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Radical Cities, Radical Solutions: Justin McGuirk's Book Finds Opportunities In Unexpected Places

Justin McGuirk's book Radical Cities: Across Latin America in Search of a New Architecture is fast becoming a seminal text in the architecture world. Coming off the back of his Golden-Lion-winning entry to the 2012 Venice Biennale, created with Urban Think Tank and Iwan Baan, McGuirk's work has become a touchstone for the architecture world's recent interest in both low-cost housing solutions and in Latin America. This review of Radical Cities by Joshua K Leon was originally published by Metropolis Magazine as "Finding Radical Alternatives in Slums, Exurbs, and Enclaves."

Justin McGuirk’s Radical Cities: Across Latin America in Search of a New Architecture should be required reading for anyone looking for ways out of the bleak social inequality we’re stuck in. There were 40 million more slum dwellers worldwide in 2012 than there were in 2010, according to the UN. Private markets clearly can’t provide universal housing in any way approaching efficiency, and governments are often hostile to the poor. The only alternative is collective action at the grassroots level, and I’ve never read more vivid reporting on the subject.

Twitter Critics React to Frei Otto's Posthumous Pritzker

The sudden and unexpected announcement of the Pritzker Prize yesterday evening sent shockwaves through the architecture world. With the sad death of the Prize's latest laureate Frei Otto on Monday, the Pritzker made the unprecedented decision to announce the winner two weeks early, ensuring that Otto's final, crowning achievement would make its way into the obituaries of this great man.

Of course, despite the sudden nature of the announcement, the many critics on Twitter were on hand to lend their initial thoughts in what was an interesting mix of congratulations, sadness and nostalgia. Read on after the break for all the reactions.

Curatorial Team Announced For The 2016 Oslo Triennale

OAT 2016 Winning Proposal. Image © After Belonging Agency
OAT 2016 Winning Proposal. Image © After Belonging Agency

The After Belonging Agency (ABA) have been announced as the curatorial team for the 2016 Oslo Architecture Triennale for their proposal In-Residence, On Residence, and the Ways We Stay In-Transit.

Established in 2000, the 2016 Triennale will be the sixth of its kind. Following an open call for curators in September of this year, the Triennale invited four teams to interview: Rotterdam based Crimson Architectural Historians, London based Justin McGuirk, Canadian curator Dan Handel, and a team of five Spanish architects hailing from New York known as the After Belonging Agency. Lluis Alexandre Casanovas Blanco, Ignacio González Galán, Carlos Minguez Carrasco, Alejandra Navarrete Llopis, and Marina Otero Verzier's proposal was chosen unanimously by a jury which included Hege Maria ErikssonNina Berre, and Gro Bonesmo (among others).

Callous Indifference or Fetishizing Poverty: What Exactly Can Architects Do About Slums?

In an excellent essay for the Architectural Review, Charlotte Skene Catling deftly ties together a number of recent debates in the field of morality in architecture, from the false accusations aimed at Zaha Hadid by critic Martin Fuller to recent debates over whether architects have any responsibility to tackle poverty, an ostensibly political issue. Taking aim at one article in particular - in which Dan Hancox argues that architects such as Urban Think Tank who engage in humanitarian work are often 'fetishizing poverty' - Catling dissects the work of many of those in the field to find that they in fact do vital work to connect the top-down and bottom-up approaches that would otherwise never meet in the middle. Or, as Urban Think Tank's Alfredo Brillembourg says, in opposition to the horizontal city of the 19th century or the vertical city of the 20th, "the 21st century must be for the diagonal city, one that cuts across social divisions." Click here to read the article in full.

Venice Biennale 2012: Torre David, Gran Horizonte / Urban Think Tank + Justin McGuirk + Iwan Baan

© Nico Saieh
© Nico Saieh

Last year, thanks to a photo essay by architecture photographer Iwan Baan featured in the New York Magazine, the world became aware of a dramatic urban context in Caracas, Venezuela, the result of a lack of available housing: The Torre David (David Tower). The tower, built as the headquarters of the Confinanzas Group during the economic boom of the 90s, was left unfinished after the company went bankrupt in 1994, placing the building in a murky legal void where its ownership was put into question. Since 2000, the tower has suffered looting and decay; the public take-over culminated with the occupation of the tower by more than 2,500 people in 2007. For over a year, Urban-Think Tank studied how the tower’s mixed-use occupation worked, with improvised apartments, shops, and even a gym on the terrace. The community operates under the strict rules imposed by the informal tenants, who have been accused by many Venezuelans of being nothing more than criminals. Invited by curator Justin McGuirk, Urban-Think Tank recreated ‘Gran Horizonte’, a restaurant in the Torre de David, at the Arsenale of the Venice Biennale. The restaurant serves the same traditional food as the original, while photos by Iwan Baan reveals tenants’ day-to-day lives, immersing visitors into the tower.

This temporary restaurant creates a vibrant, Venezuelan social space in the hushed, high-art context of the Corderie. It is a piece of Caracas -a piece of the economic south- but also common ground. Food acts as a social leveller: sharing a near is the most convivial way to exchange ideas. The project draws on Urban-Think Tank’s extensive research into the Torre Confinanzas, known as the Torre de David, which is also presented here. This unfinished forty-five-story skyscraper, built as a banking headquarters in Caracas in the 1990s, has been squatted and is now a “vertical slum” and a vibrant community, containing improvised shops and restaurants. Here, the Torre de David stands as a symbol of neoliberal failure and of the poor’s self-empowerment. With its magnificent deficiencies, it represents an opportunity to reconsider how we create and foster urban communities. The fictional replica restaurant presented here is symbolic of self-determination and acts as a meeting place for visitors, where they can eat, drink, and generally taste South America. It is built out of appropriately humble materials, with a working kitchen and an authentic Venezuelan menu.

As part of this mise en scène, there is a series of photographs taken by Iwan Baan at the Torre de David. As in all Latin American street-food stalls and cheap restaurants, there are TVs in the corners of the room. These will show a series of short films about the tower created by Urban-Think Tank. These include footage of a community meeting where residents discuss their occupation as belonging to a tradition of the commons that predates the Conquistadors. The restaurant, entitled Gran Horizonte, is named after an actual restaurant in Caracas. This “grand horizon” is also a reference to the global south, which is always looking towards a political equator, beyond which lies the economic north.

Research Project Team: Michael Contento, Susana García, Kaspar Helfrich, Rafael Machado, Ilana Millner, Jose Antonio Nuñes, Mathieu Quilici, Daniel Schwartz, Frederic Schwarz, Lindsey Sherman, Alexandra Zervudachi. Collaborators: Iwan Baan, Lars Müller Publishers. With the additional support of: ETH Zürich D-ARCH, Schindler Aufzüge AF Group, Menuiserie Roth SA, Pictet & Cie, Driade, kt.COLOR AG die Fabmanufaktur. Special thanks to: Residents of La Torre David, Jimeno Fonseca (ITA, ETH), Yona Friedman, Paul Friedli (Schindler Aufzüge AG), Antonio Garces, Marva Griffin, Andres Lepik, Sacha Menz (Dean at ETH D-ARCH), Vivian Pedroni, Arno Schlueter (ITA, ETH), Christian Schmid, Kilian Schuster (Schindler Aufzüge AG), Katrin Trautwein and Klaus Nadler.