20 d’octubre del 2013

communities in unexpected places

In the center of Caracas, Venezuela, stands the 45-story "Torre David", an unfinished, abandoned skyscraper. But about eight years ago, people started moving in. Photographer Iwan Baan shows how people build homes in unlikely places, touring us through the family apartments of Torre David, Caracas; Makoko, a city on the water in Nigeria; Zabbaleen, an area of waste collectors in Cairo; and an underground village at the Loess Plateau in China. Glorious images celebrate humanity's ability to survive and make a home - anywhere.

(Iwan Baan via TED)

During a conversation with local architects Urban-Think Tank, I learned about the Torre David, a 45-story office building which sits right in the center of Caracas. The building was under construction until the collapse of the Venezuelan economy and the death of the developer in the early '90s. About eight years ago, people started moving into the abandoned tower and began to build their homes right in between every column of this unfinished tower […] Together, the inhabitants created public spaces and designed them to feel more like a home and less like an unfinished tower. In the lobby, they painted the walls and planted trees. They also made a basketball court […]

Within the tower, people have come up with all sorts of solutions in response to the various needs which arise from living in an unfinished tower. With no elevators, the tower is like a 45-story walkup. Designed in very specific ways by this group of people who haven't had any education in architecture or design. And with each inhabitant finding their own unique way of coming by, this tower becomes like a living city, a place which is alive with micro-economies and small businesses. The inventive inhabitants, for instance, find opportunities in the most unexpected cases, like the adjacent parking garage, which has been reclaimed as a taxi route to shuttle the inhabitants up through the ramps in order to shorten the hike up to the apartments.

A walk through the tower reveals how residents have figured out how to create walls, how to make an air flow, how to create transparency, circulation throughout the tower, essentially creating a home that's completely adapted to the conditions of the site. When a new inhabitant moves into the tower, they already have a roof over their head, so they just typically mark their space with a few curtains or sheets. Slowly, from found materials, walls rise, and people create a space out of any found objects or materials […]

The inhabitants literally built up these homes with their own hands, and this labor of love instills a great sense of pride in many families living in this tower. They typically make the best out of their conditions, and try to make their spaces look nice and homey, or at least up until as far as they can reach. Throughout the tower, you come across all kinds of services, like the barber, small factories, and every floor has a little grocery store or shop. And you even find a church. And on the 30th floor, there is a gym where all the weights and barbells are made out of the leftover pulleys from the elevators which were never installed. From the outside, behind this always-changing facade, you see how the fixed concrete beams provide a framework for the inhabitants to create their homes in an organic, intuitive way that responds directly to their needs […]

From Makoko to Zabbaleen, these communities have approached the tasks of planning, design and management of their communities and neighborhoods in ways that respondspecifically to their environment and circumstances. Created by these very people who live,work and play in these particular spaces, these neighborhoods are intuitively designed to make the most of their circumstances. In most of these places, the government is completely absent, leaving inhabitants with no choice but to reappropriate found materials, and while these communities are highly disadvantaged, they do present examples of brilliant forms of ingenuity, and prove that indeed we have the ability to adapt to all manner of circumstances. 

What makes places like the Torre David particularly remarkable is this sort of skeleton framework where people can have a foundation where they can tap into. Now imagine what these already ingenious communities could create themselves, and how highly particular their solutions would be, if they were given the basic infrastructures that they could tap into.

(Iwan Baan via TED) thanks to Martí Amargós and Jordi Quetglas

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