Radical Cities – Latin America’s revolutionary housing solutions

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Radical Cities – Latin America's revolutionary housing solutions
The high life: a resident of Caracas’s Torre David / © Alamy

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Radical Cities – Latin America's revolutionary housing solutions
The high life: a resident of Caracas’s Torre David / © Alamy

The Venice Architecture Biennale is usually a grand gathering of the biggest names in architecture, where they can display their brilliance to their peers. In the 2012 edition, however, the Golden Lion awarded to the best exhibit went to something whose fascination was not primarily to do with the input of professional architects. This was the Torre David, in Caracas, a 1990s office tower left unfinished when funds ran out. What makes it remarkable is the fact that it has now been colonised by squatters, making it into a vertical barrio, a self-regulating community of the poor, within a frame designed for corporate profit.

In territories once intended for photocopiers, computer terminals, desks and meeting rooms, there are homes, streets, shops and churches. Patches of mirror-glass cladding contrast with the ubiquitous orange bricks and concrete blocks of self-built Latin American houses, with a petrified ooze of sloppy mortar from the joints. There are no lifts, meaning that some residents have to walk up and down 28 storeys by stair, and that the upper levels of the 47-storey tower are unoccupied. Balustrades are often absent or imperfect, such that fatal falls are a hazard of living there, a risk the residents run in order that they can have a home, and one in the centre of the city.

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