Sep 17, 2012

Torre David | World's Tallest Squat

Torre David | Gran Horizontean abandoned/unfinished office building in Caracas, Venezuela, has received the Golden Lion as the best project at the 13th International Architecture Biennale in Venice.
via designboom
To comply with Biennale's 'Common Ground' theme, the exhibition consist of a Venezuelan Arepa Restaurant - a social space where meals are shared and conversations generate ideas about how to study these kind of social settlement in abandoned buildings globally, and how do they change the future of urban territories.
via designboom
This is a collaboration between Venezuelan-based Urban-Think Tank, London-based curator Justin Mcguirk and Dutch photographer Iwan Baan, whose photography of the informal vertical community is exhibited in the Biennale.

The tower is a 45-story concrete frame structure, designed by Venezuelan architect Enrique Gomez, was almost ready when it got abandoned after its developer David Brillembourg died in 1993, and the country's economy collapsed a year later. 
via designboom
"Today, the tower functions as an improvised home of more than 750 families, inhabited by people whom would otherwise live within the barrios of the city, and has become a functioning and independent living environment for residents through a haphazard and organic method of development. Some have even called the extra-legal and tenuous occupation a vertical slum."
via designboom
The building does not have any elevators, only stairs. Also, what makes this tower 'truly mixed used' are the other public use programs added by the tenants such as: a church, restaurants, hair salons and tailors.  
via designboom
Urban-Think Tank has studied the current state of the site, building and its social space. They see it as a potential model for 'vernacular vertical communities'U-TT's concept of the tower as a 'laboratory of informal study' should be applied to unfinished or abandoned developments around the globe as an experiment, in order to figure out what the future of urban development holds, and who are the best actors to contribute in designing a more 'equitable and sustainable future'.  

In my opinion, this project has the complexity of a great potential in redefining how urban planning and designing is done. 
If the typical user is 'a slum-dweller' whose shelter is 'an informal settlement', then we'll have a different kind of urbanity, not the standard one found in books and city offices. 
Let's look at this scenario. It could be our reality today. 
A collapsed economy has left most people without jobs, foreclosed houses and office buildings empty. 
I might be a bit harsh in even mentioning it, but how do we design for a displaced even homeless user? How do we design or plan an urban life for such a community?

The economy affects the most that who has a lot to lose. 
A homeless? Not so much. 
Hence, owners of now-empty buildings might lose their land and air to the now-displaced tenants that need a shelter. There is a shift in play, in power. 
How do we approach that as architects, designers, urban planners, etc.? 
Who are we designing for? 

These are some of the complex issues brought up by the above project and a lot more questions that follow...

  • How do we design informally?
  • In a global urbanization how do we design for local communities?
  • When we are putting so much attention on ownership, what becomes common ground?
  • How do we design for an equitable quality of life? - Everyone deserves a home. It is a human right.
  • How can we develop self-sustaining communities?
  • Verticality vs. Megastructure vs. Ownership vs. Accessibility vs. User
  • When something like this happens, who are the players that command urban territories?
  • Who pushes the boundaries of urban planning, design and life? How far? For how long?

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