Friday, October 17, 2008

Chile. Lo Espejo

Duplexes with expansion zones
Lo Espejo was the second completed ELEMENTAL project. The community was living in a campamento (squatted and shabby housing of minimal materials) near the location of the new project in Santiago. Once again, ELEMENTAL proposed building half the house, and allowing a
Typical housing in the neighborhood
good bit of freedom for customization and such. After working closely with the community, ELEMENTAL proposed two schemes and the community agreed and selected one. Because Santiago has a much rainier climate, the roof over the entire project had to be built first. This project differed with Quinta Monroy in the fact that the government essentially funded the additions, and the homes were able to be completely built out at the beginning.
Johana, in front of her ´perfect´houseI spoke with Johana, one of the community leaders. After taking the bus all over town and finally finding the project, I was early and decided to draw a bit and wander around the neighborhood. Not always the best idea, but no problems here. As I returned to the project, there was a woman out on the street, standing there with her hands on her hips, (it almost looked like she was tapping her foot) looking at me. “Lucas?” she asked with the biggest smile ever. It was pretty obvious I was the guy from the US. But, she instantly welcomed me into her home and spoke with such passion and fervor about the project, and housing. She was completely enthralled with her place. She said she wouldn’t change a thing. Most of the customization and changes within this project was cosmetic. You could finish your inside however you wanted. Most people had added tiles and paint and their own interior flavor. Additionally, on the outside, one could change out the window and such.
Johana´s bottom floor
I also visited Monica Vargas’s bottom unit. Three rooms were added in the back before they moved in. She was able to remove one of the walls in the living room to open it up to a larger space.
Monica´s before and after
Monica´s Changes
Again, this project was very much initiated by the community itself and the strong community leaders (women.). But, ELEMENTAL basically was able to get involved right in the beginning, and provide the legimitacy and ability to negotiate the many different realms to pull yet another project off. And it has paid off. Johanna is ecstatic. She was wonderful. She has pictures on her wall sitting next to Michelle Blanchelette during the inauguration. While I was there, a Chilean newspaper was calling to interview her about the project.
Check out more essential details here.

The window zone on the facade is malleable

Chile. Quinta Monroy

Varying facades 5 years later

Before and after facades on Galvanrino St.

Elevation on Pedro Prado.
This project served as one of the inspirations for my initial proposal on incremental housing. By looking at how architects could play a significant role in helping people improve their housing without taking away their agency, the architectural group ELEMENTAL, in conjunction with the Chilean government, has contributed significantly to the discourse of social housing. The first project in Iquique, on a site called Quinta Monroy explored the question of how to provide a basic quality house, for only $7,500. Their answer was to provide half of the house. And if only half, which half would it be? Working closely with a community of squatters that had lived precariously on an urban site, the architects developed a set of rules, by which people could still have a lot of capacity to live their lives and have their homes express that. The rules ensured that each unit would have access to public space, adequate light and ventilation, and be structurally sound to withstand the many earthquakes that affect the area. But, they went much further than that. Each family could then add on and expand their house whenever possible, and in many different ways, customizing and individualizing their spaces. Additionally, the families were able to remain on the same site, where they had access to neighbors, shopping, main transportation thoroughfares, and the beach.
This project would not have happened without the sheer determination of the inhabitants and the effectiveness of their leaders (women). Only once these folks agitated for something to happen, many things came together (One of the community leaders I met with said that she personally blocked the path to President Lagos’ helicopter when he visited Iquique to get his attention about their living situation.) But, it was the architects who were able to help bring formality, credibility, and ingenuity to the process to ensure its success. And since its completion, this project has generated much press. This project, in addition to others in pipeline (see more upcoming posts) helped ELEMENTAL receive the Silver Lion Award at the Venice Biennale this year. Well deserved, if you ask me. It is nice to find architects who are relevant.
The overall arrangement took the 100 families that were living on the land, and redistributed them into 4 smaller communities, each arranged around a common public space. The units were basically designed as duplexes with units on the lower floors taking up three bays, while the upper units had two stories and took up two bays. The initial space of each unit was about 30 m^2, and could be expanded up to 72 m^2. The Chilean government had established a program called “Housing without Debt.”. Each family owned their unit without debt. This was able to happen through keeping the initial costs extraordinarily cheap, and strong commitment from the government. Wow, housing without debt. Just think if that was a value in the United States. Especially now. Would it be possible to pull that off?
Before and After
Ana Lagos
Ana has been one of the movers and shakers in this community. Through her leadership position, she was able to pick a lot on the main thoroughfare of Pedro Prado, with the intention of someday adding a store to generate some extra income. She was also intentional about picking a unit in which her mother could live below. The first thing that Ana did was to tile the bathroom. This not only served a functional appearance (most of the bathrooms were leaking to below), but gave it a much greater sense of permanence and quality (those which had not been finished felt pretty grimy).
Ana Lagos
Since the upper units don’t come with a bedroom, just an open two story space (and the bathroom), Ana added a floor for a bedroom upstairs in 2005. After that, they removed the stairs from the original section and added the floors in the slack space. The leftover space of the original stairs provided more closet space, and the resulting three bedrooms allowed a room for each person.
In 2007, with the assistance of her mother, Ana added a room onto the back of her house on her main floor, right above her mother’s patio area. The floor of this addition sat on the roof of her mother’s new addition. Ana could pull this off because she knew her mom would agree to it. Most restrictions stipulate that those living above can’t add onto the second story of the house, but can add a balcony on the third story. This is mainly to reduce conflicts among neighbors. However, some neighbors have agreed in writing and worked together to add multiple story additions on the back of their homes.
Right now, Ana leases the store out, which supplements her work as a domestic servant in Iquique. She hopes to eventually run the store herself one day, but can’t afford to right now.
Finally, in September of 2008, she plastered the interior walls of her home and will be painting them next week.
Ana´s Mother
Ana’s mother (who lives below her) has customized her space in really attractive ways. She lives there with her husband and brother. She enclosed two rooms as bedrooms. Her brother ended up moving in with her in a room added onto the back. She brought her kitchen with her from Santiago. She added a wall at the front to serve as a sort of foyer because she could see the bathroom from the front door. On the outside, she painted her three bays all the same color, clearly denoting her space and adding a visual layering most typically done by architects.

Before and AfterPraxedes Campos

Praxedes is one of those people you instantly feel comfortable around. The energy with which she greeted me on the phone, the warmth of the greeting first in person, and then openness with which she opened her home to me was just wonderful. But, at the same time, she is not the kind of person you want to be disagreeing with because I could quickly tell she was a deep and persistent fighter. Much of her story is described in the history of the project, and she is certainly one of the main reasons this project exists.

Praxedes lived with 5 other family members in an 8x3 meter shack on Avenida Gavalrino. In that tiny space, there were two bedrooms and a bathroom, but the kitchen was a just a covered space outside, so she had a lot of incentive to improve her space. Now, there are 7 of them, as her daughter recently had a baby. After the project was completed, she chose a bottom floor unit because she thought that it had more space to make additions. In 2005, soon after moving in, she and her husband enclosed the first bedroom for themselves. Everyone else at that point was sleeping in the living room. In 2007, once her daughter gave birth to a baby boy, she decided it was time to close in the second bedroom. Finally, earlier this year, they added a room on the back patio for her son. It is kind of a pimp pad, where he sleeps, but also serves as a gathering point and local hip hop recording studio. Certainly, having this makes the strain much less on the rest of the family. Soon, there are plans to add one more room off the back.
Growth of Praxedes´ homeMaria Mantorfano
Maria was in the process of adding onto her space the weekend I was there. She had a friend who was doing most of the construction. All 4 children are currently sleeping in one bedroom, so when finished there will be two more bedrooms.
Growth of Maria´s home
In talking to people here, they are incredibly proud of the project and how it has turned out. I do believe so much of it comes from the fight and initiative that they had to put forth to get to this point. The beauty about this project is that its intention was that people would eventually have a middle class house. So many projects for the poor people are very clearly for poor people, in appearance, size, and amenities. But this one gave people room to negotiate and aspire, and eventually to have the house they had always dreamed of. And I am not being romantic here. People were dang proud and happy with their place.

You know, after seeing so many projects in real life that are different than what is published, this one was such a breath of fresh air, because it was expected people would take over and commandeer the space. And there were rules, but they were loose enough to really allow people to have some agency, and control over their homes. I felt very comfortable, and the warmth with which people shared their homes, families, and food with me was pretty dang great. And mad love to the strength of the women here.
Expansion zones (in red)
But, a few questions are:
What happens when someone moves out? When all there people move after 5 years? Will anyone want a smaller space? Will the construction be poor enough to allow easy renovations, reductions, and shifts? Could the house potentially shift? Could the intervention be done another way to allow for disassembly?

Check out much more good stuff here. Rock on ELEMENTAL

Friday, October 10, 2008

Bolivia. La Paz and El Alto

The hills of La Paz
The place is defined by topography as much as any place I have seen. And the geography or altitude dictates the strict and deep divisions in class. The wealthy live in Zona Sur, 1000-1500 feet below the rim of El Alto, where the poorest of this metropolitan area live. In the middle is La Paz, the commercial center of this part of the country. Zona Sur resembles many American or European suburbs with large, gated, and protected single family homes. The climate is much less harsh, and as much of the water drains to this area, and it is much greener and lush with vegetation. The heart of the city is provides most of the commercial opportunities and somewhat modern skyscrapers of banks, hotels, and apartments dot the landscape. But, as you move up the hillsides, the housing becomes informal, and at times, it almost becomes difficult to distinguish between the dull brown hillsides, and the extensive self built brick and adobe houses ringing the rim of the city.

At the top of the rim is El Alto (a separate city), recently considered the fastest growing city in Latin America, with a population approaching one million people, most of whom are aymara indigenous indians. Its growth has been unchecked and blossoming for a number of reasons, partly because of climate changes that have altered traditional agricultural practices, but also shifts in mining industries that have forced many workers to migrate to the city. It is at the edge of the altiplano and therefore is flat. Consequently, unlike the rest of La Paz, there are no physical barriers for the expansion of the city. It has surrounded the international airport and steadily grown with low rise, self built houses and buildings into the countryside.

The steets of El Alto
I spent some time in one of the neighborhoods on the outskirts of El Alto. Walking through the streets of the Senkata barrio is a surreal experience. You can’t really tell if you are in the fastest growing city in the western hemisphere, or even if you are in a city at all. You can almost look down one street and see the never ending altiplano, which holds Lake Titicaca in its grasp. You feel like are deeply connected to the land still, not only because of the occasional adobe walls and buildings, but because the streets and sidewalks are still dirt. There have been curbs put in, but that is it. Essentially, the land has been subdivided, walls put up, buildings added, streets marked, water run, and an occasional cancha de futbol set aside. And there are dogs. Tons of mean ones. I have been walking around the neighborhood doing home visits with the nurse from the Consejo de Salud Rural Andino. Even the nurse has to stop and wait a few minutes, because she is scared of two dogs in front a house she is supposed to visit to weigh a child. Funny thing is that even some of the meanest dogs have green ribbons tied around them, signifying that they have been vaccinated. Good for me, but still have no interest in getting bitten.

Rural to urban (El Alto)
This change happening in El Alto is mostly on its own, yet still driven by the market. It is evident right across from the Health Center where CSRA is working. Here, the owner had built a new three story building on the street. It was weird, it looks completely unfinished. I guess the inside is nice enough. On the ground floor are stores. But, where the new building stops, the old house begins behind, with its courtyard space, adobe walls, and wrap around design. The new building towers above the intimate space shielding the traditionally strong sun. The first floor of the building is being rented as an office space, the top floor has walls around it, but that is it. No more. And it could keep going up, and likely will. But, there is no flexibility. The walls are set. It is not malleable. But, it is incremental as hell. Looking around the block, I was amazed at the amount of movement and change within every lot. Once I really think about it, it is pretty amazing what is happening there. New commercial buildings were popping up, every lot seemed to have some construction going on. But, that is just it. The whole city is under construction and not finished. And it is very homogenous just because it is so new. It has no aesthetic. Or it has an aesthetic of construction and change.
I have decided to return to this area to do some more in-depth research documenting the changes within El Alto and in particular individual houses. Stay tuned for more posts.
In the city of La Paz, 40% of the housing is illegal. Most of this is scattered along peri-urban areas that ring the canyon that holds the city of La Paz. Since 2005, the city has participated in a Word Bank/Interamerican Development Bank project called Barrios de Verdad (True neighborhoods). Focused on infrastructure and public investments, the process is also formalizing/legalizing many of the households as well. Improvements have included potable water, electricity, telephone lines, medical services, jobs, community centers, and bathrooms in every house. They are unable to do house improvements as much of the land that people have invaded is on private property.

Community Center, Alto Pampahasi
I visited one project in Alto Pampahasi, which offered spectacular views of the city. It was pretty impressive the extent to which physical improvements (community center, walkways, etc.) were giving rise to many other social programs. The local leaders were incredibly proud of the work they had accomplished, and numerous improvements in houses and other places were taking place.

Childcare (photo courtesy of Mary Alice Boyd)
We walked into a community meeting of women, and people from the mayor’s office showed up giving out eyeglasses and many other things. They all wear well-marked uniforms and are showing off a good bit. Is this strictly for political purposes? I don’t know. At least in Latin America, because the urban poor are such a substantial portion of the population, they have political power. In this context, the city government is getting things done, and that is pretty important. Graciela (the community leader) said they get together every week and do clean ups and maintenance and stuff like that. The neighborhood seems to be pretty solid socially. They installed bathrooms in 72 homes. The have child care now, which is huge, which maybe as much of a financial boost as something else. It looks very nice. Graciela said that people were grumbling before and didn’t believe anything would happen. Sometimes just getting something done like that is the most important thing.

Women's meeting in the new community center

I still have some questions about the long term effectiveness. What about money after it is finished? Who pays for the maintienance of these new facilities? Is this neighborhood at a level to which you could justify that much money into an aesthetic improvement? Can this program help generate new means of generating income for people, which is ultimately what most people are after?

Local community leaders (photo courtesy of Mary Alice Boyd)