© Nicola Rocco, Caracas Cenital 2005
© Will Sandy
17 May 2019
by Will Sandy
Discover the current creative culture and architecture in Caracas through this panel discussion with Will Sandy, selected for our Reframing Spaces residency, who will be joined by industry experts from the UK and Venezuela. Hosted by the Building Centre, the event is part of the London Festival of Architecture. Book your free place here.
We caught up with Will to hear more about his installation in Caracas, and why he feels it's important for UK audiences to learn more about the current state of architecture in Venezuela.
Tell us more about your architectural intervention in Caracas.
In October 2018 I made my first scoping trip to Caracas. I worked with local partners and students of the Universidad Central de Venezuela to enable me to understand the city and its constraints in order to identify the opportunities for positive urban design interventions.
Since my return to London, I have been developing my thinking and design ideas, working with a community of Venezuelan architects and designers to develop the project and understand further the positive impact of design on our changing urban landscapes. The focus of the project evolved into becoming a temporary architectural installation; The Catalyst Cube.
Inspired by the inside / outside nature of the city, the Caracas Cube / Catalyst Cube is a small urban pavilion that can be reconfigured to reveal multiple uses and activities. The Cube provides a focal point and local landmark in any neighbourhood. It is designed to be a compact unit that can be easily installed, providing opportunities for interventions in multiple locations in order to promote community participation.
The simple experience of hosting the installation, stimulates teaching, encourages the community to learn new skills and more importantly share this new knowledge with others. This in turn reinforces the impact of the project and raises the profile of the initiative to a wider audience, encouraging more people to get involved and positively reclaim the public realm.
The function of the Cube is to provide a fresh perspective on the situation, focusing on the positive, creating a hub for conversation and help identify opportunities in the neighbourhood. It acts as a catalyst for future moves and changes in the cities physical and social fabric.
Why do you think it’s important for UK audiences to hear what is happening in Caracas and what were the key things you learned?
From the outset of the project, I wanted to focus on the positive; there are always two perspectives to every situation. During my visit to Caracas, I met many amazing people, with so much passion for their country. I wanted to explore ways that the Reframing Spaces project could provide a platform to celebrate this energy and the exciting projects being delivered in Caracas – the London Festival Architecture theme of ‘boundaries’ this year presented the perfect opportunity.
Don’t get me wrong, day-to-day living has become a struggle for most Venezuelans, driven by political instability and economic turmoil. With basic services and supplies limited and declining due to strict government controls and rationing, looting and riots are common. The city of Caracas is also constrained by its geographical context, situated in a narrow valley, hemmed in by the steep sides of the Venezuelan coastal mountain range. A third of the city live in the self built barrios, developed outside of the urban framework. They are spatially segregated from the formal city, where middle and upper class Caraqueños live in more conventional houses and high rises.
However, despite these difficulties, there is hope. The people of Caracas are uniting around innovative, community driven initiatives designed to positively reclaim and revitalise their city. By engaging with the city’s fabric, they are beginning to make their mark.
The theme of this year’s London Festival of Architecture is ‘Boundaries’ – why do you feel this is particularly relevant for architecture today?
Life in cities is all about physical and psychological boundaries. In our ever-changing urban environments, how do we ensure that we create ‘permeability’ between new and existing communities, ensuring people feel comfortable in exploring new spaces?
Change is change, wherever you are in the world. The Cube aims to facilitate ideas at the points where different communities interface. As part of this, we need a more transparent and engaging planning process, this is key to the success of the cities where we live, work and play.
These fringe sites are integral to successful and meaningful placemaking, creating opportunities where new and old communities can come together. The design of the threshold space between communities and neighbourhoods is crucial to ensure social cohesion and the breaking down of physical and societal barriers – Landscape Architects and Architects are key to implementing this process.
At a time when gentrification is fervently discussed, it is the time to establish active, social community spaces for all. Spaces where people are welcomed to have their say and collaborate with the direction of their urban environment.
How has your practice and/or your perspective evolved as a result of your residency?
Reframing Spaces Caracas presented a very timely experience for me on both a personal and working perspective. This year represents 10 years in practice. I have always strived to push myself outside my comfort zone, self-initiating work and growing projects from both top-down and bottom-up, hopefully meeting in the middle to maximise the outcomes.
The open call from the British Council presented such an opportunity. Admittedly I am not a politician, economist or healthcare professional, which many people assumed when I announced that I was visiting Caracas, yet inadvertently, these elements were addressed in the brief, namely to improve the daily lives of the Caraqueños through clever urban design solutions and this was something I could really get behind. I strongly believe that if you create an engaging and active public space, work with the local people, you can engender pride and give the local people the confidence to make the changes themselves; this positivity has a bigger impact than just the design intervention itself.
In terms of process, it has been empowering, working simultaneously with the design team in Caracas and the design team here in London. It has helped to develop the project organically, presenting an open source overview of the design that can then be detailed to respond to the materials and resources availability. In Caracas, the relationship with material resources and skilled workers has become far more resilient and resourceful. In Venezuela, practitioners have to create self-sufficient networks to procure materials and resources, adapting designs to the materials available, this can change daily as can the price.
It has been an interesting way to address the project brief and then allow the materials and resources to inform the final design detailing. As we move forward as a profession, with the recent IPCC report on climate change, I believe that we need to allow construction materials to be more expressive, selecting materials that are sustainable from beginning to end, affecting positive change for the wider world community and environment.
Reframing Spaces Caracas
Monday 17 June 2019
18.30 – 20.00
The Building Centre
London WC1E 7BT
Free to attend but registration required. To find out more and to register visit the Building Centre's website.