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Jawdropping views of cozy homes built in an abandoned office tower, a lagoon, a recycling heap and more

Posted by: Kate Torgovnick May
In Caracas, the capital of Venezuela, nearly seventy percent of the population lives in slums that seem to drape over every corner of the city.

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: 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 centre of the city is the Torre David, a forty-five story unfinished office tower that was in the midst of construction until the developer died in 1993, and the crash of the Venezuelan economy the following year. About eight years ago, people started moving in to the abandoned construction site, and today it is considered the world’s largest vertical slum.

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 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 twenty-eight degrees, the inhabitants needed to find ways to induce airflow, and this also serves as a circulation system to help inhabitants better navigate the 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.

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 and passion – at least up until as far as one can reach.

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 thirtieth floor, where all of the weights are made from the unused elevator equipment.

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.

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 centre of Lagos is Makoko – a community of approximately one hundred and fifty thousand who live and work on stilted structures, just meters above the Lagos Lagoon.

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.

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.

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 highly 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.

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.

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 one will find the Zabaleen – a community of Coptic Christians who make their living by collecting and recycling waste from homes and business across Cairo.

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.

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.

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 you will find collections of yadongs – underground cave dwellings that are dug out from the soft and malleable Loess Plateau soil. Up until the early 2000’s an estimated forty-million people still lived in sunken courtyard houses which sit seven meters below-ground.

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 yadong costs next to nothing – all one needs is a shovel and a few friends to dig the soil.

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.

Comments (81)

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  • commented on Feb 19 2014

    Interesting places, I have seen similar in Egypt and Sao Paulo but didn’t dare to get inside and watch deeper! Nice pictures!

  • commented on Feb 19 2014

    Reblogged this on Beautiful little nothings and commented:
    Home is what you make it

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  • Alexa James commented on Feb 19 2014

    I’m thinking we might want to stop romanticizing poverty.

    • Roberto Gonzalez commented on Apr 10 2014

      Thank you. This is the smartest comment here. Those of us who know the misery in which the poor of Caracas live don’t see anything beautiful about it.

      • commented on Apr 11 2014

        You may have a point there I could not believe the pictures of Caracas, wow, that picture really needs change gosh.

    • commented on Apr 10 2014

      that was my thought.

    • Fei Duan commented on Apr 10 2014

      You can also look at it as not so much about “romanticizing poverty”, and more about celebrating the ingenuity of self-created places. There is already a lot of media about all the things that these people lack. This is not denying the issues that come with living in slums but rather admiring the fact that people have created so much when they started from almost nothing. These community spaces form pretty organically and are built by the residents, for the residents (I see the innovation that is often associated with capitalism at work, but without the greed). In many ways they function better for community that built them than does state-planned housing infrastructures, which are often very problematic themselves.

    • commented on Apr 10 2014

      We’re romanticizing human ingenuity and resourcefulness. It’s a good lesson to see how those do more with less. Conditions are squalor compared to what most of us have in the west, but are they any more or less happy? Does their life have any less meaning? By our standards, maybe. But probably not by theirs.

    • Eduardo Gomez Sanchez commented on Apr 11 2014

      exactly. this is horrible

  • Marvin Price commented on Feb 19 2014

    In other words, what happens when socialists take over the government, and capitalists give up. Cuba with skyscrapers?

    • Earl Porterfield commented on Apr 10 2014

      Let’s not act like 100% of one (capitalism or socialism) is better than the other. A mixed economy is what’s ideal. You’ll find the same thing if capitalists took over a gov’t.

      • commented on Apr 11 2014

        You mean like the mixed economies of our era – where the difference between rich and poor is the greatest we’ve ever seen?

        It would be useful to reject the cliche that compromise is always the best forward, and look for a logic that actually works.

        We’ve witnessed the unhappy results of communism and socialism. We’re currently witnessing the unhappy results of a ‘mixed’ economy. One day we might decide to actually give the free market a try. But be sure that it won’t be at the behest of any government…

        It’s worth noting that all these photos are examples of a basic ‘capitalising’ (on an opportunity) impulse — that capitalism at its root comes from the streets, from the individuals trying to make there way without government support. If you think capitalism is a corporate agenda, then you’re mistaking it for a government-supported (socialist) agenda.

        • Earl Porterfield commented on Apr 15 2014

          Daniel, I do not disagree that these pics depict “capitalizing at it’s roots”…however, I feel you are sadly mistaken to believe there’s one ideology that’s the answer to society’s ills. America’s income distribution is no better or worse now than it was during the “hey day” of our free market capitalizing ways (the days of slavery…free labor…free markets). And America has enjoyed nearly all of it’s successes under a mixed economy. And to that point, our most recent economic collapse was the result of eight years of an anti-regulation, capitalizing ideologue and his Republican Congress.

          Historically, being an ideologue…and believing in one golden system has never, ever worked. While mixed economies have seen success time and time again.

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  • commented on Oct 28 2013

    Reblogged this on Live the Flipside and commented:
    This is simply amazing. Human creativity and adaptability at its best!

  • commented on Oct 26 2013

    Reblogged this on Doc Turbo Kneeboarder and commented:
    Amazing

    What about water and sewage in a 45 story walk up. Imagine moving your weight set up to that level?

    Walk down the 45 flights got to take 20 minutes?

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  • commented on Oct 19 2013

    Reblogged this on Where do the Children Play…?.

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  • commented on Oct 18 2013

    Reblogged this on My Golden buds and commented:
    Amazing …isn’t it?

  • commented on Oct 17 2013

    beautiful..

  • commented on Oct 16 2013

    Reblogged this on Landmark Journal and commented:
    Home can mean so many different things to different people around the world. What does home mean to you? What does it look like?

  • commented on Oct 16 2013

    Reblogged this on NZ Fiendishly Fiends Fabricated Withdrawal Fables and commented:
    My first ever “reblog”.

    Real social housing… Not a government approach… Housing systems by people, for people, may save us from addiction, suicide and mental health issues of all natures.

    Then again….

  • commented on Oct 16 2013

    Reblogged this on Curiosidades na internet.

  • commented on Oct 16 2013

    Reblogged this on STEM-Works Blog and commented:
    Never underestimate human ingenuity…

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