Last year, Venezuela became an urban laboratory for architects and urban designers who believe in the implementation of participatory processes and collaborative design techniques in order to change communities who live under threat.
The Venezuelan firm PICO Estudio in hand with the National Government of Venezuela organised Espacios de Paz (EDP) (Spaces of Peace); an urban journey where professionals, students, local residents and public entities worked together to benefit their cities and people. This initiative activated urban processes of physical and social transformation through architecture, using self-building techniques in public spaces located in conflictive urban contexts.
Latin American and Spanish architectural studios got involved in this initiative by developing community projects in several barrios of Venezuelan cities. The aim of this challenging project was to create social dynamics which invite new ways of living in communities, modifying categories that rule the daily life, transforming vacant plots into powerful spaces for their inhabitants.
These urban spaces were designed to act as “intermediary spaces” within areas where social exclusion is a dominant issue, promoting a culture of peace and coexistence among the residents of the barrio. So, they could be imagined as “zones of agreement”: areas for positive encounters and enjoyment that generates other ways of coexisting. The strategy of EDP consists of focusing on specific places that can both generate dialogue and start the generation and transformation of the habitat.
These projects are not designed like that giant urban-renewal projects which require massive national capital, bureaucratic processes, and long- term negotiations among investors. EDP focussed on what is local, intervening carefully on the ground, knowing and transforming necessities, expectations and dynamics of daily life such as the use of time and space.
Within 6 weeks, Venezuelan and international groups worked together to develop five sites in four Venezuelan states: Pinto Salinas and Petare in Greater Caracas, Los Mangos in Carabobo, Capitán Chico in Zulia and El Chama Abono in Mérida.
These 5 projects were conceived as spaces of encounter, where a local community can gather together, developing different activities, meetings and workshops under beautifully designed, colourful roofs. Projects included basketball courts located on a rooftop; shadowed spaces built for promoting dialogue among residents; spaces for learning and debating; and orchards, playgrounds, amphitheatres, viewpoints, and so on.
The result was a great success; Espacios de Paz México launched, inspired by the project’s success in Venezuela. And Venezuelan and Latin-American collectives will gather in July 2015 for a coalition meeting to promote ideas for future urban interventions in the country.
Meanwhile, plans and meetings have already started in Caracas among different collectives, who are evaluating the participatory methodology implemented in 2014 as a base to create new spaces in Barquisimeto, Caracas, Cumaná, Maracay and San Carlos in 2015.
Projects like these are a great opportunity to work collectively, where cooperation processes are based on exchanging knowledge and experiences. Local communities, students, volunteers, professionals and Estate institutions were the executors of the selected spaces. Although all of them acted as executors, community involvement was key to making Espacios de Paz possible. These are spaces made not only for but by the community.
The architectural collectives who participated in EDP Venezuela were Abono (Venezuela), Al Borde (Ecuador), AXP Arquitectura Expandida (Colombia), HSF Hábitat Sin Fronteras (México), Independent (Venezuela – España) Andrea Stanko Wolf + Elena de Oleza Llobet, Oficina Lúdica (Venezuela), PGRC Plataforma Gestión Residuos de Ciudad (Venezuela), PICO Proyecto de Interés Comunal (Venezuela), PKMN pacman (España), TXP Todo por la Praxis (España), 439 Estudio Arquiurbano (Venezuela).
And the communities who also took part were Petare, La Y 5 de Julio (Caracas, Distrito Capital) Pinto Salinas, Las 3 Marías (Caracas, Distrito Capital), La Florida, Los Mangos (Valencia, Estado Carabobo), El Chama, La Carabobo (Mérida, Estado Mérida), Capitán Chico and Santa Rosa de Agua (Maracaibo, Estado Zulia).
Tere García Alcaraz is an architect and development practitioner from Barcelona, with research and working experience in Ecuador, Venezuela, Spain and the UK. She lives in London.
Images courtesy of Colectivo Pico Colectivo Animal.