Mark Byrnes is a former senior associate editor at CityLab who writes about design and architecture.
Torre de David was supposed to be an office skyscraper for Caracas. Then the city's economy collapsed, and squatters took over.
Caracas' third tallest building is a downtown skyscraper full of families, bodegas, a hair salon, a dentist, even a day-care center.
Except none of it is legal.
Officials began construction on Centro Financiero Confinanzas in 1990. At the time, it was a celebration of the country's prosperity and growing middle class. But in 1994, a banking crisis struck, eliminating a third of the country's financial institutions. Building came to a complete halt, even though the facility was only 60 percent complete.
In October 2007, squatters took over the skyscraper, now known as Torre de David after David Brillembourg, the prosperous banker who launched the project.
Twenty-eight of the 45 floors are now occupied, and 2,500 residents call the tower home. Though there are no functioning elevators, a motortaxi service takes residents up the building's ten-floor parking garage. Torre de David now has a communal electrical grid and an aqueduct system for water. Residents pool money for basic services.
If you're looking from the right angle, Torre de David looks like any other corporate skyscraper. But a closer look shows the missing windows and sections of exposed concrete. In a New Yorker article earlier this year, the dean of architecture at Caracas' Universidad Central, Guillermo Barrios, told Jon Lee Anderson:
"Every regime has its architectural imprimatur, its icon, and I have no doubt that the architectural icon of this regime is the Tower of David. It embodies the urban policy of this regime, which can be defined by confiscation, expropriation, governmental incapacity, and the use of violence."
Earlier this month, Vocative released their own documentary on Torre de David, supplying a rare look at every day life inside the tower. In it, we see a range of couples and families who put their own money into renovating units. We also see the sometimes dangerous conditions inside, the kinds you expect to find when you live in a slightly more than half-finished construction site.
Being able to live in a centrally located tower with functioning utilities is not always easy in Venezuela. For a country accustomed to housing shortages since Chavez's rule, residents convey a deep sense of community and attachment to the tower. The organizer of its occupation, Ricardo Jimenez, doesn't see Torre de David's current condition the same way as Barrios does, telling Vocative, "Torre de David is not simply a monster that should be eliminated and attacked and defeated. That monster needs to be supported. We need to see how to, hand in hand, with the state."