Slums and Density: Lessons from the Tower of David

In Mumbai over 70% of the population lives on 20% of the land. Immediately you may picture soaring skyscrapers, but in reality this major chunk of the population are Mumbai’s slum dwellers, and they all live in single story unsanctioned homes. These slum homes are packed so tightly together that if you are just reading a density map of Mumbai it appears that the city has an even distribution of medium height residential buildings, when the reality is quite different.

This got me thinking about the architecture of Slums. The slum typically is a single story single, room home constructed from collected materials. In Mumbai, they are notoriously short on plumbing, and it is estimated that there is one toilet per 1,440 people in the Dharvi slum, the largest in the world. This is not always the case with slum living. In Caracas Venezuela; a city that is facing a major housing shortage, has allowed a new typology of slums to occur. Vertical Slums.


The Tower of David is often referred to as the world’s tallest slum, though it was never envisioned to be so. Today it stands almost 50 stories high and represents failed socialist banking policies and the housing crisis that affects many living in Venezuela. The building was constructed originally as the home for a future banking company, though during construction Venezuela experienced a collapse of the banking industry, so the construction was abandoned. Workers had finished much of the construction so the building was structurally sound and just sat for around thirteen years. Today the building houses residents on 27 of its 52 floors. Apparently 27 stories is the maximum people will walk up as the building has no elevators. People decided to take action and inhabit the space. In turn a community has emerged and crime rates inside the Tower of David are lower than those surrounding the building.

It is this creative slum typology that has allowed thousands of people to live in relative comfort in the middle of a metropolis. Today as developing cities are looking for housing solutions this type of vertical slumming should be considered. Building upwards is often cheeper than outwards for cities in the long term.IWAN-BAAN_TORRE-DE-DAVID


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