Tropical Babel

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Tropical Babel

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Tropical Babel

The Tower of Babel exists, not in Babylon but in South America, in a country of endless oil towers and surgery-happy Miss Universes (seven so far, a world record): Venezuela, or Little Venice, as the conquistadors called this land where indigenous huts built on wooden stakes recalled the fabled city surrounded by its lagoon. Venezuela’s architectural etymology seems to have anticipated its urban exuberance, a dynamism notable even for a continent in which architectural feats are hardly exceptional.

Beached cruise ship, fallen flying saucer, futuristic ruin; sitting amid the slums of San Agustín, in south-central Caracas, El Helicoide de la Roca Tarpeya looks different from every angle. So too do the many stories that haunt this construction, all as convoluted as its magnificent, double-spiral coils. Like its Babylonian inspiration, El Helicoide too was an ambitious project stopped short, in its case by the less-than-divine designs of politics. Like its famous predecessor, this concrete building—constructed in 1960 as a drive-in mall, the only one of its kind, where drivers could spiral up and down, parking right in front of the business of their choice—was halted shortly before completion. []

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