before Quito’s new airport outside of the city opened in 2013. Many of the runways remain in place and have been redeveloped as a running track. A convention center was built next to the park in hopes of spurring redevelopment in the area, but zoning restrictions that limit building height and density have stood in the way.

Jeff Andrews

Quito Publishing House

Jeff Andrews

Located in the heart of Quito’s bohemian arts district La Floresta, the Quito Publishing House was designed by architects Jaskran Kalirai, Ana María Durán Calisto, and Esteban Cervantes, who described the building in ArchDaily as mixing modernity and nature. A hanging staircase over a garden greets visitors in the lobby, and the roof is also a garden.

Jeff Andrews

Iglesia y Convento de San Francisco

Jeff Andrews

Construction on this massive church and monastery began shortly after the Spanish arrived in Quito in 1535, creating the centerpiece of the city’s historic Old Town. In addition to its lavish chapels, the church holds a museum of colonial art, including the locally beloved original sculpture of the Virgin of Quito. There is a courtyard in the middle of the church, and the front empties into the Plaza de San Francisco.

Jeff Andrews

Villa Flora

Google Maps

Located in the south-center of Quito’s city center, Villa Flora illustrates the way the city has integrated its colonial past with its metropolitan present. The area was originally a citadel. Architecture scholar Felipe Correa describes it as “a tightly knit urban fragment.” At the center of the district is the circular Parque de los Enamorados.

Google Maps

Centro Comercial Atrium

Google Maps

This work from Milton Barragán Dumet, who contributed to a number of Brutalist works in Quito in the 1970s, features a flat facade that faces the street, plus a series of terraces in the back that face the Guápulo valley, mimicking the slope of the surrounding land. Completed in 1981, the building features shops and duplex homes.

Google Maps