Sunday, December 11, 2011

Instrumental Response: Tuning the Tension

In my past entries, I have attempted to describe the tension in Caracas. The city exhibits many of the same tensions, essentially growing pains, felt in other small to medium sized cities, places of transition and uncertainty. Unlike the case in many other cities, in Caracas, a host of elements in tension continue to be unrelieved, many questions held unresolved, as a strong neoliberal development force (largely empowered by vast oil wealth in Venezuela) squares off against current socialist governance that gives voice to the disadvantaged.

With elements thus held in tension in Caracas, there is the possibility of instrumental response, the tuning of urban elements, adjusting interrelationships, in an urbanism that yields greater equality and less human suffering. Two particular groups stand out in their very different efforts to facilitate an urbanism of instrumentality in Caracas.

Urban Think Tank (UTT)
UTT is a pioneering architecture firm in Caracas, run by New Yorker Alfredo Brillembourg and Austrian Hubert Klumpner. The group utilizes modern design technology to facilitate more viable informal urbanism. Their designs range from the very simple and small scale to the complex and regional. Some of their projects include:

Modular stairs: prefabricated stairways easily installed among steeply stacked neighborhood structures, with minimum of only two anchor points. These are built away from hillsides to allow passage when flood waters are running down the steep slopes in the barrios.
Modular Stairs
Vertical gymnasiums: multiple floors of athletic space are flexible enough to be reconfigured as needed for multiple sports. Providing space for active sports helps keep vulnerable children off the street.
Vertical Gym (simulation)
Vertical community center: evolving from vertical gym designs, this community center was built into the scar on a Grotao neighborhood hillside after demolition of ranchos in a mudslide zone. The center provides infrastructure, services, and public space for sports, education, and community activities. The design also includes housing replacement for those removed from the unstable hillside.
Grotao Community Center (simulation)
Metro Cable: a new cable car system provides mass transport over barrios in lieu of a roads tearing through the barrios. The system is a designed to carry up to 1,200 people per hour in each direction along the cable line.
MetroCable Station
MetroCable Station at Night
This nighttime image reflects the potential beauty of instrumental urbanism. The Metro Cable responds to elements held in tension, formal high technology is designed to mesh with the framework and needs of the informal city. Instrumental work remains to be done: the cable car system remains isolated from other areas of the city and due to perilous intrabarrio rivalries, the cable car remains largely unused by nearby barrio residents.

Chavez’s New Socialist Cities

In contrast to Urban Think Tank's instrumental response in the heart of the barrios, President Chavez is attempting to address inter-class tension in Caracas by building a dozen new socialist cities in the jungle surrounding the city.
Leaving Caracas: the Road to Utopia
Reminiscent of Corbusian tabula rasa designs, the new cities are meant to be self-sufficient utopian communities. The government plans to move Caraquenian barrio residents to the cities, where they will ideally become active in community affairs, growing crops in community gardens surrounding their homes.
Plans for Ciudad Caribia
Chavez has taken a personal role in the guiding the design and development process for the new cities. And all Venezuelans are realistically stakeholders, as Chavez has commanded a large investment of state resources for the purchase and operation of earthmoving and construction equipment for the projects.
Hugo and His Model
Venezuela's New Trucks
Recently, the first new socialist city, Caribia, opened the doors to 602 new apartments (check out this ad for Caribia). By April 2012, the city plans to have over 2,000 residences occupied. Hopefully the bouncy house will still be up.

Building Ciudad Caribia, Venezuela
Move-in Day: Ciudad Caribia!

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