touring the bush (12) : caracas carcass

a carcass might look dead, but it’s not. i mean, it’s dead, but not dead-dead. did you know after you die your hair and fingernails keep growing? o.k., that’s not exactly true, it’s just an illusory effect of skin retraction due to body dehydration. but still... how about the chicken running after having its head cut-off? headless poultry can still run and its heart still beat as active reflexes stemming from the intact spinal chord for several seconds after decapitation. there are even accounts of miraculous .beheaded birds that went on living for months.

anyway, what I’m really talking about is living corpses, not the living dead : the dead body as a life locus, a breading field for bacteria and maggots and all that icky stuff. well, it happens to cities. cities die, layer after layer. but the dead layers aren’t dead-dead. dead city-layers aren’t as meaningful and functional and obviously active as when they are alive. but usually it takes time before the traces of a dead layer are lost, and in the meantime they prove to be excellent sites for parasitic developments. call it whatever you want: informality, appropriation, temporal use of spaces… it’s the icky stuff in our cities we don’t necessarily like or understand or find “healthy” or “normal.” but in the underdeveloping cities of latinoamérica (and elsewhere), this animate rankness is thriving.

caracas might just be the crown jewel of our sub-continental modern-city carcass collection. after the chavista revolution, the dead modernist layer of the venezuelan capital is host to the most intense and exquisite necrotrophic urban phenomena in the region.

caracas was a teen casualty, caught in the failure and fall of local modernismos almost still in bloom. celeste olalquiaga tells it like the plot of an urban telenovela:

"between the 1940s and the 1970s, the placid city of santiago de león de caracas inhaled the air of modernization, developing into a full-blown metropolis. its daring architecture and raging urbanism left many of its inhabitants breathless, amazed by the ongoing transformation of their hometown into a burgeoning center of international commerce and foreign pop culture. skyscrapers and highways were the signs of a blossoming adolescence that turned caracas into a world capital (paris-new york-caracas, an affluent gallery boasted under its name), which the rest of the americas looked to with envy or greed. perhaps it was the venezuelans' passion for melodrama, but so much abundance just couldn't last. doomed by the same black gold that had given it such vibrant energy, the country that had cheerfully danced in oil-money suddenly found itself catching up with all it had ignored; unfinished projects, overwhelming misery and an enormous national debt adding up to a huge bill for a party that was definitely over. like an orchid left in the sun, the modern caracas withered, its remarkable structures buried under the weight of forgetfulness and disrepair, its vitality sinking into a benign apathy."

pobre niña rica (y moderna)

this is were the story starts and ends at the same time, and starts again, and everything gets fabulously gross. i wish blogger came with odorama.

next : caracas chavista y revolucionaria

touring the bush (11) : caracas, intro/outro

via te acuerdas de?

word 6 : intelligentsia



1. the intellectual elite of a society. intelligentsia (from latin: intelligentia) is a social stratum of people engaged in mental and creative labor directed to the development and dissemination of culture, encompassing intellectuals and social groups close to them. the term has been borrowed from russian, a transliteration of "интеллигенция" ("intelligentsiya").

see also: nothingness


neo-maoist real estate

turning to his maoist roots, an unorthodox promotor is rocking the real estate world. no, not in china, but in madrid. josé moreno, alias "el pelucas" (wiggy), is known as "the robin hood of fuenlabrada," a middle-class suburb of the spanish capital, a city that a friend describes as being "pantoja total" (totally pantoja).

anyway, drawing inspiration from the little red book (or something) this brave bearded fella decided to build and sell apartments... AT COST!!! anyone that knows anything about spain is perfectly aware of how insanely over-priced pisos have gotten during the post-euro spanish milagro. his 3-4 bedroom flats go for under 88K (euros)! that's about 1/4 of the price of the neighboring apartments. a dingy little 40m2 flat in barcelona will run you about 350k, just so you get the picture.

"if i do it," he says "i don't see why everyone else can't... i thought it was unfair to charge so much. nobody believed me at first...they called me a gilipollas (dimwit)..."

now that's what i call solidarity...

@ elmundo

touring the bush (10) : brasilia vs curtiba, now

the sun is out, sheep are trimming the lawns, as usual. they are watched by gardeners-turned-shepherds. instead of the constant jerky grumble and oily stink of mechanical mowers, you get the occasional bleat and the considerably gentler whiff of ruminant droppings. yes, mother nature’s little croppers are also excellent providers of fertilizer. when the time is right, the sheep are shorn to make blankets for the poor.

this is not a chapter in a precious moments my first good christian going green guide. this is brazil. yes, the same country you saw in all those movies with kids being shot in the head for stealing a candy or sold for organ adoption. but that’s rio, or sao paulo, this is curitiba.

ok, it sounds a little off. it probably is. yes, it is a little christian, this whole garden-as-a-little-piece-of-paradise-on-earth thing. yes, it is a tad populist, this spoonful-of-sugar planning. but somehow it’s working. 98% of the people who live here say they wouldn’t prefer living anywhere else.

besides, it’s not just sheep and lawns. there is a highly participative city-wide recycling program, and people who live up in hard-to-get-to favelas and bring down their trash to be collected get food or bus tokens for their contribution and effort through a “green exchange” program. social-service themed buses tour the city teaching clean water conservation or offering p.e. to poor kids. there is fifty square meters of green area per inhabitant, compared to the recommended twelve of international standards.

institutional innovations include the “lighthouses of knowledge” learning spots, a decentralized and easy-access network of city service branches known as “citizenship streets” and the open university for the environment. city-funded day care, tree-planting initiatives, conscious industrial regulations, recreational activities, auto-construction assistance, infrastructure conversion…all this is part of curitiba’s successful city-building.

brasília, on the other hand, despite its unesco world-heritage status and all its poured concrete greatness, remains an uncomfortable testimony to the contradictions of city planning solely in the service of (state) power. lonely planet sums it up like this: "though it probably looked good on paper and still looks good in photos, in the flesh it's another story." the city center is soulless, a precious collection of government buildings. the city's alternative to a pedestrian scale is walking long, dry and hot distances. it isn't rare when someone is run-over trying to cross a superhighway. an expensive metro system still remains unfinished. poor residents are located in faraway "satellite" towns, championing in higher-than-average sprawl-induced depression. infrastructural maintenance is poor and costly. people with moyens spend their weekends in sao paulo or rio.

the city is detached and limited. like a hollow idea. or as someone else puts it, "a photogenic myth".

next stop: caracas (it's gonna be bueno)


california livin'

on the satellite view of google earth, a quaint little strip of greenish patchwork grows out of the black blot that is the salton sea. If you take a closer look, you’ll see a strange brown block in the middle. this is thermal, california.

back on land it musn’t seem that strange. this is, after all, the little piece of riverside twilight zone that stretches from the freshly baked freshly botoxed skin of platinum-blond old people and their peackock-feathered rental flats in palms springs to the trampled dirt of (mtv)world-famous coachella to a place called mecca and the miscarried motel paradise of the salton city, awash with dead fish.

people around here know that california livin’ isn’t quite what it’s made out to be.

and yet there’s something a bit shocking about a trailer-park slum in southern california. no sewage, no electricity, and basically living in a dum is something you would expect from a mexican bordertown shanty. but not on this side. maybe it’s shocking because it brings things uncomfortably close to home.

the l.a. times reports:

“like most of their neighbors in the sprawling, ramshackle oasis mobile home park, the aguilars have no heat, no hot water. on cold nights, the family of eight stays warm by bundling up in layers of sweaters and sleeps packed together in two tiny rooms…bathing is a luxury that requires using valuable propane to boil gallons of water. so the farmworker clan spends a lot of time dirty... jose aguilar, a wiry 9-year-old, has found a way around the bath problem. he just waits until dinner. "my mom makes frijoles," he said, "then I take a bath in that water."

“exactly how many people live in the trailer parks is unknown, but social workers estimate tens of thousands. the biggest park, desert mobile home park, or "duroville," (in spanish, duro means hard or tough) has more than 4,000 residents and can be seen off california 195 near thermal. Others are on private property and virtually invisible to passing motorists.”

these half-legal “trailer parks”, featuring special amenities such as faulty life-threatening electric wiring and views of a toxic-fumes-emission car-battery-and-paint-can-burning dump, persist because otherwise thousands of farmers would be left homeless. and that’s no good for all those green little patches you see surrounding the place, growing all sorts of goodies like fresh fruit or asparagus. so in the mean time, it seems, 15-year-old mothers and carcinogens will just have to do.

touring the bush (9) : brasilia vs curtiba, failed utopia / future utopia

unlike brasília, modern curitiba wasn’t brand new, the city came before the ideas for the city, and, in the beginning, it wasn’t even really a beacon of progress. dating back to the seventeenth century, in the late 1800s curitiba became the capital of the state of paraná. nothing particularly interesting yet. in the 1940s the city began to grow considerably with rural populations all over brazil (and the world in general) flocking to the nearest urban center. The city’s population of 50,000 in the early 1900s grew to around 450,000 in the sixties.

compared to brasília’s proud and heroic planning epic, curitiba has a somewhat darker little tale to tell. the notable moments in the city’s urban history coincide with times of shady political debauch. “alfredo” agache arrived from france in 1927, after a grand (urban) tour that included working in casablanca, lisbon, istambul and a third-place plan for canberra in 1912, championing garden city principles and “higienismo.” agache was one of the first “urban missionaries” to arrive in brazil, beating le corbusier to the pulpit. back then rio de janeiro already had a population of 2 million, and the city was trying to push a new phase of modernization and an adequate urban plan. here it starts to get interesting. In 1930, a coup d’état brought getúlio vargas into power, and he eventually inaugurated a fascist-toned dictatorship and police state, the estado novo in 1937.

between 1941-1943 agache created the first modern plan for curitiba, but it was never realized, and was stained by the unfavorable political circumstances of its inception (agache was highly criticized by the likes of costa and other “true” brazilian modernists). despite being tied to the vargas regime, the plan was actually less political than brasília, and it actually marked a more autonomous (and eventually more successful) planning history for the city, proposing a set of “functional guidelines” in terms of sanitation, transportation, congestion and productivity. it proposed a far more “neutral” or pragmatic structuring of the city, without the overwhelming symbolic charge of brasília, and proved to be a healthier legacy.

curitiba would grow in the shadow of the new capital. but as time would show, being closer to urban concerns and less tied to political spectacle was the key of the city’s planning successes. jaime lerner was born the same year as the estado novo. he was one of the young planners who created the institute of urban planning and research of curitiba, graduating in 1964, the same year the city commissioned a new preliminary urban plan to update the shelved agache plan. it was also the year of the coup that installed a right-wing military dictatorship in brazil that would last (with successive leaderships) until 1985. in 1965 the city launched a "curitiba of tomorrow" initiative, where planning issues were discussed and in a series of public debates. lerner contributed to the design of the 1966 master plan for the city that abandoned agache’s radial scheme and focused on linear expansion, sprawl control, transportation integration, downtown preservation and decongestion, and urban equipments.

lerner understood the plan as relatively flexible guideline for action, as opposed to a near-sacred overarching enterprise. in the following years, the implementation of the master plan incorporated new ideas, concepts and needs along with its basic provisions. hints of lerner’s innovative vision and attitude started to show. in the 1970s curitibia started closing down central city streets and turning them into pedestrian-only areas, and created a consequent set of arteries leading into and out of the city (they would later be the backbone of curitiba’s bus-rapid-transit system).

brazil in the 1980s fell into social discontent, economic downward-spiraling, poverty growht, overcrowding and slum urbanization and deforestation. meanwhile, curitiba reached its million-people mark with a whole set of unique sustainable development measures, including protected green belts and parks, the brt system, decentralized administrative processes and a city-wide recycling program. curitibia and not brasília would end up being the model city, not just for brazil, but a true global urban paradigm. who would've known...

next: brasília vs curitiba, now


touring the bush (8) : brasilia vs curtiba, intro (utopia)

brasília is a project-turned city. in the early nineteenth century brazil started playing with the idea of an inland capital, in order to stretch development and political networks away from the coast (urban growth and economic activities were typically concentrated along the coastline, both the earlier capitals, salvador (1549-1759) and rio de janeiro (1760-1960), were city-ports). aside from these more or less practical justifications, moving the capital to the near-empty heart of the country followed a strong, abstract (nationalistic) reasoning. the shift would be symbolic: away from the colonial patterns of coastal urbanism (and european/colonial trade dependency) to a proto-nationalist imperial centrality. just like the rest of mid(XXth)-century latinoamerican modernisms, the actual quest begun earlier, within rotting ancien régime “transitional” structures of the late 1800s. old-school aristocratic values, “civic” control-of-the-masses, depictions of nation, and other ancien régime conceptions outlasted the social chaos at the turn of the century, and pervaded the “new” order of tropical modernisms, particularly different orbits of social-aestheticism (architecture and planning included).

stale utopian types where mixed with rationalist optimism, radical urban planning, social and economic upheavals, and a
dash of caudillismo (charismatic authoritarianism). in the case of brasilia, even though the project had been thought up sometime in the second half of the nineteenth century, and the site for the city was set by a 1922 “groundbreaking”, nothing really happened until the fifties, with brazil riding the continental post-ww2 boom, and the rise of kubitschek, "president bossa nova," the man of the "50 years in 5" growth scheme, the frantic and populist developmentalism that latinoamérica eventually got used to and later resented (with collosal debts and national bankruptcies falling across the region in the seventies and eighties).

juscelino kubitschek was elected president in l955, and one of his main campaign offerings was transfering the capital, "build brasília to rebuild brazil." the ordeal was nothing short of astounding. the project (i.e. city) design team was more than just a bunch of home-grown corb' groupies. costa, niemeyer and burle marx took the master's sudamericana musings and stuffed them with new meanings and understandings and stylings until they had come up with something truly original. corbusier's 1929 south american tour not only brought out this unexpected lightness and sensuality in his own work, but actually managed to breath the tropical modernists to life, full-blown. his "earthscrapers" and "seascrapers", his jots and wavy scribbles and sketches, the fascination with the landscape, and plain faith and enthusiasm in a bright architectural and urban future proved to theoretic and stylistic references, as well as points of departure.

lúcio costa landed in rio from europe in 1919, and noticed that "at first, there was only a landscape. a strangely beautiful landscape..." his own 1957 plan for brasília was a proposal for a another strangely beautiful landscape, the concrete, intentionally balanced landscape of brazilian modernism. brazil in the 50's was all newness: bossa nova, cinema novo, neoconcretismo... now it was on its way to a new architecture and a new city...

it took 50 thousand candangos (workers) and 41 months to finish and "inaugurate" the city on april 20, 1960. brasília was to be efficient and pleasant, but above all, a showcase for the novo estado novo (the old "new state" had been the authoritarian fascitoid rule of getúlio vargas, and a certain rationalist and controlled planning resonance from the vargas regime stuck on kubrischek's projects despite their progressive character). yes, everything was new, but everything was also old. the setbacks and contradictions of utopia would soon start to show, not due to perversion, but because there was a negative germ in the system from the beginning, because brasília was, after all, an inherited utopia, a piece in the game of state power and presumption.

1922 was also the year of the century exhibition, a world's fair showcase in rio de janeiro that coincided with brazil's 100 years of independence. the architecture of the fair celebrated and embodied ideals of beauty, order, public health, civic morals, productivity, and above all state nationalism and guidance. it was in the end, a celebration of power and the future promise of power extension. brasília, with all its conscience and idealism, somehow fell on the same weaknesses the discarded utopias of the past did, despite itself, on a gargantuan scale. like its rise, the fall of the city would be all too fast and resonant.

next : failed utopia, future utopia. the exceptions of curitiba.


touring the bush (7) : buenos aires, projects 3

5. mellow modernists : i don't get this latinoamerican fixation on old-school modernism. sometimes i think it might be a sort of rejection to the tropical modernisms of the 50s-60s authoritarian developmentalism (desarrollismo). the thing is, instead of rejecting the modernist part, contemporary architects are rejecting the tropical. houses outside of santiago, in guadalajara, in rio are leaving behind the ondulating, sinous curves or the bright pink walls for more standard, straight-lined, minimalist, boxy building types. even when this usually dissapoints, some of these recent projects aren't half bad, and some even try to work their way out of boring bourgeois. more than ennui, in a city that easily tends to barroque, contemporary modernist architecture in buenos aires acts as a pleasing sedative (click pics for details)

next stop : brasilia vs. curitiba, failed and future utopias


touring the bush (6) : buenos aires, projects 2

sicoactiva@flickr bsas pool

3. hotels galore : in buenos aires home is not house, it’s a hotel. the city has its own (concentrate) share of the boutique and/or super-design hotel frenzy. designer hotels are a great way to pile up on taste and even innovation and grab hold of the juicy coorperate dineros at the same time. buenos aires notables include:

faena hotel / “experience”: yes, it’s obscene. it’s got its own cabaret and a bistro that features unicorn heads. how do you top that?

home: won the wallpaper 2007 hotel of the year design award. that should be enough.

bobo: bobo means silly. the “rebel and conservative” motive is pretty bobo too, but they have a 90s-themed “tecno” room, and that’s more than most hotels can say for themselves.

4. sounds like tango : not the newest thing around, but still, everytime i listen to this stuff, i think it's really really hot. city-soundtrack courtesy of gotan project and bajofondo tangoclub.

foto: julianrod

to be continued (last one, mellow modernists...)

toppings 8 : l.a. lover

reyner banham loves l.a.
after watching this, so will you (and 8-track)(and c.h.i.p.s eyewear)
(click on the pic)
via cityofsound


touring the bush (5) : buenos aires, projects 1

albi@bsas flickr pool

dunno what borges would make of his beloved hometown these days, maybe instead of insides he would say zip-lock bags stuffed with leftover fat from liposuction. yes, buenos aires is grandeur faded and all that. it usually evokes images of an oldish-world, decadent modernist, steamy south-american take on paris. some would say that’s pushing it a bit. i would say it’s not pushing enough. buenos aires is more than tree-lined avenues and squeaky milongas and grade-a beef (cow and human alike). it’s a city that surely more than often borders on the grotesque, and still manages to keep its cool. like the good latinoamericana capital that it is, buenos aires has had plenty of chaos and shit in the past few years. but aside from la crisis (the 2000-2001 devaluation of the then-‘dollarized’ argentinian peso and subsequent economic stroke suffered after years of extreme neoliberalist policies), the porteño (that’s what people from buenos aires –it’s a port, you see- call themselves) habit of flaunting goes for the bad just as it does for the good. yes, buenos aires is borges, and bioy casares, and cortázar, and bife, and piazzolla and gardel but it’s also the boca, and the fat, coked-up maradona, and peronismo and ménem, and las gatitas de porcel (i used to watch the reruns late at night staying over at friends’ houses –it was totally forbidden for us when we were about 11 and it showed in mexico. more than the half-naked bunnies, i had a thing for the earth wind and fire theme song). buenos aires is class but it’s also quite trash. this city’s budding is miles away from that of bogotá, it’s not as overtly social conscious – i read somewhere that the current argentine brand of leftist politics could be termed leninist-narcissistic – on the contrary, it’s sometimes superficial and frivolous as sin. a different way of challenging hardship, i guess. like spitting on the wound instead of using antiseptic. or even better, having your incredibly gorgeous boyfriend or girlfriend lick it and then making out.

1. design boom : architecture is big, design is huge. from the annual design connection fair to the moma to fashion week, buenos aires has been on its way to becoming a true design epicenter for some years now. they might just have made it.

2. chic as shit : yes the girls, the boys, the eats, the clothes ... buenos aires oozes with beyond-standard coolness. but these days art is riding on top of the chic wave. and it's not bad, either.


galería braga mendez:

éxito e-zine:


to be continued (hotels galore, sounds like tango, mellow modernists...)