In Caracas, the capital of Venezuela, nearly 70 percent of the population lives in slums that appear to drape like silk over every hill of the city.
Iwan Baan: Ingenious homes in unexpected placesIwan Baan is not as interested in what architects build as he is in the beautiful ways that people appropriate the spaces once the planners are gone. In today’s talk, Baan — whose breathtaking image of lower Manhattan after Hurricane Sandy hangs on at least one of our walls — shows incredible images from communities thriving in ways that seem quite opposite to the uniformity of suburbs. First, Baan takes us to Chandigarh, India, where people inhabit buildings created by modernist architects Le Corbusier in very different ways than expected. Then, Baan takes us to Caracas, Venezuela, where an abandoned 45-story building has become a miniature city. From there, Baan takes us to a Nigerian slum built on water, to a community in Cairo thriving amid recycling heaps, and to an underground village in China.
Baan’s talk will have you marveling at human ingenuity. In it, the photographer shows 154 images. Since they appear rapid-fire, Baan has selected some to share here, where you can take your time and appreciate the details.
In the center of Caracas is the Torre David, a 45-story unfinished office tower that was in the midst of construction until the developer died in 1993, followed by the crash of the Venezuelan economy the following year. About eight years ago, people started moving into the abandoned construction site, and today it is considered the world’s largest vertical slum.
With no lifts or escalators, the tower is essentially a forty-five-story walk up. You’ll find seniors or those less physically-abled on the lower floors, and the young and healthy near the top. Public spaces like this stairwell are painted with care in order to make the tower feel more like an apartment building.
With the average temperature in Caracas reaching 28 degrees, the inhabitants needed to find ways to induce airflow. Holes in the wall like this one serve as a circulation system, and also to help inhabitants better navigate the building.
In an exercise of ingenuity, inhabitants like this family typically mark their space with whatever materials they can find or purchase. Here, newspaper becomes wallpaper.
Every home in the tower is designed with love – at least up until as far as one can reach.
The tower functions on an entire system of micro-economies, and on each floor, you’ll find a collection of shops and services. You’ll find the church, the grocery store as well as the gym on the 30th floor, where all of the weights are made from the unused elevator equipment.
Like a beehive, the tower provides a skeleton framework for each inhabitant to create something for himself or herself by whatever means they can afford.
In the center of Lagos, Nigeria, is Makoko – a community of approximately 150,000 who live and work on stilted structures, just meters above the Lagos Lagoon.
Makoko is both an example of Nigeria’s seemingly irrepressible population growth, and an incredible illustration of our human ability to adapt to seemingly inhospitable conditions.
From the barbershop to the movie theatre, every aspect of life in Makoko has been adapted to meet the demands of life on the water.
Despite being a disadvantaged community, when it comes to good live music, the atmosphere in Makoko is quintessentially Nigerian. At any given time, you’ll find a band floating down the lagoon, for all of the community to enjoy.
In Makoko, forced evictions are a daily reality. In response to the government’s plan to clear out the area to make room for development, the Nigerian architect Kunle Adeyemi built a school for the children of Makoko. Today, the entire community uses the structure, and the building appears like a beacon against the landscape.
Under the cliffs of the Mokattam Rocks in Cairo, Egypt, one will find the Zabaleen – a community of Coptic Christians who make their living by collecting and recycling waste from homes and business across the city.
The collected waste is brought back home where it is sorted and crushed before being sent off to a third party. To those in the Zabaleen, the waste becomes nearly invisible, as living amongst piles of garbage is merely a new definition of normal. Here, a window out into the garbage.
On the street level, the area seems to be in complete disarray, but step inside one of the homes, and you’ll be met with all manner of elaborate interior design choices.
In the provinces of Shanxi, Henan and Gansu in China, you will find collections of yaodongs – underground cave dwellings that are dug out from the soft and malleable Loess Plateau soil. Up until the early 2000’s an estimated 40 million people still lived in sunken courtyard houses which sit seven meters below-ground.
For the poor farmers, building a yaodong costs next to nothing – all one needs is a shovel and a few friends to dig the soil. And the end result is very homey.