Finding solution for a massive problem.

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    Ricardo Amaya
    Feb 23, '15 11:57 AM EST

    Currently there is an existing population of 1 billion people living in slums, or what is consider to be inhuman conditions. By 2030 this number will double. This is one of the biggest problems we will have to deal with as a society, as these improvise spaces begin to surround major capitals in the world. Therefore this a problem that affects everyone in some sort of matter.

    As architects, our job should go further than designing new buildings and communities. I feel that in our clique of thinker and innovator we should be able to find solutions that will incorporate responsive design to solve/improve these spaces. To transform these slums into everything they are not, secure, open, visual pleasing etc. 

    At the end, these dense spaces are not going anywhere anytime soon, so how do we incorporate our ideas into the existing context. 


    I invite anyone to talk about anything and everything that will help this blog growth, with the goal to spread awareness. 



    • We won't have to deal with it - they're not going anywhere. And the dumps are getting bigger by the minute, providing more space for new residents. No to mention they are all overseas (so far). Here they live in low-end prefabs (dumpsters).

      Feb 23, 15 6:03 pm  · 
      Non Sequitur

      This topic has been an obsession in architectural discourse since the 60s. The problem is far beyond the reach of clever stacking of containers or whatever the thesis flavour of the month is these days.

      Here's a thought: stop romanticizing slum housing as an top-down architectural problem.

      Feb 24, 15 12:18 pm  · 

      Miles Jaffe,

      It is a fact that they're not going anywhere, as you just mentioned they are multiplying sometimes even faster than any other development. However, I do believe we will have to deal with them in the near future in one way or another.

      For example: As architects, we often strive to make a name for our self, this opportunities often manifest overseas. So what good is it to design a master piece if is surrounded by slums and poverty. These spaces are not only dense and inhuman, but they also promote major crimes, such as drug trafficking, kidnapping and violence among others. What is worst yet, most of the people in those conditions growth with the wrong mindset, allowing a cycle of illegal behavior to repeat over and over. All these conditions will directly affect our developments, since the crime emerging from these slums often over growth its area limits infiltrating into what otherwise will be consider safe communities. Examples of this cases are vast around the globe. Sooner or later if nothing is done, this will become a problem to every major city, as more and more people move to megalopolis in search of better opportunities but yet fail to find adequate spaces to live.

      Is this a complex problem? Indeed it is... It is impossible to solve? Never...

      I believe one way to approach this urban tissue, is to incorporate system of circulation to the existing context that will promote safety, openness and what it could be called "safe zones." Everything that is currently lacking. Also guide the development of future expansions to avoid the same mistakes to happen again.  

      Feb 24, 15 12:26 pm  · 
      Non Sequitur

      Ricardo... you're not the first to propose this "solution", nor will you be the last. You're simplifying a very large problem to suit an ideal vision... which is guaranteed to fail.

      This is the spherical cow metaphor taken to it's extreme.

      I suggest you read Mike Davis' Planet of Slums to get an idea of what the real forces shaping these informal settlements are.

      I've spoken with the principle from Elemental at a lecture quite some time ago. They do what you propose but at a local, community scale, without imposing a Haussmanian style planning. (

      Feb 24, 15 12:37 pm  · 

      A single word sums up everything you need to know about this (and pretty much everything else): economics. 

      Feb 24, 15 1:45 pm  · 

      Thank you for you response, Planet of Slums seems like an interesting book to get my hands on. I will definitely look into it.

       On a second note, I am fully aware that I'm not the first nor the last to brought this issue to light. I have fallowed the work done by Alejandro Aravena in Chile in which successfully involves the community in the development of their own housing. I hope to one day see this initiative at a much larger scale. 

      I'm also aware, the origin of this issue is far more complex than anything else. From political, to educational, to economics. It will take hundreds of pages to try dissect the different branches of society that allows this to happen. Many have tried to solved this problem, and many have failed. Most of the critics to this issue, blame the government, banks or simple the cruel fact that we need people in this conditions to sustain our high budget projects  and the high class community.

      I come from a third world country...Caracas, Venezuela to be exact. A megalopolis surrounded by this conditions.  A pure example of how far this conditions are able to shape an entire city. A city where you live in constant fear to be rob and kill for a simple I-phone or anything that is consider of value to the robber; where blending into crow has become an obligation in order to avoid becoming a target of crime; where your simple last name will make you a target for kidnapping. Situations like these are many, in fact these are probably the most common ones.  

      It will be foolish of me to think, that I will solved this issue on this blog. However, the lack of care to this matter is what exactly what inspired me to create this blog. Everyone knows about the problem, everyone knows how dangerous it is, but just a very few are proactive about it.  I cant help to think that if nothing is done, we will creating the path for our own destruction,  where chaos and fear will overrule anything else. 


      Proactive Awareness...goes a long way. 

      Feb 24, 15 2:04 pm  · 
      Non Sequitur

      Ricardo, given your geographical origins, I trust you've read "Informal Cities: Caracas Case"?

      if not, you should... if you can find a copy. I chased a similar topic in my first graduate semester but I turned away towards tangential subjects when I realized it was not an architectural problem.

      Rem Koolhaas tends to embrace the informal settlements in "Mutations".

      Feb 24, 15 2:29 pm  · 

      A film you might enjoy: Waste Land.

      Feb 24, 15 6:24 pm  · 

      Ricardo can you visualize your last 2 paragraphs for us? ...maybe in a Manhattan Transcript type of way? (By Bernard Tschumi - if you join scribd you can get a PDF copy,the hard copy goes for about $250)

      Feb 24, 15 6:48 pm  · 

      Indeed, the origin of this issue is not architectural. However architectural principles are in fact the only solution that may successfully alleviate the  existing urban phenomena. Referring to architecture not just as an aesthetics and structural matter, but rather  based on the core principle of  the manipulation of space to successfully meet the needs of the user. The lack of these pre-determined spaces, is the major reason why these slums could never successfully be integrated to an orthodox urban system. 

      I think "informal city: Caracas case" successfully begins to attack the problem in a clever way by proposing an "urban acupuncture" that consist in small projects. In fact, this approach has successfully been brought to life in the "Espacios de Paz" movement (Featured in Archdaily).  Which confirms my ideology that architects may be the only profession that could successful solved this massive problem, by integrating design systems that react to the different issues. 

      Feb 25, 15 10:34 am  · 

      i would start with urban farming.  people need to eat, and if you can separate food from money then you start to address what miles pointed out, that the problem is the economy.

      to fix the crime and drug use and other problems associated with the urban density you're talking about, i would think there is no possible solution without ending the poverty.  a building can't stop poverty, so that's where the idea that this is architectural falls apart.

      i think your solution would be to somehow develop an independent economic system that isn't tied to the adjacent metropolis or the state's currency.  keep people busy and keep them working towards something that allows them to provide for their needs, their family's needs, and their communities needs.

      if you look at what their needs are, it would probably start with food, clean water, adequate warmth and shelter, and sanitation.  how can they provide that within their own means and with the resources available in the slum community, without relying on the financial systems that screwed them all to begin with?

      as far as this statement:

      So what good is it to design a master piece if is surrounded by slums and poverty.

      just build a big wall.  that's what ZHA did isn't it?

      Feb 25, 15 11:08 am  · 

      curt, to separate food from money first you have to separate money from land.

      This is the essence of the problem. 

      Feb 25, 15 2:09 pm  · 

      First, I would like to see some drawings!

      Feb 25, 15 8:55 pm  · 

      Curtkram the key phrase to support Miles statement is "real estate"'s first definition from Webster means- all things that a person owns. There is nothing more Real to own than land.

      Feb 25, 15 8:58 pm  · 

      miles, i actually have no idea how that would apply in a slum situation like the OP is discussing.  If there was an attempt at guerrilla gardening, do you think there would be some sort of counter-action by a police presence or other entity (hostess or pegler sysco maybe) to destroy it?  I would think if crime and drugs are already rampant, the authorities aren't interested in enforcing laws.  maybe if the place got cleaned up by the residents though, the police and whatever other enforcement agency would step in to much it up again?

      what do you think ricardo?  would land use become an impediment if you were able to improve the area?

      Feb 26, 15 10:12 am  · 


      You mentioned that: "a building can't stop poverty, so that's where the idea that this is architectural falls apart." which is a fact. However I don't think anyone's intention that dealt with this issue before were to stop poverty. That goes beyond our control, as we are at the mercy of economics and politics. That does not mean we cannot solve the insecurity, sanitary and accessibility problems that locals to these slums deal with on a daily basis. 

      Second. I think by isolating these spaces from the adjacent metropolis by somehow developing an independent economic system is actually the wrong way to go about it. In fact, that is one of the main reason these spaces are forgotten. They never become an official integration to the metropolis, therefore they become "free at will" spaces, that disregard any system of organization. Besides, lets not forget that one of the main reason these spaces do exist is due the fact the people moved into these megalopolis in search of new economical hope. Creating sustainable systems that will involve the community will definitely help solve some of the problems, but with very limited spaces and a very dense populated area I doubt this will be enough to sustain the entire community. This why integration to the city is a most to allow the economical growth of the area. Normally, people that don't live in these spaces would never dare to a set a foot in the slums, mainly for the fear of being rob or kill. Making this a one way exchange, which means people from these slums make their way into city on a daily basis, however you never see the people of the city making their way into the slums. Which makes me think: How do we blur this line?

      Miles, I think the essence of the problem is actually the mare title of the blog "Density" not the land. In the case of Caracas (and in other parts of the world too), the land never belonged to the people of the slums, they just took it. By the effort of the community they built their own circulation system, they manage to illegally pull energy from the current power lines. In some sectors, the community got together and pressure the government to provide for basic services that they could not do themselves such as water. This is not a question if these sectors would keep expanding, is more of When? and in which direction?

      This is why i strongly believe that an implemented standards of development is needed to avoid the cycle of the same problems to repeat over and over. They are obviously willing to go through the work of building their on dwell as they have no other option. However, no one qualified is telling them how and the proper way of doing it.  

      Feb 26, 15 1:20 pm  · 

      The dump site is devalued by the detritus of society in all forms including human. Clean it up and you have prime real estate ready for development. It's only a question of cost and profit. The people there don't matter, as Ricardo points out they are squatters and only tolerated because they are essentially out of sight.

      In today's world all problems are economic, as are their causes and solutions. Find a way to make it more profitable than not to provide better living standards and it will get done. Or find a basis other than money on which to measure value in society.

      Feb 26, 15 1:41 pm  · 

      Something that my team has done to relieve these issues in these underdeveloped communities is create self sustainable structures to facilitate the community based on the needs, depending on the region. For example, in Homa Bay, Kenya....There is a schooling issue in an open area with inhumane conditions. We cleared out the spaces and heres what our structure looks like As you can see, we perforated the walls and created a 3 panel roof system to allow natural airflow throughout all the rooms. And allow natural sunlight to illuminate the spaces. Our only issue now is screening the perforation to block the reproduction of mosquitos and hazardous insects. but this structure can really be put anywhere. The problem is if the community in which we build can sustain it without constant supervision. 

      Dec 6, 16 1:18 am  · 
      Non Sequitur

      ^see above comments about romanticizing a problem that cannot be solved with architecture.

      Dec 6, 16 8:20 am  · 

       ....self sustainable structures....

      The problem is if the community in which we build can sustain it without constant supervision.


      Dec 9, 16 2:18 pm  · 

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About this Blog

Rapid world growth and urbanization is not allowing cities to adapt and provide for their inhabitants. Towns are quickly growing into cities, and some of the densest places in the world are comprised of makeshift homes, otherwise referred to as slums. Furthermore, already overcrowded cities have to absorb people leaving their rural hometown in hope of job opportunities. There are currently over 1 billion slum dwellers in the world. This number is expected to reach 2 billion by the year 2030.

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