Posts tagged with "Caracas":

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From futuristic mall to hellish jail: New AIANY exhibit delves into the history of Venezuela’s “El Helicoide”

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.

Tower of Babble: Winning Venice Biennale Exhibition on Torre David Stirs Controversy

Just a few weeks before the death of Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez, the New Yorker published a profile by Jon Lee Anderson (“Letter from Caracas: Slumlord”). The subject of the profile was less Chavez and more a Chavez-era phenomenon, the so-called Tower of David in downtown Caracas. “It embodies the urban policy of this regime, which can be defined by confiscation, expropriation, governmental incapacity, and the use of violence,” Guillermo Barrios, dean of architecture at the Universidad Central in Caracas, told Anderson. Torre David is a 45-story vertical slum that blossomed in an unfinished 1990s office tower developed by banker David Brillembourg. The mini-city of 750 souls that took root in the building’s remnants is notable for its self-made eco-system—there’s a butcher, bodegas, jerry-rigged plumbing, and electricity. Torre David, in the form of a pop-up arepa restaurant, was the subject of an entry at 2012 Venice Biennale by the Zurich-based firm Urban Think Tank (one of whose principals is Alfredo Brillembourg, cousin of the late David) with photographer Iwan Baan and writer Justin McGuirk. The installation won the Biennale’s highest honor, the Golden Lion, and the project is now the subject of a book and film. Despite picking up the Lion d’Or, critiques of the project were immediate and continue to grow. Monica Ponce de Leon, a Caracas native and dean of architecture at University of Michigan, wrote to AN: “What has been left out of the conversation is the really deplorable living conditions of those who inhabit the towers, the socioeconomic forces giving them no choice but to live there, without basic sanitation services, security, or basic rights. Ignored in the debates is the arrogance of a discipline that reconstructs a vernacular cantina for their leisurely enjoyment.”