Venezuela's Skyscraper Slum
Mar 11 2011
PHOTOS: JULIA KING & J. COMBARI
My uncle Gabriel works in a busy modern office in the heart of Caracas’ financial district. But when he goes to take a leak in one of the men’s rooms on the top floor, he doesn’t get to look out and survey the dull urbanity that surrounds other skyscrapers across the world. Instead what he sees is the unfinished shell of La Torre de David; a huge tower full of Caracas’ drug dealers and prostitutes, its disease-ridden and displaced poor.Most mayors work hard to sweep such people to the fringes of their city, but this gigantic phallus of architectural dystopia sits rotting slap bang in Caracas’ center. I went to visit my uncle Gabriel, and let myself into the tower for a little sightseeing.
The construction of La Torre de David began in 1990. The plan was to fit it with luxury apartments, entertainment facilities and a helipad. It would be headquarters for Venezuela’s biggest bank, Fogade and would come to symbolize the country’s ascent into ultra-modern global-powerhousedom. But in 1994 money kicked Latin America in the balls, and all of Hugo Chavez’s rich friends flew away.
David Brillembourgh, the man who originally funded the tower’s build and gave it its name, was one of them. He died in 1993. His team managed to get the helipad built though, so it wasn’t a complete waste of everyone’s time and money.
Ever the optimist, Chavez saw it that way, too. He blamed the West for destabilizing the economy and offered up La Torre de David’s 45-storeys as a salve for the capital’s escalating housing problem. The poor flocked to claim their new territory in a way that would reinvent the eighth tallest building in Latin America (and make JG Ballard fans across the world vertiginous with envy).
I was alone when I wandered into the tower, so left my camera at home to avoid being the victim of a Venezuelan squatter “snatch and grab”. That’s why all the photos are shot from the outside.
Here are a couple of shots of a typical Caracas barrio. I arrived in Venezuela just after heavy rains had caused many slum houses to collapse, leaving another 150,000 people without roofs over their heads.