Latin America. Experimental Housing Project
Citizens of Latin America
Population in Latin America are constantly reminded of the social polarities in our cities through the urban form where 3-metre (9-foot) tall security walls and bars on windows are the norm within island-like enclaves of wealth. Within this context, architects currently work to produce well-designed interior spaces that deliberately turn their back on the public realm – streets and public spaces – resulting in large sections of cities where the street is overlooked only by inactive walls. Until the last 20 to 30 years, with obvious exceptions such as Curitiba, there has been little consideration among Latin America’s architects and urbanists as to how practitioners might mitigate strong social and spatial polarities and challenge the prevailing architectural language of segregation and fear.
Even today, many architecture students of Latin America are taught to look to Europe and the US to learn from the latest trends of the northern hemisphere. On the rare occasions when Latin America-based projects are studied, these generally are the grand projects from the mid-20th century that were an imposition of occidental thought in anticipation of progress and modernity, but within a different social and political reality where older residents can still remember life within a feudal system. This transposition of modernity is exemplified in projects like Brasília, perhaps the largest-scale ‘realization of Le Corbusier’s theories and ideas built anywhere in the world’, and in the Modernist university projects that took root in Rio de Janeiro and Bogotá in the 1930s, in Caracas in 1944, and in Mexico in 1954.
Latin America Countries, Urban Revolution
The development of these grand projects at Latin America was extolled in a number of exhibitions and publications of the time, including MoMA’s ‘Brazil Builds’ (1943) and ‘Modern Architecture in Latin American Since 1945’ (1955). At the time, none of the cities had the industrial capacity to produce the prefabricated materials required, as predicated by the modern discourse, in order for the projects to be realised. They were only feasible through the availability of mass cheap labour. Since then, the centralised, utopian model has broken down. The socioeconomic climate behind these modern projects triggered an increasing informality and mass migrations from the countryside leaving cities socially and spatially divided. All in all, over the last 70 years, Latin America has undergone an urban revolution comparable to the mass migrations resulting from the industrial revolution in Europe, which took place over a period of 200 years.
In response to urban expansion in Latin America, mainly during the 1960s and 1970s many governments initially sought to house migrants in large superstructures or tower blocks, mimicking postwar housing projects in Europe. Despite their grand intentions, such projects represented a vision that clashed with the social and cultural reality of the time, as the dwellers for which these units were built were ‘mostly rural migrants, and were still very dependent on a traditional subsistence type of economy’. Latin America. Many failed, as single-use Modernist apartment blocks did not work well within an informal economy where the dwelling is envisioned not only as a home, but as a site of production; where the built form is capable of offering multiple opportunities for the user and for its use.
Architecture of Latin America
Subsequent exhibitions and international publications, including ‘Architecture Without Architects’ (1964), tackled a new set of concerns relating to Latin America’s rapid urban expansion. During this time, Peter Land, on behalf of the Peruvian government and the United Nations, conceived the Experimental Housing Project (PREVI) (1968), an ambitious social housing project that drew in international fi gures including, among others, James Stirling, Aldo van Eyck and Christopher Alexander. The aim of the project was to develop methodologies for producing ‘low-rise high-density housing’ with limited funds.
This issue of architectural design does not stand alone, but revisits an older story, following on from John Turner’s often-quoted article from 1963 entitled ‘Dwelling Resources in South America’, which marked a moment in time in the representation of the region, leaving us in suspense – until now. Latin America.
Since then, much has changed. Hernando de Soto, who published The Other Path in 1986, made a case supporting informality, showing that people living in informal areas were in fact entrepreneurs who contributed to the economy and who wanted to integrate, but were excluded by innumerable barriers. In 1996, Alan Gilbert, the first to coin the term ‘mega-city’, published The Mega-City in Latin America, seeing informal settlements as a potential solution to the rapid growth in Latin America’s cities, and making a clear argument for their consolidation.
Latin America. Once a blind spot in cities’ representation, informality is now considered an asset to be understood and incorporated. This paradigm shift towards viewing informality as a positive generator for the city rather than as a blight has created the opportunity for architects to develop new methods of research and responses to work within this challenging context. Additionally, as sustainability becomes an increasingly important issue, informal settlements offer a number of innovative sustainable solutions embedded in a culture in which resourcefulness and recycling are necessities rather than trends.
I learned about these processes and the richness of the informal parts of Tijuana in comparison with the sterile planned areas of San Diego while working in collaboration with Teddy Cruz and experiencing the border region between Mexico and the US in 2002–3. It became clear that the same phenomenon was repeated in my home city, Lima, and in many other Latin American cities. The wall that divides San Diego from Tijuana is similar to the countless walls in Latin American cities that separate wealthy planned neighborhoods from informal, no-go areas, or the 3-metre (9.98-foot) security walls that separate middle- and upper-class homes from the street. Latin America.
After this experience, and within my own practice in Peru, it became clear that it is necessary to develop participatory methodologies, to challenge the ways in which we represent ideas in projects, and to understand that when designing for communities, architects need to work with their desires and not only with finished forms. Desires relate to programme; how people will use and interact in a space rather than the form of the space itself. Furthermore, in trying to achieve a successful public realm, the development of a design needs a holistic approach, looking at economics, policy and managerial strategies that can help projects make visions into reality. On the other hand, social, political and economic strategies, such as those of Hernando de Soto, are generally not spatial, and for this reason their success can vary drastically based on their interpretation and physical manifestation on site.
Latin America. Through these new processes of change in the understanding and application of theory, universities and faculty members have become important in developing alternative methodologies to encourage new modes of architecture that, within multidisciplinary approaches, can integrate students, communities, government agents and professionals.
At the same time, new urban strategies by municipal governments have drastically improved some cities including Curitiba, Medellin and Bogotá, and the latter received the Venice Architecture Biennale’s Golden Lion Award for Architecture in 2006 for being at the forefront of urbanism. Another notable example is Guayaquil in Ecuador, where the Malecón 2000 project, together with a reconfiguration of the city’s public transport, succeeded in drawing people back into the center and in consolidating the once no-go informal settlement of Cerro Santa Ana into a tourist destination. Latin America.
Evidenced by the adoption of the bus rapid transit (BRT) model (first developed in Curitiba in 1974) in a number of cities across North America, Europe and Asia, the world now looks to Latin America for inspiration. These progressive policies by city mayors have provided fertile ground for new methodologies developed by Latin American architects, which are showing great potential to alleviate social segregation and spatial injustice, widening the discourse in so many ways. These alternative practices are increasingly gaining attention in international publications and exhibitions. Comparing these exhibitions to the historic ones of the 1940s and 1950s demonstrates a profound re-evaluation of the role of architects in Latin American society – as agents of social change.
The Morar Carioca project
This issue on Latin America comes at a critical moment in time, when the image of the region’s nation-states is in flux as stable governments, economic growth and globalization are reshaping its cities and societies. The issue illustrates the current processes of urban expansion in Latin America and the corresponding alternative home-grown methodologies. As Rio prepares to host the 2016 Olympics, Latin America will likely receive more international attention than at any time in history. Both the World Cup (2014) and Olympics (2016) in Rio de Janeiro have started to produce positive urban results due to new initiatives for the regeneration of formerly paralyzed, no-go areas of the city. The Morar Carioca project will deal with this complex task over the coming years and will be undertaken by 40 architects recently selected in a competition organized by the Institute of Architects of Brazil (IAB).
Latin America. In parallel, its wealth and diversity of resources has drawn increased foreign investment into new territories; the Amazon region, at the heart of the continent, is considered the lungs of Earth, but also a site of conflict between those who wish to preserve it, and others who hope to exploit its vast resources.
Latin America at the Crossroads exposes these new strategies and social roles, informed by the informal and the solutions practitioners have developed to stitch together polarized areas of the region’s cities. Such solutions to urban problems represent the vanguard in mitigating strong social and spatial divisions in cities across the globe. Rather than constructing major projects in search of an El Dorado, like Voltaire’s protagonist Candide, Latin America is learning from the benefits of tending its own garden.
The original vision at PREVI-Lima was only ever partially realised: less than a third of the 1,500 planned housing units were built and the governmental crisis of the late 1960s meant that the occupants were left to their own devices. Fernando García – Huidobro, Diego Torres Torriti and Nicolás Tugas look at how, abandoned by the authorities, the families at PREVI turned into incidental architects, completing the project and rendering the neighbourhood an integrated part of the city. Latin America.
Lima, carried out between 1968 and 1975 through an international and a national competition, was an opportunity for an internationally diverse group of renowned architects of the time, such as James Stirling from the UK, Atelier 5 from Switzerland, Charles Correa from India and Christopher Alexander from the US, to test the concept of low-rise high-density housing.
Latin America. The concept was a statement against the Modernist model of urban design that was heir to the time of the fi rst CIAM, the negative effects of which were already being experienced in certain European and Latin American cities. Its primary goals were flexibility of the housing element combined with different land-use strategies. The commitment of the PREVI initiative to this low-rise high-density housing concept thus produced a proposal for a neighbourhood of different housing typologies to suit diverse family sizes and with various expansion possibilities.
Although the original aim of the competition was to build 1,500 units of the winning project in different phases,in the end the jury instead proposed building a small piece of each of the 26 project entries as a ‘collage’ neighbourhood of 467 units in the first and, as it was to turn out, only phase of the initiative. The Development Group, an interdisciplinary team led by the British architect Peter Land, was in charge of the design of the masterplan and construction of the neighbourhood that would stitch all the different bits together. However, the governmental crisis of the late 1960s delayed the schedule; it became impossible to provide technical assistance and advice to the end users and, after delivering the houses, the project was discontinued and the experience forgotten. Latin America.
In 2003, the current state of PREVI was researched as part of our architectural degree thesis at the Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Chile. This focused on verifying how the families, turned into incidental architects, had completed the project and transformed it into a consolidated and integrated piece of the city. The houses have been transformed, dozens of small businesses fl ourish and special rental systems for subdivisions of the original units make up a dense, active neighbourhood.
Latin America. Despite the lack of technical advice, PREVI has become a highquality urban neighbourhood. So what were the strategies of the original plan? What was the logic behind this transformation, and what are the lessons to be learned from the project?
Dynamic Habitat. Latin America
The lack of resources typical of social housing projects has several consequences in the overall quality of the houses: for example, their inability to adapt to changing family needs, and their tendency to decrease in value over time. Taking into account the efforts families make to transform their properties is necessary in order to design projects that can accommodate change while preserving the quality of the built environment. But even more important is recognising housing as a dynamic process that has consequences on the effi ciency of public spending: increases in property values have a direct impact on the quality of life of their inhabitants, whether in terms of the improved standard of the dwelling itself, or the increase in capital which allows the family to move on to a better house or wealthier neighbourhood. Latin America.
The PREVI neighbourhood was planned for expansion; its urban layout allows for the interventions of each family yet resists a higher density, increasing the value of both the properties and the neighbourhood. It is an example of how such increases in value have encouraged subsequent generations to remain in the same neighbourhood, preventing the cycle of deterioration that results when family incomes increase and their houses are unable to respond to their new aspirations, forcing them to move away and ultimately limiting the neighbourhood to low-income families.
Open Urban Design: Support for Development. Latin America
Latin America. The PREVI project succeeded in delivering what would otherwise have been very difficult to achieve in a low-income neighbourhood: metropolitan-scale infrastructure and services, and a sophisticated network of public spaces offering access to each plot that also articulates the different modes of transportation. It was the foundations of an unfi nished city, planned to be self-completed, which in the end was transformed by the community beyond what had been planned into a functional neighbourhood and thriving economy – evidence of the delicate balance between economic planning and free market design.
Latin America. The urban approach included three main strategies:
1 A pedestrian axis that connects educational and sports facilities and the main park. Running through the centre of the neighbourhood, the pedestrian street activates and defines its core, allowing any public transport to stop to make the whole system more effi cient.
2 A network of small plazas and pedestrian passages based on the relationship between the urban unit (the plaza) and the social unit (the self-organising community). This urban/social connection promotes the collective care and maintenance of public space, allowing the plazas to serve as an extension of the domestic space. This plazaand – passage scheme also articulates the different clusters formed by the original projects.
3 Traffic separation, with perimeter roads, cul-de-sacs and parking areas – a layout that does not interrupt the pedestrian network of public spaces. Avoiding the fragmentation of traditional street layouts in this way means signifi cantly reduced air and noise pollution, and increased safety, improving quality of life.
Multi-Scale Thinking. Latin America.
The PREVI experience demonstrates the importance of having a planning team with a comprehensive urban approach; since only with a complex and collective understanding of the urban phenomenon beyond the residential is it possible to create optimal strategies that enable its eventual users to continue the project’s development. PREVI’s approach incorporated the metropolitan scale (connectivity), the neighbourhood scale (service provision), the vicinity scale (the network of plazas and pedestrian corridors), and the housing scale (expansion strategies). Latin America.
Latin America. Understanding the location patterns of new uses … makes it possible to design a neighbourhood well prepared for change, without generic or overdetermined zoning, that promotes entrepreneurship (in the form of new family businesses) to strengthen the local economy.
Change of Use. Latin America.
The transformation of a house depends to a great extent on the family’s needs. However, the location of a house within a diverse urban fabric is also a determining factor for its potential development. The emergence of new uses beyond the residential is directly related to the various aspects of the neighbourhood design. In PREVI, the properties facing the perimeter roads connecting the neighbourhood with the city have been transformed into convenience stores. The main pedestrian street also has a large number of shops, but these are more of the local corner-shop kind. Around the central park, the houses have been transformed into a couple of nurseries and a school that use the park for various activities, intensifying the use of public space. Understanding the location patterns of new uses such as these makes it possible to design a neighbourhood well prepared for change, without generic or overdetermined zoning, that promotes entrepreneurship (in the form of new family businesses) to strengthen the local economy. Latin America.
Self-Managed Transformation: A Family Pattern. Latin America.
The ‘family evolution pattern’ is the sequence in which a family satisfi es its changing needs, and is key in the design of neighbourhood projects planned to be self-managed or self-completed. The pattern follows the following stages:
1) installation – the family makes minor modifications to secure the property and to establish its own identity;
2) densifi cation – the family grows and incorporates new family nuclei, the stage that demands the greatest building effort;
3) consolidation and diversification – once completed, the house is divided into different units, in many cases incorporating new uses.
Latin America. Opposite top: Fernandez family house in a Kikutake, Maki, Kurokawa design. The installation of a shop and rental apartment consolidates the house, thanks to the potential of the original project: the double frontage that allows for separate access for the family and the shop, the patio which separates both uses
and provides environmental quality, and the stairs that enable the division of the house and provide versatility. The lack of defi nition of the frontyard space means the houses can expand up to the boundary of the sidewalk.
Latin America. Opposite centre: Zamora family house in a James Stirling design. A rigid perimeter, not easily modified and which delineates the property; the pillars that mark out the corners of the yard and allow a permeable, fluent connection between the living quarters and the yard; and the top slabs for the subsequent extensions, all make this type one of PREVI’s successes. The family has taken advantage of the strategic position of this corner house, in front of a community plaza and the main park, to build a shop and a couple of offices.
Latin America. Opposite bottom: Castro family house in a Charles Correa design. This house was designed to accommodate a 12-children family by expanding the original unit by 3.5. After 11 of the children moved abroad, leaving just one daughter in charge, the house was transformed into a boarding house with 10 rooms, communal spaces and an independent apartment for the owner. The double frontage allows for independent access. On a larger scale, all the houses of this type were expanded up to the outermost lines of their facades, transforming the original irregular clusters into regular blocks.
Added Value. Latin America.
The virtue of such projects is in the added value created by such extensions and changes. To achieve this, the initial stage of the project must include guidelines that are fl exible enough to allow for future customisation, but also impose certain safety and environmental conditions. This is facilitated by the provision of the correct structural elements and vacant spaces for inhabitants to carry out extensions to their houses later on. The permanent fixtures, such as the central yard or base of the house, a sidewalk or a plaza, must also be clearly identified.
Latin America. The first stage must also begin a process that promotes the domestic economy, the formation of social networks and the incorporation of ‘income units’; that is, independent houses or facilities which families can use to increase their income. Examples of this include the multifamily house and, to a greater extent, the ‘hyperhouse’.In the latter case, the value of the house lies not only in its capacity as a home, but also in its potential for generating income and strengthening the family’s economy. It thus represents an optimal approach to social investment in housing issues.
A Turning Point. Latin America.
Latin America. Half a century after the regional urban crisis, the built environment in Latin America shows that its governments were, to a large extent, convinced that the social crisis was a housing crisis. The housing defi cit somehow resulted in the mass-production of the isolated housing block, the building of low-density projects on the outskirts of the cities, and the implementation of projects to provide services and facilities such as water, sewerage and electricity only when demand far exceeded supply – all of which have had the negative effect of planning for marginalisation. PREVI-Lima is a repository for the concepts of the functional city and low-rise high-density housing, and a counterpoint in its approach to cooperative urban strategies and in its close relationship with the social unit. The now almost four decades of constant consolidation, increase in families’ capital and the transformation of public spending into social investment confirm the PREVI experience as a valid approach to achieving a successful development.A Four-Inch-Long Penis Is More Than Adequate