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Architects Who Make Hope Visible (for the Community and for the Profession)

Continuing with our coverage of Espacios de Paz 2015 (Spaces for Peace) in Venezuela, Plataforma Arquitectura Editor José Tomás Franco reflects on the crisis of the architect who approaches his work abstractly -- without taking into consideration the unique problems and issues of the territory -- and on the strengthening of a collective architecture, that is honest and efficient, not only benefitting the affected communities but also, indirectly, revolutionizing the way we architects do our jobs.

In times of crisis, the need for progress forces us into action. While pressing issues in Latin America generate instances to improve the quality of life in the most vulnerable neighborhoods, architects, which are plentiful in the region, seem pressured to broaden their scope and search for new fertile spaces to work in. This meeting of forces not only translates into a real contribution to a particular community, but also subtly reveals a change in the way in which we practice architecture.  

Faced with the highly complex task of meeting the urgent needs of people with limited resources, Latin American architects have been obliged to work based on efficiency and teamwork, recovering key skills and using them to help other human beings. Skills that are essential for showing that our work is fundamental, and not only in the cities' forgotten neighborhoods.

Why do Latin American architects seem to be returning to their roots?

Espacio de Paz project in Punta Arenas, Venezuela (2015). Image © Veo Productores Espacio de Paz project in Punta Arenas, Venezuela (2015). Image © Veo Productores Espacio de Paz project in Punta Arenas, Venezuela (2015). Image © Veo Productores Espacio de Paz project in Punta Arenas, Venezuela (2015). Image © Veo Productores

Documentary On Torre David, Once The World's Tallest Slum, Released Online

In 1994, after the death of its main investor and a national banking crisis that left Venezuela's economy stagnated, the construction of Caracas' Centro Financiero Confinanzas - known popularly as the Tower of David - was paralyzed, leaving the building completely abandoned and on 70 percent complete.

Neglected for more than a decade, the 45-story, 190-meter-tall skyscraper became the makeshift home for a community of more than 800 families, becoming the world's tallest "vertically organized favela," with basic services to the 22nd floor and including even barber shops, kindergartens and dentists.

The documentary Torre David (now available to watch in full for a small fee of $3) was filmed by Urban-Think Tank, presenting the particular life of its residents before the tower was evacuated in 2014. The film is part of a larger research project that has led to new a book and numerous exhibitions, including the exhibition winner of the Golden Lion at the 2012 Venice Biennale.

Click here to watch the full documentary.

Espacios de Paz 2015: 5 Cities, 5 Communities, 20 Architecture Collectives

Between Sunday, May 17 and Monday, May 18 projects developed under the second phase of Espacios de Paz (Spaces of Peace) were inaugurated in five cities across Venezuela. A genuine exercise in participative design, 20 Latin American architecture groups worked for five weeks with communities in neighborhoods dominated by violence, high dropout rates and crime to convert deteriorated and abandoned spaces into public places of peace. 

For each project, four groups of young architects worked together to carry out a process of dialogue, research, design, and ultimately the construction of either an athletic, social or educational facility to be administrated by the local community. Espacios de Paz is coordinated by the local office of PICO Estudio, with guidance from public institutions and under the leadership of Isis Ochoa, the High Presidential Commissioner for Peace and Life.

ArchDaily en Español Editors, Nicolás Valencia M. and José Tomás Franco, were invited by PICO Estudio to document and view the five projects in their final phase of construction and speak with the architects and community representatives about the development of the projects and some of the challenges faced in the process. 

Learn more about each of the five projects after the break. 

Frank Gehry Presents Design for Venezuelan Music Center

With Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro in attendance, Frank Gehry presented the model for the future National Center for Social Action Through Music building in Lara state. The project is Gehry’s second in Latin America, following the recently inaugurated Biomuseo in Panamá

To be located in Barquisimeto, Venezuela’s fourth most populated city, the National Center for Social Action Through Music forms part of the National Network of Youth and Children’s Orchestras and Choirs of Venezuela, more commonly known as “El Sistema.” Founded in 1975 by orchestra director José Antonio Abreu, El Sistema is now funded by the government and provides musical training and education for children from impoverished backgrounds. The Adjkm-designed Simon Bolivar Complex for Social Action is also part of El Sistema.

Learn more about the project after the break. 

How Venezuela’s Espacios de Paz Project is Transforming Community Spaces

Petare, La Y 5 de Julio  / Caracas [TXP Todo por La Praxis + PGRC + Pico Estudio]. Image Courtesy of PICO Estudio
Petare, La Y 5 de Julio / Caracas [TXP Todo por La Praxis + PGRC + Pico Estudio]. Image Courtesy of PICO Estudio

The Espacios de Paz (Spaces for Peace) project in Venezuela is turning “zones of danger” into “zones of peace” through participatory design in violent areas of the country. Led by Venezuelan firm PICO Estudio, Espacios de Paz was a six-week long workshop that involved five groups of architects from both Venezuela as well as internationally. Each group focused on developing a project in a community with a high presence of violence. By transforming unused spaces such as empty plots and unregulated landfill areas, the projects sought to create “social dynamics that invite new ways of living in communities, transforming categories that rule the daily life: the use of time and space.” Community involvement in project development was also key to the Espacios de Paz initiative, which sought to  create “a space built not only "for" the community but "by" the community.”

Read on after the break to see the projects that were implemented…

adjkm's Releases Final Design for Caracas Symphony

In 2011, adjkm won an international competition to design the Simon Bolivar Complex for Social Action through Music (CASMSB - Complejo de Acción Social por la Música Simón Bolívar) in Caracas. Now, almost four years later, the Venezuelan practice has released their updated design for the “Caracas Symphony” in preparation for its groundbreaking at the end of this year. 

The building is being constructed for the El Sistema project, an internationally distinguished program based on the premise that musical training can create great musicians and completely alter the expected life paths of children born into extremely impoverished circumstance. 

Urban Think Tank Responds to the Forced Eviction of Torre David Residents

Following yesterday's news story about the forced eviction of the thousands of inhabitants living in Venezuela’s Torre de David (Tower of David), the world's tallest vertical slum, Urban-Think Tank has issued a statement. The group, which spent two years researching the remarkable urban space for their Golden Lion-winning Pavilion at the Venice Biennale 2012, has spoken with residents and hopes to provoke the architectural/design communities by adding their voice to the debate. Read the full statement, after the break. 

Venezuela Begins Relocation of Thousands Living in Torre de David, the World’s Tallest Slum

Monday night began the relocation process of thousands of inhabitants living in Venezuela’s Torre de David (Tower of David), the world’s tallest slum, according to reports by Venezuelan newspaper Últimas Noticias, BBC Mundo and tweets from journalists following the coverage. The relocation initiative is being carried out by the Interior and Justice Ministry, and comes just five days after the announcement that the Venezuelan government is in negotiations with Chinese banks interested in purchasing the building.

Thousands of Inhabitants May Be Relocated As Chinese Bankers Eye Venezuela's Torre David

Torre de David (the Tower of David) - the world's tallest slum and the subject of Urban-Think TankJustin McGuirk, and Iwan Baan's Golden Lion-winning Pavilion at the Venice Biennale 2012 - is once again making headlines. Venezuelan newspaper TalCual reports that the Venezuelan government is in negotiations with Chinese banks interested in purchasing the building.

Tower of David is an unfinished financial skyscraper in downtown Caracas. Construction began on the tower in 1990, but the death of the principal investor in 1993 and the subsequent banking crisis that hit the country in 1994 froze construction; by the end of the year, the tower was in the hands of the state. Nevertheless, in 2007 two thousand homeless citizens took over and inhabited the skyscraper, making it the tallest vertical slum in the world.

© Vía 'The Atlantic' © Vía 'The Atlantic' © Vía 'The Atlantic' © Vía 'The Atlantic'

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.

Rogers Stirk Harbour Unveils Design for Venezuela's National Football Stadium

Following our recent news that confirmed Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners (RSHP) will oversee the design and construction of two new stadiums within Caracas' Hugo Chavez Park, details have emerged regarding the Estadio Nacional de Fútbol de Venezuela. Designed by RSHP, in collaboration with Arup and Schlaich Bergermann und Partners, the project will be the practice’s first ever football stadium.

Richard Rogers to Design Two New Stadiums for Hugo Chávez Park

On January 17th, the mayor of Caracas, Jorge Rodriguez, and British architect Richard Rogers signed a contract that confirms Rogers will oversee the design and construction of two new stadiums within "Hugo Chavez" Park. Both stadiums should be completed by 2015.

The 200-hectare "Hugo Chavez" Park will be located around the race course La Rinconada and the Museum Alejandro Otero (MAO). The project, which began in April 2013, includes the construction of a football stadium with capacity for 50,000 people and a baseball stadium with capacity for 45,000, plus a multipurpose gym and the new headquarters of the Bolivarian University of Venezuela. 

Inside the World's Tallest Slum: Venezuela's Tower of David

What was once a symbol of Caracas' bright financial future is now the world’s tallest slum: Venezuela's Tower of David. Squatters took over this unfinished 45-story skyscraper in the early 1990s, after its construction was stopped due to a banking crisis and the sudden death of the tower’s namesake, David Brillembourg. 

Now, as the government is grappling with a citywide housing shortage, many residents have spent most of their life within the walls of David. And despite the tower’s reputation as being a hotbed of crime, residents have managed to build a self-sustaining community complete with a communal electrical grid and aqueduct water system.

La Carlota Park Competition Proposal / Glocalstudio (Kunckel Associates + Stefan Gzyl)

Courtesy of Glocalstudio (Kunckel Associates + Stefan Gzyl)
Courtesy of Glocalstudio (Kunckel Associates + Stefan Gzyl)

The architecture firms of Kunckel Associates and Stefan Gzyl joined forces under the Glocalstudio platform to develop their entry to the recently completed ideas competition for La Carlota park in Caracas, Venezuela. They propose that the new park is an opportunity for a lot more than supplying a quantifiable amount of park space: they understand it as an opportunity for the (re)foundation of the city. The park will become the city’s new vital nucleus, a space from which to (re)conquest and (re)claim a preexisting and often hostile territory. In a city in which nature is in constant decline and hardly available as public space, the 100 hectare military airfield site constitutes a unique chance for a metropolitan-scale park in the very heart of the city. More images and architects’ description after the break.

Venice Biennale 2012: Venezuela Pavilion

© Nico Saieh
© Nico Saieh

Venezuela’s participation at the 13th Venice Biennale is presented through a series of reflections about the urban situation – the city of the 21st century.

La ciudad socializante vs la ciudad alienante is aimed for the general audience, not just the architects, presenting a series of graphic-chromatic notes and sketches by Domenico Silvestro, who was very kind and showed us the pavilion. You can see him on the photos below.