Exhibit Curator: Justin McGuirk
Participants: Urban-Think Tank, Alfredo Brillembourg & Hubert Klumpner (D-ARCH/ETH Zürich)
Torre David, a 45-story office tower in Caracas designed by the distinguished Venezuelan architect Enrique Gómez, was almost complete when it was abandoned following the death of its developer, David Brillembourg, in 1993 and the collapse of the Venezuelan economy in 1994. Today, it is the improvised home of a community of more than 750 families, living in an extra- legal and tenuous occupation that some have called a vertical slum.
Alfredo Brillembourg and Hubert Klumpner, along with their research and design teams at Urban-Think Tank and ETH Zürich, spent a year studying the physical and social organization of this ruin-turned-home. Where some only see a failed development project, U-TT has conceived it as a laboratory for the study of the informal. In this exhibit and in their forthcoming book, Torre David: Informal Vertical Communities, the architects lay out their vision for practical, sustainable interventions in Torre David and similar informal settlements around the world. They argue that the future of urban development lies in collaboration among architects, private enterprise, and the global population of slum-dwellers. Brillembourg and Klumpner issue a call to arms to their fellow architects to see in the informal settlements of the world a potential for innovation and experimentation, with the goal of putting design in the service of a more equitable and sustainable future.
In the spirit of the Biennale’s theme, Common Ground, the installation takes the form of a Venezuelan arepa restaurant, creating a genuinely social space rather than a didactic exhibition space. The residents of Torre David have similarly created a variety of common grounds—for sports, leisure, worship, and meetings—that reinforce the cohesive nature of this settlement.
Even before its opening, this installation has become highly controversial in the Venezuelan architectural community. Many are dismayed that the nation’s architectural accomplishments are “represented” by a never-completed and “ruined” work; others argue that the exhibit condones the Venezuelan government’s tacit and explicit support of illegal seizure and occupation of property. In fact, none of these positions reflects the true nature and purpose of the exhibit.
It, and its creators, avoid taking political sides, arguing that Torre David represents not Venezuelan architecture but rather an experiment in informal/formal hybridity and a critical moment in the global phenomenon of informal living. With the aim of developing the debate over Torre David and similar sites in other cities, the installation includes many of the letters and newspaper articles that have appeared in response to the announcement of this exhibition.