| Nestor Rojas Mavares |
Caracas (dpa) – Demolition is looming for a Venezuelan city skyscraper which was built to house financial whizz-kids, but is instead housing homeless squatters on 28 of the Caracas building’s 45 unfinished floors.
The 190-metre David Tower has been described as a high-rise slum. At the height of the occupation, it was accommodating more than 1,150 families in its bare concrete walls.
Construction on the building, which possesses a heliport and 10 parking levels, was stopped in the mid-1990s because of a financial meltdown in Venezuela.
In 2007, homeless people settled in 28 of the floors. Their dream was to make homes out this massive unused office building. Evictions began July 22 and it looks as if the government has decided to demolish the David Tower.
The government entered into negotiations with the squatters’ leaders and has conducted public consultations to ascertain whether the building could be refurbished for any other use.
The tower, originally named the Confinanzas Tower, began to go up in 1990 as part of a long-term project by architect David Brillembourg, who planned it as the heart of a future financial centre.
It was a project under the ownership of the Metropolitan Bank, which collapsed in 1994. The government nationalised Metropolitan, acquiring homes, buildings and plots of land that had been security for loans to the bank.
Building on the David Tower had stopped when it was just over 60 per cent complete. Nonetheless, it was already the third-tallest building in Caracas.
For years the David Tower was a state asset owned by the Deposit Guarantees Fund, set up to help savings clients during a banking crisis. In 2001, an attempt to auction off the tower with a reserve price of 80 million dollars failed.
Squatters who took over the building joined together to install water pipes and fit the building with electricity cables. The David Tower boasted an Evangelical church, barber shops, food shops, a cyber-cafe and even a day-care centre.
Residents had to cope with stairways lacking railings, unfinished walls and difficult ascents from floor to floor. A taxi cooperative used motorcycles, driving residents by pillion up to the 20th floor using the vehicle ramps in the parking section. Above that, everyone had to walk the stairs.
The David Tower came to be seen as a den of thieves. All sorts of dark rumours spread through Caracas about it, but they were adamantly denied by the settlers.
Caracas Development Minister Ernesto Villegas argued that it had become necessary to evacuate the building because it lacks walls and hand railings on stairways, but he rejected allegations that 80 people had plunged to their deaths in accidental falls inside.
Several floors were closed off and doors were welded shut to block new squatters moving in. Families who were evicted were transported in military trucks and coaches to new homes in the Tuy Valleys on the outskirts of Caracas.
“(The evacuation) has been a harmonious process, coordinated with community leaders inside the tower. Those people who still have not made up their minds about being relocated have been reassigned to floors lower down. We want entire floors to be emptied to be able to close them off,” said Villegas during a tour with reporters through the halls of the skyscraper.
Residents left graffiti on the walls with slogans such as “God Loves You” and murals, many depicting the popular late president Hugo Chavez.
Evicted residents left with no hard feelings.
“I settled in floor seven five years ago. My dream was to have my own home. Now I have to start a new life,” said Amanda Garcia, a single mother with three children, as she left.
“I feel a bit sad, but what can you do? We are going to a different neighbourhood and we are going to start a new life yet again,” said Robinson Medina, a mechanic who had been living in the David Tower for five years.
The most recent squatters, who arrived a year and a half ago, had to find living space above floor 25. Living on the lower floors had been an easier proposition for the first arrivals.
“We lived like kings in the lower floors,” said Jose Arrieta, a plumber who moved to the David Tower from a working-class district outside Caracas.
When the government began evicting residents, the idea of an upcoming demolition was not so clear.
Experts suggested the tower could be salvaged and converted into office space or apartments.
However, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has said that demolition appears to be the most viable option.
From outside, the visitor sees clay blocks and dozens of television antennae blocking the unfinished gaps in the outside walls.
Residents paid a small “condominium fee” of about 30 dollars a month and shared the task of cleaning corridors and common areas. The residents funded the plumbing and hydraulic pumps to move water up to the higher storeys.
In 2012, the David Tower was featured at the Venice Biennale when a group of architects presented their project: “The David Tower, Great Horizon”, to salvage the building.
The Biennale jury recognised residents for having been able to adapt a building with no water, elevators or electricity and make it viable.
The jury granted a mention to “the inhabitants of Caracas and their families, who have created a new community and a home from an abandoned and incomplete building.” But the architects said the David Tower had become an “off limits” building, even to the police.
Caracas deputy Dinorah Figuera, with the opposition First Justice party, said that what had taken place in the David Tower was evidence of negligence on the part of the government in housing.
She charged that the building was used for criminal activity.
“Unfortunate events such as assassinations occurred there. They were charging people rent for makeshift apartments. There was vandalism. They would dismantle (stolen) cars and motorcycles there. And the government knew all about it.”