photograph by Julia King
In last February, the NY Times wrote a (bad) article about a very interesting skyscraper in Caracas, the Torre de David, that seems to carry a good analogy with the current Venezuelan situation since Hugo Chavez has been elected since 1999. In fact this 150 meter tall building is currently hosting about 2500 squatters who find in it, a good way to dwell in this housing crisis time. This skyscraper that was originally supposed to become an architectural symbol and an economically operative building of the Financial power never finished its construction because of the national financial crisis in the late 90′s.
This tower reminds of those in Bangkok or in Shanghai whose construction has been stopped and that is now hosting bands of stray dogs but in this situation the symbol is obviously much stronger as inhabited by humans.
Some additional construction work had to be achieved from the squatters themselves in order to create various enclosures and to occupy some space on each slabs to build up dwellings. What used to be one more glazed office tower is now a concrete behemoth which has been immanently appropriated with recovered brick and other found materials. A micro-economy also developed as there is no elevator and each floor has therefore a small supply shop. Imagining this population never coming down to the ground would probably be creating a myth as most people seems to have a job “on the ground”, but this Torre de David most certainly recalls the fantastic High Rise described by James Graham Ballard in his novel.
Where Ballard seems to be off (and so is Robert Silverberg) in his prospective description is to think of the tower as a literal symbol of hierarchy, thinking of the tower as an architecture in which the high and powerful social classes live upstairs while the poors have to remain near the ground. What seems to appear is much more a separation between the towers for the rich or the powerful (look around !) and some others that have been appropriated by the poors like this one (which reminded me of an old vision I had) or Rio de Janeiro’s steep hills.
Several of the articles that describes this vertical slum presents this tower as symptomatic of the deficiency of funds dedicated to housing by a government that has been elected with a socialist program. Most people I have been talking with (outside of Venezuela) seems to agree that those expectations have been not reach their fulfillment. However what appears to me is that on the contrary of the quasi-totality of the Western countries (one might see the exception with some micro-nations), the 2500 squatters have not been evicted which justifies the proletarian appropriation of a part of capitalism’s structure. The fact that the life conditions in this building are regrettable does not change another fact which is that a speculative territory has been reclaimed and obtained “de facto” by the collectivity.
photo by Meridith Kohut for the NYTimes
photos by Julia King