On Art, On Society

A place to call home

There are conventional ideas about how the average person makes a home for themselves and potentially a family, too. In London, an intensifying housing shortage, unrelenting interest from foreign investors and a dearth of rights for renters all contribute to a frenzied preoccupation with the great search for a city-based home. We can’t help peering into the windows of estate agents as we pass by, “just curious”, and then wishing we hadn’t looked because £1,500,000 for a leasehold of a small house is, frankly, depressing. We lament rising rents and energy bills and demonise landlords in conversations with friends and colleagues. UK-wide, we watch reality TV shows addressing the challenges of home renovation or moving house entirely.

I’m as guilty any other for whining about the plight of young people trying to make a living in the city. Yet recently, I received a healthy dose of perspective, in the form of an  evocative photography exhibition at the Barbican. Constructing Worlds is a skillfully curated exploration of how people interact with architecture. This is where I first learned about Torre David in Caracas, Venezuela: an unfinished office building that many call home.

The 45-floor tower could easily have stood as a relic, a painful reminder of the economic collapse of the country in the late ’90s. However, its appropriation by hard-up urban inhabitants has turned a negative into a positive. Thousands have set up home and shop in the building, creating living spaces with found objects and establishing businesses that serve the emergent micro-community such as hair salons and grocery shops. Photographer Iwan Baan has has captured their lives through his camera lens, neither to pity nor romanticise a less-than-ideal state of affairs, but rather to showcase real human ingenuity and resourcefulness.

A family scene

A family scene

Micro-business in action

Micro-business in action

Dumbbells made using pulleys from the lifts that never were

Dumbbells made using pulleys from the lifts that never were

Conceptualising your home needn’t involve kitsch furnishings or the perfect feng shui.

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