Post by Silvia Soonets [Proyectos Arqui 5] on Caracas
Just yesterday the verdict of the jury in Venice was made public, and the discussion in Caracas went immediately bitter and angrier. We cannot be proud or happy with an award that praises the symbol of the failure of any housing policy, and our flaw as professionals trying to provide solutions for the urban poor.
Maybe the prize goes to the installation that I have not seen but looks striking enough , or to the book, “Torre David: Informal Vertical Communities”, which is still not available in Caracas, but I guess contains a rigorous academic research. I prefer to think so, instead of accepting the building itself or a speculative proposal to upgrade it. None of which should deserve any recognition.
The 45 story office tower, transformed in what some have called “a vertical slum”, it is untenable from any point of view. It would be long to enumerate the risks that the lack of infrastructure imposes to its inhabitants, or the poor hygienic conditions due to the impossibility of any natural ventilation. In spite of the good intentions of some religious leaders, the building is known as shelter for a number of criminal activities. The irregular legal condition and the consequences of a non-punished invasion endanger the land tenure in all the country. From the economic perspective, to sell the unfinished building would have produced more than enough to build houses for 800 families, and that without adding the huge investment the community itself has made. Socially, the rules set by the leaders controlling the community resemble too much a feudal system. This extremely closed ghetto does not contribute in any way to the urban life and some in-house and private services do not count as proper urban equipment.
The case has been object of study for a while, the conversation started when the participation in Venice was announced, and intensified in the last twenty-four hours, both in formal newspapers and in blogs. I apologize for so many links to pages in Spanish. In fact, the debate has been mainly local, and the only international published exposure is the Venice show itself. The local nature of the discussion has also been exacerbated by the political angles of the problem, as the invaders feel protected by the current official policies.
Specific case apart, from the verdict other issues emerge, some of them even more crucial.
The sentence “to the people of Caracas and their families who created a new community and a home out of an abandoned and unfinished building” is incredible ingenuous and outrageous: do they really think these families represent the people in our city? It despises many other communities, as committed and brave, much less dangerous, and extremely more respectful of the law, that work in our barrios. Of course, all those communities living in less extravagant settings are not as visible.
Or the phrase: “This initiative can be seen as an inspirational model”. I presume they mean a model for third-world cities. Any of the jury members does really believe it makes sense to imitate such a place where services cannot go in or elder people cannot come out? Would any of them want the experience replicated in their city?
The informal phenomena of course must be researched and studied, but when poverty is used to feed the fashion show, when the research does not end in practical buildable solutions making real lives better, we should all be ashamed.