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Brief Published: 3 Sep 2012

Urban-Think Tank at Venice Biennale: Improvising Architecture


A major highlight of Stylus’ recent trip to the Venice Architecture Biennale last week was Torre David/Gran Horizonte – an intelligent and provocative look at issues of urbanisation via the lens of an extraordinary ‘slum’ community in Caracas, Venezuela. The project was conceived by Swiss research and design group Urban-Think Tank, and London-based writer/curator Justin McGuirk. 

The project focuses on Torre David – an infamous abandoned finance building that was originally a symbol of Venezuela’s economic prosperity in the early 1990s. Having fallen victim to bankruptcy, it has since been reclaimed and squatted in by the local community en masse, creating what some commentators have negatively termed a vertical slum. 

Urban-Think Tank spent a year researching the space and what co-director Alredo Brillembourg refers to as “it’s informal community”, viewing it as a laboratory of urban living from which to study key patterns of physical and social organisation. Spatial improvisations created organically by the slum dwellers themselves are a key factor

The findings – also to be presented in a book launching later this month – present Urban-Think Tank’s belief that the future of cities all over the world lies not in building anew, but in collaborations between architects, private enterprise and the slum dwellers themselves, highlighting the need to innovate from within to gain real traction. In short, Urban-Think Tank’s manifesto is based on looking, learning and then upgrading those existing situations to present an alternative living reality.

While Torre David is the specific location spotlight for the biennale, the project gives a larger nod to the 2012 biennale theme of Common Ground as a fascinating lesson that could potentially influence the shape of so-called urban failures across the globe. “Some people call it a slum, but others call it home,” Brillembourg told Stylus. “Intelligence starts with improvisation.” 

The Venice Architecture Biennale runs until November 25 2012. Our full coverage of the event will be published on September 14.

Urban-Think Tank                                                                  

Justin McGuirk

Venice Architecture Biennale