Iwan Baan’s best shot: squatters at the Tower of David in Venezuela

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Iwan Baan’s best shot: squatters at the Tower of David in Venezuela
Making it work … squatters at the half-finished 52-storey Tower of David in Caracas // Photograph © Iwan Baan

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Iwan Baan’s best shot: squatters at the Tower of David in Venezuela
Making it work … squatters at the half-finished 52-storey Tower of David in Caracas // Photograph © Iwan Baan

The 52-storey Tower of David in Caracas was built in 1990, but the developer went bankrupt and it was never finished. It stood in limbo as a concrete shell until about 10 years ago, when people started to move in and build their own homes on its floors. This is the gym on the balcony of the 28th storey. The fitness aficionado who ran it, Gabriel, is standing on the left. He put the whole thing together from scrap materials he found on the site. The weights are cogwheels from elevators that were never installed.

About 3,000 people – roughly 750 families – live in the tower. There is such an immense need for housing in Caracas that any vacant place gets squatted. The political system is so dysfunctional people have to find their own way of dealing with things. Almost 70% of the city’s population live in self-built structures in slums and barrios.

At first, the tower was just a construction site: no elevators, running water or electricity. But over the years, more and more families have moved in, and nowadays it’s more like a village – a self-sustained community in the sky. It has its own economy – every floor has a shop, there are hairdressers, and this gym. Connected to the tower is a car park, also unfinished. Because there are no elevators, people set up taxi services in the car park, which ferry people and goods up and down the ramps between floors. The ingenuity is incredible. These people have absolutely nothing, but they find ways to get by.

I went to the tower a number of times over two and a half years. It was difficult to get in – the residents have their own security system and strictly control access. The tower operates entirely outside of the law. Eventually, I got to know some of its inhabitants and they showed me around. They are so proud of what they’ve achieved – they built everything in there by hand. ….

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