When life gives you lemons, you make a livable high-rise

What it is now is not what it can be

Remember la Torre de David? You know, the abandoned skyscraper that was invaded by squatters and now stands as a monument to Venezuela’s housing crisis?

Well, architecht Alfredo Brillembourg (presumably related to the building’s namesake) moved into the building and studied it for a year. He came up with a project to renovate it and make it livable and … voilá … he just won the top prize at the Venice Architecture Biennale.

I love his approach to the problem: he’s not interested in how the situation got to where it is, but in how to build on what the squatters themselves have built.

I don’t know much more about the project, but there is some background here. Fascinating stuff.

31 thoughts on “When life gives you lemons, you make a livable high-rise

  1. Good project, which means it will get nowhere under Chavez, especially since it wasn’t his proposal.

    I’ve thought about Venezuela’s housing crisis, and a much more sensible solution would be creating something like Habitat for Humanity, where a small number of experienced people direct would be residents and community volunteers in the construction of their OWN house. HFH provides tools and safety gear, tradesmen are brought in for some things like plumbing and electrical, but a lot of the grunt work is done by people who will get the houses.

    This is already happening in Venezuela – just in a dumb and inefficient manner! Right now people build their own *shacks* which actually take a lot of labor and upkeep but don’t last. You could even offer a similar social program for locals to borrow tools so they can do their own improvements, there is such a thing in St.Louis in some lower income areas and it works pretty well. In both cases, people get sweat equity in their houses which leads to better upkeep and skill building than if you hand them a finished house.

    Of course, Chavez will never ever do something like that. It might give people the idea that the solution to their problems lies in their own hands. Chavez only wants to deliver finished solutions with a bow on top, like a father who gives his 16 year old son the keys to a new BMW, not a father who gives his son a his old mustang and lets him re-do the interior and rebuild the engine.


    • NorkeDiv,

      I have also thought about Habitat for Humanity as a partial help, however HAH depends a lot on donations and generous middle/upper classes, which Venezuela is not known for, partly because furniture, fixtures,materials etc. are extremely expensive there, and partly because of habits.

      When you say:

      “It might give people the idea that the solution to their problems lies in their own hands”

      I agree this is something important to learn….but people do not learn it from politicians, it is learned at home and forms part of what might be called ‘culture’.

      One thing is for certain : we do not appreciate what we have not worked for which is why teenagers often do not appreciate their parents.


      • It is a habit in Venezuela to believe that all things good from from without and if we don’t have it is because nobodies gives, thus the tendency to be leftist.


        • sorry meant to say’ nobody’ gives.

          I am so reckety sick and tired of the lame rhetoric that convinces people they are powerless and of the people who get rich off peddling that thought !


      • Agreed, the funding for this kind of program would have to come from the government, not from the private sector as it does in the US. So it wouldn’t be Habitat for humanity, more like the build-your-own-house Mission. Nonetheless, it could be implemented I think. At the least, it would be more efficient than the current program where Chavez hands the keys over to a finished house built by Chinese laborers. Of course we also agree that Chavez will never do it…

        as you point out the very idea of such a program might be an anathema to Venezuelan culture (I wouldn’t know since I’m not Venezuelan but I will take your word for it!). I do think that the government, when very well run, has some power to positively influence culture over time, through education and adjusting people into new social norms. Chavez of course has done exactly the opposite, encouraging mercenary rent seeking.


    • Wow, quién iba a decirlo, pero Panfleto Negro publicó un artículo que hasta *a mí* me parece de ultra-derecha.

      Qué impráctico – como no hay que “legitimar” las invasiones, hay que desalojar a las miles de personas de la Torre. Muy práctica la solución … not.


      • oh that’s churlish Juan. I think Sergio M. is just refreshing an old Del Buen Salvaje al Buen Revolucionario/Pascal Bruckner critique of starry eyed European PSFs projecting fantasies onto us. Nothing wrong with that.

        There’s a wide gulf between saying that squatting shouldn’t be glorified and saying the squatters should be evicted.

        We’re going to keep tolerating squatting for the foreseeable future because we don’t have any better options than that. But celebrating the ingenuity of squatters and awarding them prizes for it?! There’s a strong whiff of PSF-desubicado to it, don’t you think?


        • (Actually, it’s Brillenbourg’s project to re-do the Torre that won the prize, I guess…it’s just the jury’s citation in awarding it that strayed so far into PSF La-La land…)


          • Celebrating the ingenuity of squatters and bringing them into the formal economy is precisely what Hernando de Soto preaches. So yeah, I’m siding with Brillembourg and co. on this one. It’s a practical solution to a seemingly unsolvable problem. The alternative leaves us surrounded by … squatters!


  2. Aggree with Toro on this one. The Squatting should not be accepted. But the prize for the architect is a ggod one for its own merit.

    Waht are we talking about here?
    the policy of a new govermet towards private property, the rights of venezuelans to dignified shelter, the proposal of a interested architect, is working with a problem and proposing a solution, or our interpretation of the veredict of a jury in a Architectural bi annial competition in Venice, because some perceive it as caviar intelectuals pushing judgement on us good savages….
    It pays to be precise.

    Who owns the torre de David?
    the goverment through fogade, right? so when evaluating how to develop, demolish, re-zoning or else; will need to hold in line the message it gives to other squaters to be: Take what is not yours, eventually we will sort it out for you, and bulid you a rancho in the sky!!!

    Does anyone else see the rabit hole here?….
    In my book, no way. Eviction and some negotiated compensation, as part of a meta-plan of relocation away form oversowded Caracas, to safest spots as part of a planned development program.


    • Every barrio in Caracas is the outcome of somebody squatting at some point in the past. You wanna evict 2 million people in return for “some negotiated compensation”!?!?

      Good luck with that…


      • No Francisco, Barrios are a different story. But Torre de David is a beacon, and can be used for a “fast victory” in the change. a good transition, a lot of PR, etc….


  3. Hi, great stuff guys.
    Here is a report I did for Deutsche Welle TV back in July that was aired to commemorate UN’s World Population Day. I just uploaded it to my YouTube account so it has not been seen much.

    I appreciate your columns.

    Oscar Schlenker


    • Terrific. The guy with the baby by the ledge brought to mind a mechanic I knew who worked in the street near Plaza Venezuela- he lost a kid from a fall from a building. Brought that to mind. Perilousness is normal in Caracas. Thanks for posting this.


    • Buen reporte el de Oscar. En 3 minutos logró captar muy bien los vericuetos de una historia compleja. Nadie podría acusar a los habitantes de la Torre de David de conformistas. Le han echado bolas, para decirlo en criollo. Pero en sus declaraciones también hay resignación, un no-conformismo resignado (lo que puede parecer contradictorio). Han “resuelto” su situación de vivienda, pero están rodeados de inseguridad, tienen que subir 28 pisos a pie, se revientan la espalda para subir una nevera (seguramente de la misión Tu Casa Bien Equipada), los chamos se pueden caer y matarse jugando en las “terrazas”, pero “viven bien”, como ellos mismos lo declaran. Nada nuevo, en realidad. Es el mismo esquema mental que acepta con resignación las barbaridades cotidianas: decenas de muertos y destrucción por explosiones de refinería por incompetencia del gobierno, corrupción generalizada, violencia fuera de control, infraestructura que se desmorona, proyectos agroalimentarios que terminan siendo monte y culebra. Es el mismo no-conformismo resignado de un país que siempre sale en los primeros puestos en las encuestas mundiales de felicidad.


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