AIA New York’s Center for Architecture opens its newest exhibit, El Helicoide: From Mall to Prison, on May 9. The exhibit, curated by Celeste Olalquiaga of PROYECTO HELICOIDE, examines the development and subsequent collapse of the El Heliocoide drive-in mall in Caracas, Venezuela.

The building was designed in the late 1950s by architect Romero Gutierrez as a representation of the utopian hopes of a booming Venezuela and quickly became an icon of modern architecture. The spiraling mall caps La Roca Tarpeya hill, which overlooks Caracas, and is topped with a geodesic dome designed by Buckminster Fuller.

The project went from being the star of MoMA’s 1961 show Roads to an abandoned home of more than 10,000 squatters after facing several financial roadblocks and a series of political upheavals. In 1985 the abandoned building was adopted by the Venezuelan intelligence services and has since been a place of imprisonment and surveillance.

“El Helicoide’s failure and turbulent history are symptomatic of what went wrong with modern Venezuela,” said Olalquiaga in a press release. “By showing the building’s patrimonial and cultural value, PROYECTO HELICOIDE seeks to highlight the country’s outstanding modern heritage in all its contradictory complexity.”

A book about the project’s history, From Mall to Prison: El Helicoide’s Downward Spiral, will be released in conjunction with the exhibit. An opening reception with the curator will be held on May 9 and the exhibition will be open through July 13. For more information, you can visit the AIA New York’s Center for Architecture event page here.

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