What makes the city of the future? How do you heal a divided city?
In Radical Cities, Justin McGuirk travels across Latin America in search of the activist architects, maverick politicians and alternative communities already answering these questions. From Brazil to Venezuela, and from Mexico to Argentina, McGuirk discovers the people and ideas shaping the way cities are evolving.
Ever since the mid twentieth century, when the dream of modernist utopia went to Latin America to die, the continent has been a testing ground for exciting new conceptions of the city. An architect in Chile has designed a form of social housing where only half of the house is built, allowing the owners to adapt the rest; Medellín, formerly the world’s murder capital, has been transformed with innovative public architecture; squatters in Caracas have taken over the forty-five-story Torre David skyscraper; and Rio is on a mission to incorporate its favelas into the rest of the city.
Here, in the most urbanised continent on the planet, extreme cities have bred extreme conditions, from vast housing estates to sprawling slums. But after decades of social and political failure, a new generation has revitalised architecture and urban design in order to address persistent poverty and inequality. Together, these activists, pragmatists and social idealists are performing bold experiments that the rest of the world may learn from.
Radical Cities is a colorful journey through Latin America—a crucible of architectural and urban innovation.
According to art critic and curator McGuirk in this bracing debut, modernism's utopian ambitions reached their nadir in Lima, Peru, in the 1960s with a scrapped social housing project called PREVI. Writing with verve and purpose, McGuirk explores how a new generation is developing strategies to build equitable communities in Latin America. From architects to social organizers and populist leaders, these "idealistic pragmatists" are concerned with small but focused interventions, with human needs rather than style. These activists work across political divides and under less than ideal conditions, and most importantly, they regard the slums not as the problem, but the inevitable solution. Reporting from Buenos Aires, Lima, Rio, and Tijuana, among other locations, McGuirk eloquently considers the implications of different housing projects and phenomena. He visits a "vertical gymnasium" in a slum outside Caracas, Venezuela, that helped violent crime rates drop 30%. He climbs Torre David, the unfinished skyscraper in Caracas that's home to 3,000 squatters, whose fusion of formal and informal elements could serve as a model for urban housing around the world. As McGuirk writes, "This is not a book about objects, but about actions." Like these activist architects, he is not interested in attractive buildings (there are none here in the traditional sense), but effective civic renewal.