Life in the Torre de David
October 19, 2011
Torre de David. All photos: Iwan Baan
The world’s only most famous and prolific architectural photographer Iwan Baan has recently visited Caracas’s Torre de David, the 45-story skyscraper-turned vertical city for squatters. The images, which were originally featured by NYMag, capture the living conditions of the tower’s inhabitants, who, despite their derelict dwelling spaces, have built a strong and vibrant community in the shell of South America’s eight tallest tower. Read on.
The tower was originally part of an urban renewal plan to privatize and modernize the center of Caracas’s business district with a gigantic glass skyscraper meant to symbolize Venezuela’s arrival at the global economic stage. The project, which was to be outfitted with luxury apartments, a swimming pool, and even a helipad, would have been the domain of bankers and their wealthy clients. But a series of socioeconomic mishaps, including the crash of the collapse of the national banks, put an end to the project, and construction on the Torre de David was abandoned. It now stands as what may be the world’s greatest modern ruin this side of J.G. Ballard’s “High Rise”.
In typical fashion, Baan’s lens gravitates from the exterior establishing shots of the building to the intimate spaces within, animated by its human occupants who go on about their daily activities–lifting weights, cutting hair, gossiping, resting. These inhabitants make up the nearly 625 families that now live on 28 of the building’s 45 floors. They have formed a collective that manages a micro-economy within the walls of the building, undetermined by the lack of working elevators. Occupants, instead, have adapted the building’s interior to suit their own needs and desires. With scrap and recovered materials, they create small enclosures–I avoid the term “labyrinthine” or an extant spatial description for fear of aestheticizing the realities of the derelict living conditions–to house rooms, but also shops and services which appear on nearly every floor. They have even wired the tower with electricity and have equipped it with a plumbing system.
Although it might be a calculated move on the part of the Chavez administration, which may see the model as a solution to the city’s growing need for housing, the inhabitants of the Torre de David have yet to be evicted, despite the building’s dangerous and moribund structural state. Out of necessity, these occupants continue to live in this vertical slum–evidence of the failure of Venezuela’s social program, perhaps, but more so of the collective’s will to build new lives for themselves.
Section of the Torre de David