Every summer for the last 29 years, Bogotá’s University of Los Andes has programed its International Workshop in Architecture, which it holds in the Caribbean coastal city of Cartagena de Indias. For four weeks this past July, about 80 undergraduate architecture students—from countries ranging from Spain to Argentina—convened in the 16th-century walled city to absorb the culture and the rich architecture within its confines, while considering new visions for this historic center.

With so many years behind its belt, the seminar, directed for over a decade now by Carlos Campuzano Castelló, has become a well-oiled program. After a week of absorbing the vibrant, colonial walled city—a UNESCO World Heritage site—and analyzing its various precincts, the student teams propose modern interventions to meet the needs of contemporary inhabitants and the thriving tourist industry here. In the third week, as the students continue to develop their civic designs—ranging from schools to museums to markets—a cadre of international professionals descends. Over the course of five days, the instructors present lectures in the morning at a former convent and then conduct crits through the afternoon at the studio, which occupies the Naval Museum of the Caribbean (part of which was constructed in the 17th century as a Jesuit school), with its dramatic location on the city wall. In residence for the week, the visiting team injects the workshop with moments of inspiration imported from the wider world of design.

Over the years, the program has brought together more than 250 Colombian and foreign instructors—including Rogelio Salmona, Rick Joy, Carlos Mijares, Kenneth Frampton, and Hitoshi Abe—and over 1,300 students. Taking its cues from this rich, colorful city and its infectious energy, the program hopes to energize a new crop of designers and teach them to think creatively in the face of sensitive constraints. After four intensive weeks of observation, study, and hard work, the event concludes with a night-time sail in the bay, during which one of the teams’ models is set afire and launched overboard into the tropical Caribbean night.