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Creating a framework to alleviate the Housing Crisis

1 | A framework for Caracas’s Housing Crisis


2 | A framework for Caracas’s Housing Crisis


Creating a framework to alleviate the Housing Crisis in Caracas, Venezuela Can an amending collective urbscape catalyzed policy and design as to successfully address these fluctuating nuances? Perhaps this question could entice a socio-economic approach to reuse/ repurpose existing cityscapes.

Kenneth L. Mata

Introduction Today, world’s mega cities constantly experience impressive fluctuations. Old and fair buildings are demolished then new ones are erected. Their economies, social and political orders are considered erratic, and their leaders are continuously unpredictable and capricious. People migrate in from the countryside as well as from nearby nations, looking for work, shelter, and security. Thus, cities are less capable of adapting to such changes and uncertainties. Those that cannot afford or receive help for adequate shelter, settle on the city’s perimeter hillsides that are not suitable for stable foundations resulting in catastrophic landslides with enormous yearly human casualties. It is extremely important to address and keep abreast such fluctuations when designing for cities. Therefore, in such unstable environments, designers (from crossed disciplines) must be in favor of these global paradigms shifts: adaptability, flexibility, resiliency and transformability in dealing with housing in developing nations. Background: Region - Caracas, Venezuela Between the 1940s and the 1970s, the city of Caracas’s imminent reality of modernization, developing into a full-blown metropolis. Its audacious modern architecture (i.e. Architect Carlos Villanueva) and rampant modern urbanism left many of its inhabitants breathless, amazed by the ongoing transformation of their town into a burgeoning center of international commerce and foreign pop culture. Many developments of highways and skyscrapers were signs of a booming economy heavily relied upon petroleum (the black gold) that turned Caracas into a world capital which the rest of the South American nations looked upon with either envy or greed. But so much abundance mishandled by selfish leaders could not last for a long time. In the mid 1990’s, doomed by the same black gold that had given it such energy, the country that had enjoy cheerfully the abundance of oil-money suddenly found itself catching up with its politician’s ignorance; unfinished projects, overwhelming misery and an enormous national debt. Modern Caracas faded along with its remarkable structures buried under the weight of carelessness and disrepair of which today it is classified as nation with the highest

inflation rate in the world. The aging monuments of modernity were struck from the urban fabric leading up to casualties of a progress that could only recognize itself in the new, a new that is yet to be seen. Brief urban figures: • Macro (global perspective) - 40 to 60 new inhabitants arrived in major cities in Asia, Africa, and South America every hour, looking for better economic and living conditions: shelter • Meso (local regional) - over 2.5 million housing units are missing in the city of Caracas, and only 5% of the existing infrastructure connects the informal settlements (mostly hillside barrios) and the formal city. • Micro (neighborhood/ municipality) - one of the five municipalities of which Caracas is consisted of, The Libertador Municipality, holds 65% of all the barrio population in the metropolitan area. Caracas’s Barrios The barrios or squatter cities are the product of migrations from the countryside and the growth of a ‘city inside the city,’ unattended for decades by the authorities. These settlements, built on public property or illegally on privately owned land, house 60% of Caracas’s population. Because the local government has no housing alternatives to offer, it keeps ignoring such critical urban condition. Today the barrios of Caracas present the most powerful built image on the city skyline, and the largest collectively built form of the city. A building process absent of architects, the barrios exist as a system of numerous small overlapping cities inside a bigger city. We could note that the barrios are a working class movement without a manifesto and with only pure necessity in their minds. The degree of self-organization, improvisation and inventiveness “transformation” produced by the anonymous builders of this hillside mega project is outstanding. But all however are not immune to crime and the geographical catastrophic events of yearly landslides following Caracas merciless rainy seasons and its location on a tectonic plate

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prone to earthquakes. The barrios represent a single highly democratic building process that promotes qualities that are not found anywhere else in the city. The “transformation” of the informal city is impressively positive regardless of how they look like in the city skyline. Less trash is produced than in any other area of town. The high-density low-rise buildings offer a positive alternative to the high-rise developments promoted by the formal construction industry. The selection and use of building materials is in direct response to climate, with low environmental impact and equally low investment costs. The barrio houses maintain a microclimate that is far superior to structures of comparable density in the formal city. The only “negative” aspect is the lack of pedestrian access to crucial city sectors for a cohesive economic and social conditions, however this are starting to be addressed by intricate projects such as the “Cable car” developed by Urban Think Tank (UTT) viewed as a creative response to the difficult problem of adequate access. It is predicted that these “transformations” will occur in the next decade that will turn many of the existing barrios into valuable real estate. This privatization would result in investments to develop the services and infrastructures in these areas. Which is in great Above image: Regional analysis

4 | A framework for Caracas’s Housing Crisis

part the main premise on the proposal included in this document, however this is mainly focused on retrofitting existing occupied underutilized city structures as a to an alternative housing option for the better of both: the city and those without adequate shelter. The ‘main’ problem consists of not ONLY housing but of adequate infrastructural services: thus looking at the economic and social aspects of cities, progressive housing proposals could be implemented followed by updated or new housing policies Economic vitality (taking advantage of the barrios entrepreneurial abilities/skills to enhance their ability to afford for adequate services and the necessary infrastructure) Social equity (the illegally occupation of underutilized housing condition is seeing as in unacceptable reality towards the rest of the city’s residents, finding ways to connect the city and these residents it is of high priority that will help them to enable a sense of identity and accountability as proper future citizens. Then: the adaptation and implementation of sustainable measures could be much more accessible and integrated as they develop and strengthen as a communal/collective living society.

Above image: Architect Calos Villanueva


Caracas’s Social Housing: Retrospective The Unidad Residencial 2 de Diciembre (currently called “The 23 de Enero”) is a complex developed in large terraces designed in a pattern consisting of different units repeated with variations and adaptations according to the topography. It includes residential units with commercial services, educational, religious and sport areas. The plan was to build 9.176 apartments distributed in 28 buildings with 15 floors plus 42 smaller buildings (to accommodate 60.000 people) with 17 kindergartens, 25 commercial buildings, 2 markets, 2 social centers and schools. These buildings were categorized in four types: superblocks of 15 floors with 150 apartments; super twin blocks with 300 apartments; super triple blocks with 450 apartments; and smart buildings with 24 apartments. The construction began in 1955 and it was carried out in stages: after six months of the inauguration the first phase started on December 2nd, 1955 (2.336 apartments), then in 1956 (2688 apartments) and the final stage in 1957 (4122 apartments). The complex was finished, but not occupied until 1958, when the dictatorship period of General Perez Jimenez fell and the buildings were flooded with people on January 23rd, of that same year. It was a very chaotic situation which from that day on characterized the Above image: UTT Metro Cable, Caracas, Venezuela

social housing trend of the settlement, leaving its true calling in forgetfulness. The district name changed to 23 de Enero as a sign of conquest by the people over these buildings. Around 1960, the new democratic governors demonstrating a clear lack of policy on social housing, allowed and even encouraged the transfer of people from countryside to the city increasing the barracks. These new barracks were located favoring the existing topography in the common areas and free spaces around the superblocks, even in very dangerous areas without access to services. This, despite the Banco Obrero advised to keep clear the areas surrounding the blocks to ensure their architectural and urban quality. During the years, the situation has become more dramatic: currently control planning is not exercised, so 70% of the population lives illegally in areas without controls and high risk of flooding and unstable soil. About 80% of the buildings have structural problems, water leaks, failures, broken elevators, garbage ducts blocked, problems that would require a contribution from the inhabitants that they cannot afford. The lack of electrical services, water or garbage collection are common problems in this neighborhood, which the inhabitants are used to live with. In a social matter, 23 de Enero evokes the rebellion of a population, anarchy, theft, vandalism and drugs. Since the beginning of the quarter as a result of the invasion, Above images: “The 23 de Enero complex”

A synthesis of Torre David as a model tool-kit for social housing | 5


Torre David

the community has organized in several ghettos or gangs. The lack of a social policy to educate this population to live in a community has determined in part this failure, plus the lack of programs to integrate people with their neighbors and into the city, adapting to their new way of living. The 23 de Enero district revealed a very complex situation to manage and very expensive to repair, which led to its physical and social deterioration. In recent years, several works have been held by the municipality to address specific problems such as water, electricity and garbage collection, but like all urban problems in the city of Caracas, after a while the problem reoccurs. The lack of maintenance by the authorities and lack of resources by the association of neighbors involves a profound degradation that requires a strong action to adapt to users the facilities and services. SITE - Torre David Formality: Intended used as an Office/Banking Tower Informality: Current used as an informal vertical settlement Some refer to Torre David as the tallest squatter or slum in the world. Surprisingly, for most people, Torre David, is neither a slum nor squatter settlement. What it is, perhaps, the most efficient

Torre David

and sustainable residential building in the world. According to Un-Habitat, a particular settlement/project/ or region to be considered a slum/squatter, should at least fall under the following main categories; First, possess durable shelter from the elements; second, access to water/sewage systems; third, security of tenure that prevents evictions; fourth, overcrowding; fifth, access to public transport, and sixth, appropriate/safe mobility infrastructure within their premises to its surroundings. Torre David does not qualify for any of these set of conditions. Torre David was meant to be the third tallest office building within the Financial District of the city of Caracas, Venezuela, under the name “Centro Financiero Confinanzas” (Financial Center Confinanzas). Originally designed by well-known Venezuela Architect, Enrique Gomez, the tower stands at 45 stories height encompassing approximately 200 feet of high rise. It is about half the size of the New World Trade Center - Freedom Tower in New York City, US. Its construction was abandoned after two major events: the sudden death of natural causes in 1994 of its developer and CFO, David Brillemburg, and the nation’s banking financial crisis of the late 1990’s. Years passed of decay and neglect until the year 2007. When an evicted group of about 20 religious followers occupied the lower portion of the building.

Above image: Map showing most invaded areas is the city of Caracas and notable buildings, including the project Torre David (highlighed)

6 | A framework for Caracas’s Housing Crisis

[continue on p. 12]


Above images: analytical diagrams of informal/ formal Caracas’s evolution showing built fabric and economic disparaties

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Above images: noting the existing microeconomic informal real-estata activity in barrios today along with the typical physical nuances experience by its inhabitants

8 | A framework for Caracas’s Housing Crisis


Above images: referenced as 1 - Confinanzas Tower Center, today known as Torre David 2 - Sambil Commercial Center

A synthesis of Torre David as a model tool-kit for social housing | 9


1. Torre David 2. Sambil Commercial Center 3. Barrio Sarria

Micro-economies potential derived from formalized occupied buildings

10 | A framework for Caracas’s Housing Crisis


Comparative analysis of dwelling unit areas

5 min. walking radius

A synthesis of Torre David as a model tool-kit for social housing | 11


Current average cost of gasoline in Venezuela

social housing location in the barrio Las Mayas [at the outskirts of the city core]

lack of houseld essentials

social housing construction, on hold due to the country’s economic crisis [also, at the outskirts of the city core]

Currently, Torre David provides shelter to more than 750 families (approximately 3000 people) with minimal to adequate provision of utilities and services. The building operates under a cooperative association organized by some of the building’s residents. Running very well democratic communal operations and services, such as, day cleanup, planting seeds, move in/move out processes, building repairs, etc. All within the 30th occupied stories of the tower’s 45 stories. Within the building, there an array of communal spaces, services, and activities, that includes convenience stores, ice cream places, childcare, internet cafes, prayer rooms, a gym, among many other functions incorporated and every other interval level creating a unique dwelling experience(s) for its inhabitants. Residents pay a small fee for their habitable spaces and a reasonable fares for utilities and services given sparingly due to the city’s infrastructure inability to provide adequate services to the great number its inhabitants.

opens a unique set of questions and opportunities to the living conditions of global cities dealing with increasing growth of informal settlements and occupation. • It is possible to connect Torre David to adjacent neighbors and promote social interaction and economic vitality? • How can emphasis and engagement of the local community could inspire urban identity? • How can the informal condition be redefine as to embrace resource productivity and renewable energy to its inhabitants and the city they live in?

Is Torre David a new building typology? Or it is a condition of the inevitable faith of overpopulated cities and one that should be addressed as to mitigate overcrowding and over construction of outer city lands? Perhaps. But there is no doubt that Torre David

Flexibility: the community accepts the inevitable; changing needs and wishes over time. This flexibility is manifested by the ability to modify one’s own surroundings, an ability enabled by ownership and the absence of planning or regulatory controls.

12 | A framework for Caracas’s Housing Crisis

Torre David Community characteristics: Collectivity: the community is collective; offers the feeling of being part of a safe and mutually supportive group, with shared ways of living, ambitions, characters and qualities.


Public access: the community offers space for social and recreational activities, collective debate and even discontent dialogs among residents and cooperative members. Public spaces carries the power to reinforce the democratic values of the society. However, this overlooks the importance of social networks in shaping the quality of the public realm, an issue addressed within the proposed framework. Informality: the community accept the spontaneous and improvised additions and modifications made by their inhabitants. Concerns Torre David’s residents have managed to create unit expansion and modifications: and, in defiance of the physical constraints of the building, they have fostered a remarkable degree of social exchange, evident in the disciplined leadership structure, democratic processes, and religious bonds. Despite the insecurity of their habitation, they continue to modify their spaces, improving them to fit the needs of the community and to reach continually for a better standard of living. That impulse is inherent in all human place-making, through history. Thus, this exciting urban condition have challenge me to conceive ways in improving their standard of living and attain a reasonable level of social equity by providing adequate means of vertical functionality allowing to open opportunities for economic vitality and social neighborhood engagement. to be addressed: Infrastructures for Social Housing - Essential, Immanent, and Intangible. Essential infrastructure: identifies the lack of vertical/mobility and inappropriate street connectivity. Immanent infrastructure: points out to Torre David’s inadequate and insufficient services/utilities - access to water, electricity, and sewage. Intangible infrastructure: refers to Torre David’s improperness of social neighborhood engagement and social inequality. Torre David’s community qualities to embrace: collectivity + flexibility + public access+ informality

Propose Framework: Architecture as Social Infrastructure Phasing for accountable Social Housing options [Phase 1] Critical - Essential and Intangible infrastructures: addressing living conditions and implementing parameters for additional social housing Essential - Vertical mobility is addressed as the generative stimulus of the economic vitality and neighborhood engagement to be implemented in later phases. Within this phase focus is placed on circulation, economic activity for residents, and adequate program to entice social interaction and city connectivity. Intangible - Incorporation of cross dimensional programs and implementation of communal/ civic uses aiming at street connectivity, social interaction, and inhabitant’s identity. Vertical cores, Market/shops, Library, and Sports support spaces. The intent is that Phase 1 and these addressed issues will help kick start the second and third phases. [Phase 2] Near Critical Immanent Infrastructure: Social housing implementation as an economic driver for underutilized buildings Implementation of sustainable services, urban agriculture, renewable energy measures, and building aesthetic initiatives. [Phase 3] Moderate Critical City-wide microeconomics opportunities: vImplementation of city-wide cross dimensional economic networking all by engaging communal passive mixed uses and street connectivity to promote social equity, and inhabitants identity within the city. Concluding notes: It is vital for Architects/Designers across disciplines to try to actively bring about social change and to address economic disparities. Each section of Caracas’s fragmented society has its own set of values which are reflected in the disparate morphologies of the city. The government does not have a clear sense of direction on this matter. By exploring the many opportunities informal developments have to offer, and exposing those to local agencies in conjunction with involved communities, then progress could be attain for future development in not only Caracas but other major global cities in influx of the inevitable of informal settlements within formal framework systems.

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14 | A framework for Caracas’s Housing Crisis


TRANSFORMATIVE HETEROTOPIA : INFORMALITY / FORM Shifting Caraca’s perceptions and misconceptions

THE FUTURE OF

Torre David AND THE CITY OF

2010 1 BILLION SQUATTERS 1 IN 6 GLOBAL INHABITANTS 2030 2 BILLION SQUATTERS 1 IN 4 GLOBAL INHABITANTS 2050 3 BILLION SQUATTERS 1 IN 3 GLOBAL INHABITANTS

+750 families +3000 people 30th level current occupied stories

temporary housing accommodations sales of empanadas and temp. housing bakery, housing convenience store, housing convenience store, cigars, calling cards/ housing sell of groceries and chicken housing housing childcare, store, ice cream, ice bags sale, paper, housing housing housing

convenience store parking (mototaxi), sale of basic goods, housing guarded entrances, mini soccer/ basketball courts

A synthesis of Torre David as a model tool-kit for social housing | 15


16 | A framework for Caracas’s Housing Crisis

informal occupation

proposed commercial uses

proposed housing options

proposed vertical circulation

proposed public uses

formalized living conditions for inhabitants


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18 | A framework for Caracas’s Housing Crisis


References • Baan, Iwan. Torre David: Informal Vertical Communities. Zürich: Lars Müller, 2013. Print. • BYARD, Paul; KLEIN, Leslie. 23 de Enero: Modern Public Housing in Post-Modern Caracas. http://www.arch.columbia.edu/ files/gsapp/imceshared/gjb2011/V2N1_Byard.pdf. [Consulted in November, 2011]. • DE SOLA RICARDO, Irma. Contribución al estudio de los planos de Caracas 1567-1967. Caracas, Comisión para el Cuatricentenario de Caracas, 1967. • Del, Real Patricio, and Helen Gyger. Latin American Modern Architectures: Ambiguous Territories. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print. • Frampton, Kenneth, Maria Ines. Rodriguez, and Yona Friedman. Arquitectura Con La Gente, Por La Gente, Para La Gente Yona Friedman = Architecture with the People, by the People, for the People. Barcelona: Actar, 2011. Print. • GOSEN, Alfredo; BARRETO, Morella. El 23 de Enero. Caracas, Fundaciones Fundarte/Alcaldía del Municipio Libertador, 1990. • Hutchison, Ray, and Bruce D. Haynes. The Ghetto: Contemporary Global Issues and Controversies. Boulder, CO: Westview, 2012. Print. • Noever, Peter, and Kimberli Meyer. Urban Future Manifestos. Ostfildern, Germany: Hatje Cantz, 2010. Print. • Peran, Martí, and Andrea Aguado. After Architecture: Typologies of the Afterwards. Barcelona: Actar, 2009. Print. • Raxworthy, Julian, and Jessica Blood. The MESH Book: Landscape/infrastructure. Melbourne: RMIT Pub., 2004. Print. • The Vertical Village: Individual, Informal, Intense. Rotterdam: NAI, 2012. Print.

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Amending UrbScape : Caracas's Housing crisis  

Creating a framework for a housing crisis implementing policy, informality, and social cohesion for productive future development. Continuat...

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