urban think tank + iwan baan win golden lion at venice biennale
urban think tank + iwan baan win golden lion at venice biennale urban think tank + iwan baan win golden lion at venice biennale
aug 30, 2012

urban think tank + iwan baan win golden lion at venice biennale

‘torre david gran horizonte’ wins golden lion for best project at the 13th international architecture exhibition image © designboomvenice 2012 architecture biennale: day four – live!




‘torre david gran horizonte’ has received the golden lion for best project at the 13th international architecture exhibition. this collaboration between venezuelan-based urban-think tank, london-based curator justin mcguirk and dutch photographer iwan baan explores ‘torre david’ an abandoned and unfinished office building in caracas, venezuela. standing at 45 stories, the concrete frame structure designed by venezuelan architect enrique gomez was almost finished, when the project was left in its incomplete form following the death of its developer david brillembourg in 1993, and the collapse of the south american country’s economy in 1994.


today, the tower functions as an improvised home of more than 750 families, inhabited by people whom would otherwise live within the barrios of the city, and has become a functioning and independent living environment for residents through a haphazard and organic method of development. some have even called the extra-legal and tenuous occupation a vertical slum. the entire height of the structure is only accessed with stairways, and the routes have been decorated by individuals to add a personal touch. to date a church, restaurants, hair salons and tailors have been integrated for public use, allowing this location to be an independent and self-sustaining community.

image © designboom




urban-think tank spent a year studying the physical and social organization of the site’s current circumstances. what some may view as a failed development project, urban-think tank has conceived into a laboratory of informal study, they see ‘torre david’ as a potential model for vernacular vertical communities. rather than following the general argument that the future of urban development lies in collaboration among architects, private enterprise, and the global population of slum dwellers, urban-think tank petitions that its fellow architects look to establishments such as this one worldwide as sites for experimentation, with the overall goal of putting design in the service of a more equitable and sustainable future.


the exhibit is experienced by sharing a meal, introducing the theme of the biennale ‘common ground’ in the form of a venezuelan arcpa restaurant, a social space intending to spark discussion and the imagination to create alternatives for the millions of people that reside in these types of informal settlements around the globe.

photographs of ‘torre david’ in context and up close by iwan baan image © designboom




the ‘torre david gran horizonte’ project was documented by iwan baan who captured images of the vertical slum, its inhabitants and their living spaces. all photography featured within the exhibition are copyright of iwan baan.

image © designboom

image © designboom

image © designboom




five years ago, this grandmother was carried up to her 14th floor apartment where she lives with her children and grandchildren. at 97 years old, since the day she moved in, she has not left her floor, not to mention the tower. here she is bunked with her grandson’s stereo-system, in her home which overlooks the city.

a grouping of photographs which capture some of the common spaces within the ‘torre david’ image © designboom




the church on the second floor of the structure has a devout group of followers, and sermons and prayers are projected throughout the tower complex over loud-speakers.

inhabitants being lead through a worship session image © designboom

a resident works out at a rooftop fitness centre image © designboom




from hair salons and tailor ateliers, small factories to fitness centers – residents have set-up a variety of small businesses all throughout the tower.

image © designboom

children hang out at one of the convenient stores image © designboom

image © designboom

image © designboom

detail of the venezuelan arcpa restaurant within the exhibition which is meant to be a common ground for visitors to generate discussion of the issues at hand image © designboom

each unit has been personalized by its ‘owners’ to make a comfortable home image © designboom




with a roof over their heads, when new residents move in they in essence need very little. while slowly building the walls which define their space, inhabitants will often use anything from suspended bed sheets, to pitched tents in order to create a sense of personal space and privacy.

a resident in a moment of contemplation image © designboom

general exhibition view image © designboom

torre david / gran horizonte, 2012. urban-think tank: alfredo brillembourg, hubert klumpner and justin mcguirk. winner of the golden lion for the best project of the venice architecture biennale 2012 image © designboom

a set of stairs are the only means of accessing the floors of the tower image © designboom

in the absence of elevators, staircases (which are often decorated by the residents) are the main circulation in the 45-storey tower.

image © designboom

image © designboom

this ground-floor opening is the only entrance into to the tower. with hand-painted walls, planted trees and a basketball court, it is a space made to feel like a public plaza. this space has become a popular meeting-point, where residents often gather, and converse prior to heading up the stairs to their individual homes.

youth playing a quick game of basketball in a courtyard image © designboom

letters of concern and newspaper clippings regarding the ‘torre david’ are hung on the walls image © designboom

before its opening, this installation generated debate in the venezuelan architectural community. many are dismayed that the nation’s architectural accomplishments are ‘represented’ by a never-completed and ‘ruined’ work; others argue that the exhibit condones the venezuelan government’s tacit and explicit support of illegal seizure and occupation of property. in fact, none of these positions reflects the true nature and purpose of the exhibit. it, and its creators, avoid taking political sides, arguing that torre david represents not venezuelan architecture but rather an experiment in informal/formal hybridity and a critical moment in the global phenomenon of informal living. with the aim of developing the debate over torre david and similar sites in other cities, the installation includes many of the letters and newspaper articles that have appeared in response to the announcement of this exhibition.

image © designboom

image © designboom

image © designboom

image © designboom

image © designboom


  • It’s more than just colors, its Latin America’s truth, this is how millions of people live. Outstanding representation.

    mario says:

  • Totally coherent architectural studio: to register a reality and to propose to make it better is a sign of goodwill, not necessarily a political statement or bias, despite who may like it or not for whatever reason…

    jans says:
  • I wonder if the impoverished occupants of this ruin have any awareness that their existence has been awarded one of the highest prizes in architecture

    Bauzeitgeist says:
  • Me cuesta creer como un venezolano pudo montar semejante exhibición llenándose de dicha con la miseria de otros??? ¿Cómo se les puede ocurrir que esto es beneficio para un grupo de personas?, así se vive mejor?? y lo peor es que no proponen una solución!
    No deberían de llamarse profesionales, ustedes dan aso de verdad…

    Alejandra Franco says:
  • Expongo aqui mi punto de vista el cual difiere de lo expresado o visto a traves de las redes sociales y algunas publicaciones en venezuela… a las personas ( profesionales de la arquitectura o no) les cuesta creer que una instalacion como esta pueda llevarse un premio en la bienal de venecia… no he tenido la oportunidad de ver la instalacion pero me gustaia hacerlo pues yo como joven profesional de la arquitectura que soy me niego a criticar la misma sin analizar lo que esta detras de ella… dejano de lado la conformacion fisica de la instalacion y el fenomeno de novedad que pueda percibirse de parte de los jurados y del publico europeo (novedad que muchas veces funciona de manera reciproca y los profesionales de nuestro pais elogian propuestas de grandes estudios europeos que no tienen ni pies ni cabeza) me parece que la instalacion pone de manifiesto y expone al publico fuera del contexto latinoamericano los fenomenos urbanos actuales de nuestro pais… de nada vale criticar un fenomeno que se da por las causas que todos conocemos ( un edificio privado que pasa a ser del estado y que se mantuvo abandonado durante mas de diez anos, un estado venezolano con visos de omnipresencia que es incapaz de responder a su poblacion en cuanto a la provision de viviendas, una poblacion que se encuentra sin un techo donde protegerse y en estado de desesperacion), si nos damos cuenta este mismo fenomeno aunque en mayor escala pasa en paises desarrollados como Holanda o Espana con los movimientos Okupa, los cuales a pesar de invadir una propiedad privada lo hacen con la finalidad de habilitar el edificio para poder ser usado (he tenido la oportunidad de ver algunos)… entonces porque ciriticar algo que pone de manifiesto las realidades urbanas de la ciudad de caracas ( por ejemplo se podria decir que el mismo fenomeno que se ha dado en la torre se ha dado desde hace muchisimo tiempo a traves de crecimiento de los barrios, solo que en vez de ser en vertical ha sido extendiendose en el territorio, y cada vez que un estudio venezolano ha ganado algun premio por alguna investigacion o propuesta para un barrio se le feicita, entonces porque no hacerlo ahora), estas realidades deben ser afrontadas, pero no con viejos paradigmas de los sacamos de ahi a punta de palo, no… debe afrontarse que esas personas consideran esa torre, con todos sus problemas, su hogar, y lo consideran asi porque han logrado intervenir en esa estructura abandonada con sus propias manos y convertirla en una comunidad… es por eso que a pesar de no defender el metodo de apropiacion de la torre, prefiero que la misma sea usada para tal fin que tenerla en el centro de caracas vacia…en cuanto a las soluciones pues es todo parte de lo mismo, esa gente no ha tenido nada de ayuda por parte del gobierno, todo han tenido que hacerlo ellos, entonces pq no mostrar al pais y al mundo como viven estas personas, estudiarlos, investigarlos, para que luego puedan existir la mayor cantidad de soluciones posibles de la mayor cantidad de sectores posibles… me parece que cualquier critica que se le pueda hacer debe venir despues de analizar todo esto…

    PD… esta instalacion, segun tengo entendido se hizo poor invitacion de los organizadores de la bienal directamente al estudio Urban Think Tank, se debe hacer hacer una diferencia entonces con la muestra del Pabellon de venezuela la cual se basa segun tengo entendido en una exposicion de los proyectos de la mision vivienda, los cuales a mi modo de ver aportan mas probelemas que soluciones al debate contemporaneo sobre las ciudades, y los cuales solo reflejan el ego del grupito de arquitectos/intelectuales/politicos (son siempre los mismos y se asignan las obras entre ellos) que se encuentran detras de casi todos los grandes proyectos publicos en Venezuela…

    Ray says:
  • De verdad, que es la más pura expresión de cinismo lo que ha realizado este arquitecto. Ganarse un premio por esto! cinismo al máximo

    Jaime Perez says:
  • Deze beelden herinneren mij aan het eind van de film Themrock. Alleen de ontstaansgeschiedenis van deze nieuwe holbewoners is anders.
    Prachtige beelden ontstaan waar ergens iets mis is gegaan.

    Hans Schipper says:

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