The pressures in Caracas
Basic services and supplies are limited and declining due to strict government controls and rationing. The city of Caracas is also constrained by its geographical context, situated in a narrow valley, hemmed in by the steep sides of the Venezuelan coastal mountain range. As a result, Caracas is divided. A third of the city live in the self-built barrios, developed outside of the urban framework. They are spatially segregated from the formal city, where middle and upper class Caraqueños live in more conventional houses and high rises.
Day-to-day living has become a struggle for most Venezuelans, driven by political instability and economic turmoil. Caracas is a city of contrasts, urban and rural, formal and informal, divided by physical and psychological barriers. Among the issues that currently affect the city is the decrease in public spaces for leisure and entertainment, risk of security and violence, compounded by its dense population and deficiency of services. Despite the difficulties, there is hope. By engaging with the city’s fabric the people of Caracas are beginning to make their mark.
The Catalyst Cube
The first Catalyst Cube prototype launched in November 2019 – known locally as the ‘Cubo de Caracas’ – has played host to a programme of cultural activations and engagements. These include theatre, puppet shows, live music, education sessions, public speaking, exhibitions and 3D video mapping. It also hosted activities for the Day of People with Disabilities and other seasonal activities over the festive period. The local municipality have taken ownership of the Cube, curating the space with the wider community. Proposals started to come in from day one, with ideas from illustration workshops, stand-up comedy and performances to public lectures and film projections. Conversations with a number of communities interested in hosting the Cube in future locations throughout the coming year have been taking place.
Design Process: Cultural Exchange
Local partnerships were key to the successful design and development of the Catalyst Cube. The British Council worked with a local team led by Stefan Gyzl (Architect and Design lead), LuisRa Bergolla (Social / Cultural Engagement) and fabricators at Smith Falchetti in conjunction with ADJKM Architects. Alongside the professional team, early project ideas and their context were developed in collaboration with architecture students from Universidad Central de Venezuela and Simon Bolivar University. A simple paper viewfinder invited Caraqueños to frame and focus on the positives of the city, sharing their views with the hashtag #FocusCaracas. This allowed the team to approach the project with fresh eyes, understanding the city’s challenges and opportunities.
The Catalyst Cube is an accessible intervention placed directly into the existing landscape. Its flexible design is:
- A focal point for the community
- A hub for conversation and play
- A way the neighbourhood can take ownership of their environment