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Proyecto Helicoide: Reviving Venezuela's Unfinished Modernist Utopia

Although construction was never completed, "El Helicoide" ("The Helix") in Caracas is one of the most important relics of the Modern movement in Venezuela. The 73,000 square meter project - designed in 1955 by Jorge Romero Gutiérrez, Peter Neuberger and Dirk Bornhorst - takes the form of a double spiral topped by a large geodesic dome designed by Buckminster Fuller. It was characterized by a series of ascending and descending ramps meant to carry visitors to its variety of programmatic spaces - including 320 shops, a 5 star hotel, offices, a playground, a television studio and a space for events and conventions. 

Today, Proyecto Helicoide (Project Helix) seeks to rescue the urban history and memory of the building through a series of exhibitions, publications and educational activities. More details on the initiative, after the break.

Maqueta. Image © Proyecto Helicoide
Maqueta. Image © Proyecto Helicoide

Built at an unprecedented scale for Caracas at the time, the reinforced concrete complex was destined for success: it was exhibited as a triumph of modernist design at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, Salvador Dalí offered to decorate the inside, and Nobel-Prize winning Chilean Poet Pablo Neruda even declared it "one of the most exquisite creations to emerge from the mind of an architect."

© Proyecto Helicoide
© Proyecto Helicoide

Nevertheless, financial difficulties prevented the project's completion. For decades it was inhabited by squatters; today, it serves as the headquarters of Venezuela's National Intelligence Agency (SEBIN), a fact which has cast a controversial shadow over the building, negatively influencing the public's perception of it.

© Proyecto Helicoide
© Proyecto Helicoide

This is precisely what Proyecto Helicoide hopes to change. Created and directed by cultural historian Celeste Olalquiaga (together with a group of historians, architects, artists and museum), the organization seeks to document and present the building's history via a series of exhibitions, lectures, guided tours and even a book of critical essays.

© Ricardo Rodríguez Boades
© Ricardo Rodríguez Boades

A few weeks ago, they launched a crowd-funding campaign that unfortunately failed to raise the expected resources. However, you can learn more about the project and can contribute to their cause at Proyecto Helicoide's website and Facebook page.

*This text was written by Jose Tomas Franco for Plataforma Arquitectura. It was translated to English by Vanessa Quirk. 

Source: Hyperallergic

Cite:Franco, José Tomás. "Proyecto Helicoide: Reviving Venezuela's Unfinished Modernist Utopia" [Proyecto Helicoide: Al rescate de la gran utopía inconclusa del movimiento moderno venezolano] 14 Jul 2014. ArchDaily. (Trans. Quirk, Vanessa) Accessed . <http://www.archdaily.com/526139/project-helix-saving-venezuela-s-unfinished-modernist-utopia/>