La Torre de David, the unfinished 45-story skyscraper-turned-slum in the heart of Caracas, is many things. It’s known internationally as the world’s tallest vertical slum, the only one of its kind. It’s been the subject of several long-form stories, photographic essays, and self-congratulatory design biennales. Once meant as a crowning achievement of Venezuela’s economic growth, in recent years it’s been alternately adopted and derided as the symbol of the country’s socialist turn under the direction of Hugo Chavez. In short, it’s an icon, and as with any icon, you read into it what you will.
What’s most compelling about Torre de David is the polarizing effect it has over Venezuela’s capital city. This figures centrally in a new video short by Vocativ. The report, which offers a rare look inside the building, highlights how split public opinion of the tower is, with diverging perspectives from those who call the tower home and from those who don’t.
The video begins at the base of the multi-story garage that connects to the main structure. In a skyscraper without elevators, it’s also the main route for the 750 families to reach their elevated homes. A small network of taxi motorbikes ferry inhabitants up and down the concrete guts of the building.
The tower, whose construction was stalled in the early ’90s and never reinitiated, consists of concrete slabs, connected by ramps and stairs. Its unfinished glass facade offers residents protection from the elements, as well as giving them great views out onto the city — vistas that were once intended for Caracas’s wealthiest denizens. In areas without glass, voids are partially boarded up, with gaps to let in air and light.
The tenants have installed a communal electric grid that feeds power to each of the units, while an aqueduct system delivers water. The residents have televisions, lighting, and other domestic comforts. Businesses populate the building offering various services. Children play with their friends in corridors and on swaths of concrete that connect their homes.
This is not the picture of crime and drug-fueled malaise that the “outside” makes Torre de David out to be. Even so, for bureaucrats and specialists, even well-meaning ones, the tower should be dismantled and its occupants resettled. As an architect in the video says, “This is not a better or nice use of an abandoned structure.” He continues, “[i]n reality, this is the “anti-housing,” and “anti-residence.”
The building’s occupation organizers, on the other hand, couldn’t disagree more. The tower is their pride of place, something that they’ve assembled with their own hands. Importantly, it’s a community of families, who have strong ties to each another. Several residents claim that they’ve never experienced or witnessed any type of violence inside the tower.
In the end, the video draws no conclusions, and it doesn’t need to. It just presents the structure for what it is. As one of the building’s organizer says, the Torre is a “monster,” but not one that should simply be defeated. Rather, “[t]hat monster needs to be supported. We need to see how to, hand in hand, with the state.”