Photographer Iwan Baan spent six years documenting the lives of the 750 families who squat an abandoned 45-storey tower in Caracas, Venezuela, now a vertical slum
These images were first published in Icon’s November 2012 issue. Buy old issues or subscribe to the magazine for more like this
The 45-storey Torre de David in Caracas, Venezuela, was abandoned mid-construction after the scheme’s developer died in 1993. Since then, some 750 families have occupied the tower, illegally, and made it their home.
Photographer Iwan Baan spent almost six years documenting the lives of the tower’s residents. “I wanted to show the excitement and human creativity in this project,” he said. “We witnessed the extraordinary inventiveness of people, building spaces and architecture for themselves, making this uninhabitable structure into a living place, almost a full vertical city with shops, services, community boards and security.
“The residents were extremely nice and helpful. People took such pride in showing the places which they had built themselves. People took so much ownership of the tower and really wanted to show us and explain what they did. It’s as if everyone became an architect.
“People were so proud to show us their places and what they’d made out of it. For them it was such a step forward from the slums and barrios more than 70 percent of the population in Caracas live in.”
In 2012, with former Icon editor Justin McGuirk and Urban-Think Tank, Baan installed Gran Horizonte – a restaurant constructed from the concrete blocks that typify the ad-hoc construction within the tower, complete with a fully operational kitchen selling authentic Venezuelan food – in the Corderie in Venice.
This politically charged scenario was the winner of the Golden Lion for best project at that year’s Biennale. Beneath a suspended neon sign, a noisy corner of Caracas emerged. Cathode tube TVs showed films by UTT about life in the tower and photographs were flyposted to the walls, replicating an impromptu exhibition Baan and UTT put on during a visit.
“[On one trip] we mounted an exhibition by pasting photos of the previous trips on the walls of the ground floor, which everybody passes through,” Baan recalls of his time at Torre David. “Within minutes people came down and lively discussions started while people looked at the pictures of their apartments and saw with a different eye what they’d been working on the last five to six years.”
A book of Iwan Baan’s photographs, Torre David: Informal Vertical Communities, was published by Lars Müller