For a Complete City – The Brooklyn Rail
Enlace Arquitectura, the architectural firm that I created in Venezuela in 2007, was invited to be part of the 17th international architecture exhibition at the Biennale di Venezia, organized by the Lebanese architect and dean of the faculty of MIT architect, Hashim Sarkis, examining the “How will we live together?” The installation is part of the segment dedicated to “emerging communities” of the Corderie de l’Arsenale.
Instead of proposing “improvements” for the barrio La Palomera, a small neighborhood of 16 hectares in Caracas and just under 6,000 inhabitants, the installation seeks to show the spatial and cultural richness that already exists. He recognizes a piece of the city that is home to more than half of the inhabitants of Caracas.
The barrios were naturalized as “informal” and “marginal”. Deep-seated feelings of discrimination, condescension and fear cloud the perception of many, the approaches of well-meaning professionals and determine how public funds are invested.
Interested in addressing this problematic perception and building on a close relationship with the La Palomera neighborhood community, Enlace Arquitectura, Ciudad Laboratorio and the neighbors started the cultural program “Caracas Integration Process (IPC)” in 2018. La Bigott Foundation, the City of Baruta, La Hacienda La Trinidad, artists, journalists, educators and designers also participated. In this project, making visible the stories of places and celebrating existing experiences and lifestyles has become an integral part of architectural design. The emphasis is on participation and the time dimension of the practice as awareness raising strategies.
For a year and a half, multiple excursions were organized to promote La Palomera. Activities included public reading of the Manifesto for the Complete City February 9, 2019 written by Venezuelan writer and activist Cheo Carvajal who calls for an integrated city that goes beyond prejudices and exclusions. The artists were invited to work with the community on joint projects. A large audience took part in walks, pétanque games, celebrations, dances, music, neighborhood mapping exercises and listened to the stories of its founders. Another fundamental activity was the mapping of the vegetation that grows in La Palomera and a visit to its gardens. Twenty-four gardens have been identified and recorded with the portraits of their owners and their stories.
A synthesis of the IPC experience was first exhibited at La Hacienda La Trinidad Parque Cultural in February 2020. The exhibition presented in Venice builds on this work and includes the Ethnobotany dictionary of plants in the gardens of La Palomera, which identifies 260 species in the barrio with information on their use, whether medicinal, culinary or ornamental, and a description of how they are reproduced and cultivated. It is completed by drawings of 18 gardens and 3 public spaces where all the plants, objects and paraphernalia that make up these places are detailed. The neighborhood’s 1.75 hectares of public space which consists of walkways, stairs and plazas, in addition to gardens, are also celebrated in the form of a wooden model that measures 8 meters by 4.5 meters and hangs from the high ceilings of La Corderie. The model also includes cultivated and spontaneous vegetation in acrylic reproductions. Images of these plants are reproduced on long scrolls suspended from the ceiling. The species, gardens, public spaces, as well as events and celebrations at La Palomera are documented in www.lapalomera.org as part of the exhibition.
Just as the knowledge of the vegetation is worth celebrating, there are also many other remarkable attributes to recognize and appreciate in the neighborhood. Integrating a fragmented Caracas is both a symbolic and a spatial process. Recognizing the intrinsic value of gardens and public spaces is a fundamental premise in the process of advancing urban integration and in strengthening the notion of the whole city.
In addition, these activities generated concrete opportunities to repeat a Complete City in terms of integrating territories and leveling out differences. For example, since October 2019, a new waste collection strategy has been in place at La Palomera. Barrios usually have a large open-top container at their entrance where all residents drop off their trash, as conventional garbage trucks cannot navigate the barrio’s narrow lanes. Instead, a door-to-door waste collection strategy through seven pedestrian routes was implemented by the company Fospuca and the city of Baruta which in turn made it possible to remove the container and its place. is now occupied by a gardener cared for by the inhabitants of the sector. A second example is a project to transform an abandoned space into a center of art and culture. It is intended not only to be a place of artistic expression, but also a platform for reflections and exchanges that can nurture urban transformations focused on the integration of the city.