Radical Cities: Across Latin America in Search of a New Architecture, by Justin McGuirk, Verso, RRP£17.99/$29.95, 288 pages
From a distance, the favelas creeping up Rio de Janeiro’s hillsides can resemble picturesque Tuscan towns. Up close they look rather different, vivid symbols of the inequality and social discord that animated protests in the run-up to the World Cup in Brazil and which continue to define the country’s image alongside the officially approved trio of samba, sunshine and beautiful football. Feared by the authorities as hotbeds of crime, sometimes coveted by the wealthy for their prime city-centre sites, such informal settlements are an inescapable part of life in the world’s most urbanised continent. They are also home to some of the most interesting architecture taking place anywhere in the world.
More than 80 per cent of Latin America’s population lives in cities, making the region a kind of testing ground for the effects of explosive global urbanisation. In his fine and timely book Radical Cities, the British writer and curator Justin McGuirk takes a road trip to seek out not only the problems caused by rapid growth but also the most radical and influential ideas to have emerged in response over the past couple of decades.