By Matías & Mateo Pintó
In regards to the recently awarded prize to the Urban Think Tank at the Venice Biennial, numberless articles, blogs and letters in Venezuela comment and condemn their cynic view point that simplifies, banalizes and sensationalizes the subject of poverty and marginalization. They object to the fact that this is even apprised and celebrated. We will not even tag this work as polemic, since this will attribute level and seriousness to it. That prize is simply a bad joke.
In Venezuela we actually denounce and alert from multiple sources the impunity with which the Urban Think Tank has been consistently steeling and misusing real and serious work that belong to others. This group has invaded spaces, projects and ideas achieved by others packaging it as its own to establish themselves, running over talented and noble people, taking shortcuts to avoid doing any work and just selling smoke. An evil formula that has endorsed them cleverly a spot in the global scene that unfortunately buys smoke either by equal wickedness or by rampant stupidity.
The characters in question are probably excited with such a temporary popularity but we trust that the number of voices now pointing at them will finally put them in evidence internationally as they so like it. They will likely defend themselves claiming that they have activated a debate. But we want to bring to that same debate what many fail to mention.
We attempt to briefly summarize the main facts of our own story, a story more than 10 years long that does not fit in so few lines and truly wears us off personally. These facts backup the immense and collective rejection towards the Urban Think Tank in defense of all the affected and finally make justice.
About the Community House (La Vega, Caracas, Venezuela)
In 2001 the Project of the Community House of La Vega was awarded on the Socio-Cultural category at the X Architecture Biennial in Caracas, Venezuela. This project materialized after several years of working with Architects and Urban Designers Federico Villanueva and Josefina Baldo responsible of the creation and implementation of the master plan for the Urban Renewal and Upgrading Program for the Shantytowns in Caracas while in charge of CONAVI the National Housing Authority of Venezuela.
Departing from a meticulous observation of the unique solutions on improvised and informal buildings of collective use where the scarce available space is multiplied by growing in height, the Community House of La Vega established a typology and shaped a solid posture to overcome similar problems.
During those years we explored and defined novel architectural solutions fed by the deep knowledge of the most experienced “barriologos” or shantytown experts. Pedestrian connectors, housing solutions on steep slants and buildings integrated to the new street mapping sought to become adaptable systems able to adjust to any urban intervention of the Urban Renewal and Upgrading Program for the Shantytowns.
After only two years the Urban Upgrading Program is interrupted. The paradox on how Politics allow the abandonment and destruction of all that is on the right path. An estimate of two hundred and fifty projects where frozen amidst an explosion of National competitions. For those of us who took part of the originating efforts it meant above all the inability to realize at least in only one case the validity of all that projected with such determination.
About the Vertical Gymnasium (Chacao, Caracas, Venezuela)
In 2001 Hubert Klumpner, had just arrived to Caracas. Having close friends in common he finds his way to us demonstrating great interest in the work we had been developing in the Shantytowns and suggests we make a joint project for the Municipality of Chacao in Caracas. Within the evident interest on the Community House of La Vega and with it as a model, we end up being awarded the design and construction of a similar method, a building with the same characteristics: the Vertical Gymnasium of the Barrio La Cruz. An open air sports court is occupied by a building of collective use with different facilities in each level and crowned by a sports court at the roof. The Urban Think Tank never had anything to do with this project, let alone Alfredo Brillembourg.
The success of the Vertical Gymnasium in Chacao is evident by its acceptance by the community once completed in 2004 regardless of few interruptions during the construction. Similar projects are discussed in several occasions but these intentions never crystalize. The Municipality of Chacao, who commissioned the project, recommends the transfer of rights on the project - addressed to Architect Matias Pinto as its author- alleging their intention of establishing it as a prototype to be installed in other locations and Municipalities throughout the City. An agreement on this was not reached, no handover was ever executed.
Not long after the opening of the Vertical Gimnasium we issue a letter to the Municipality of Chacao were we clearly state the technical data of the project and the credits of the project team. In this written collaboration agreement we recognize Mr. Klumpner as co-author and collaborator in the team. For Klumpner having responsibilities beyond our agreement was impossible because at that time he had no local architecture license has neither legal relation to the project. Alfredo Brillembourg visits the site with Klumpner and is very well impressed…
Sometime later we learn that the Urban Think Tank registers the Vertical Gymnasium as a Trademark looking for a way to pledge ownership and reproduce as its own. A stellar project, they publish it over and over again as versions to be installed in different sites using images of the original. They devote all their energy to promote our built project as it were the initial prototype of a series of vertical gyms of their authorship. Publications such as Harvard Review, Dwell Magazine, amongst many more are prey of their tireless marketing and publish this lie. The cynicism is limitless, to the point where the images they sell for each version are made with images of the original without considerable modifications. We are excluded as authors and in the best of chances appear as collaborators. Moreover as if we were hired as local architects to comply with local requirements in association with an international architectural firm.
They even denounced us before the disciplinary court of the Architects Association in Venezuela, claiming that we had wrongfully published the credits of the project. We replied with a crushing dossier of proof that we had purposefully been collecting to denounce their actions. The Architects Association deliberated and concluded that the credits are to be respected as reflected in the contract and as agreed on our original collaboration agreement. They indicate that regardless of the shared authorship between the three collaborators the legal responsibility and authorship belong to Architect Matias Pinto who signed the project. This has not stopped the Urban Think Tank from publishing and using the project. This has even become an obstacle for us to present and publish our project with the correct credentials.
Since the Urban Think Tank has no other project of interest to show is the Vertical Gymnasium, inappropriately claimed that under very suspicious actions secures them a spot at the Venice Biennial in 2006 as part of the exhibition Cities, Architecture and Society.
We invite everyone to review in detail the website of the Municipality of Chacao where the Vertical Gymnasium with the appropriate credits is referenced. And to then visit the website of the Urban Think Tank were inexplicably the Vertical Gymnasium in Chacao appears as one of their projects and Brillembourg as one of its authors. And almost all of the later versions which are basically digital simulations are ambiguous variables of the same project in places like Jordania, United States, Brasil, Netherlands or Venezuela. Some of them, like the one in Sao Paulo, have more similarity with the Community House of La Vega than with the Vertical Gymnasium in Chacao.
“Tell a lie a thousand times and it will be true”
The Urban Think Tank manages to return to Venice in 2008, 2010 and finally in 2012. More of the same but with recognitions already collected like the Gold HolcimAward for Latin America. Just looking at their website is enough to sense that winning the Golden Lion at the Venice Biennial would be at their reach after so many attempts. We tend to have bad memory for many of these things but if try hard we may find that some of the names of the curators or judges in some of the occasions can be tracked to seemingly favor the Urban Think Tank’s sick practice.
The prize is truly the least important of all. That Lion is not of gold, it represents and insult to the reality of a country and miserable proceeding. It will very likely be defended by the organizers with arguments that we prefer not to discuss in depth, just because their nothing but the result of a banal and distant observation that avails a mediocre discourse. This deficit benefits the opportunistic that sell to the world the image of the missionary supported by recognized institutions and companies of the so called developed countries. And to Europe and the United States depict the brave explorer willing and able to represent our exotic reality.
It is a true shame that the project of Angela Bonadies (with whom I studied in Universidad Central) and Juan Jose Olavarria, would find itself buried by the wrongful actions of the Urban Think Tank. The work of the first ones is serious and meticulous; it portrays, denounces and invites provocation. Yet the later are wicked and probably identified in this work a new opportunity. What is unheard of is that again they take advantage of someone else’s work that has already been published, it been recognized and has its own life. The media reach of a prize like the one of the Venice Biennial leaves Bonadies and Olavarria in a very similar situation to ours. It cannot be described with words. Is absolute disconcert and indignation. And of course we do not
envy the new
recognition that the Urban Think Tank has received taking advantage of so many.
It makes us sad, because all we have is our work and is hard to share it when
you have to explain so much.
We want to finish by underlining the truly aggravating of this situation. That in Venezuela nothing is done to recognize the extensive and intensive serious work developed by the true experts in shantytowns, those who were able to identify innovative outcome to long discussed problems while involving everyone and anyone that could make a contribution. Those who made visible the invisible of the informal settlements, those who for the first time made the shantytowns appear on the maps (and thoughts of all). Knowing from experience that the results of such projects would have to be refined over time, that there would be no shortcuts and for sure no heroes able to address it all. They had the intelligence and the ability to transfer their knowledge of decades to young professionals like us to even discuss and reevaluate their own ideas. They recognized that there was no better way to work than integrating professionals of diverse disciplines and backgrounds and treating the communities as true clients.
They supported the need of allowing the recognized and deciphered problem become an opportunity; from an absolutely nontraditional focus, different from the simple and traditional response of massive public housing constructions. They plead for a political decision that got burnt quickly. They believed in the long and hard path, but very likely that of a true solution. And above all in silence, being shadowed, with integrity and humbleness.
Pintó Matías & Mateo, 2012. León de chOro, Weblog. La Torre de David, http://latorrededavid.blogspot.com/2012/09/leon-de-choro.html
September 13, 2012
Abstracts and quotes of the National reaction from the professional community in Venezuela for the prize awarded to “Torre de David”
“It is of my understanding the you (Alfredo Brillembourg) are one to the promoters of this exhibition. I am very sorry to hear you are involved in the discredit of Venezuela’s architecture and to contribute on the destruction of this great building (…) Bad predictions for you “Think Tank”. I regret the path you have taken in your profession guided by your desire to show off.”
Alcock Jimmy, Carta de Jimmy Alcock a Alfredo Brillembourg y su "think-tank", La Torre de David, Weblog. September 13, 2012
“With much reason the Biennial is being tagged as populist. It is said that they prize misery, which in our case - as Venezuelans - couldn’t be more accurate. But the most significant thing is that it has unveiled the hypocrisy that reigns in these spaces, the ignorance, and the frivolity. But this is not new. News to me is at least to see it so clearly”
Tenreiro Oscar, El triunfo del cinismo, Weblog. September 1, 2012
“The ArchitecturalAssociation of Venezuela firmly repudiates the frivolous and distortive behavior of those who have sought, by whatever means, the doubtful honor of being recognized in the “star system” of international awards. And declares that the crude manipulation of an invaded building and that of thousands of refugees does not account as a valid objective for our profession yet only serves to prove, nationally and internationally, the deep decomposition well, anarchy and lost values in which our country finds itself in present times.”
Colegio de Arquitectos de Venezuela
Junta Directiva Nacional del CAV (Colegio de Arquitectos de Venezuela), Declaración sobre La XIII Bienal de Arquitectura de Venecia, Website, September 7, 2012
"But there is more, the group of Think Tank Brillembourg-Klumpner and Justin McGuirk they is being accused in Venezuela of having used, for their presentation of the Project “Torre de David” at the Biennial, the documentation work developed by other professionals before. Specifically, the work of Angela Bonadies and Juan Jose Olavarria that have collected throughout several years photographic material to systematically document the case of the “Torre de David”. They even presented their work in New York and in Madrid in 2010, in Caracas and Dubai in 2011 as stated in the long interview published last year in April on the Venezuelan newspaper “El Nacional”.
Tantucci Enrico, La Torre de David indigna a Venezuela y compromete a la bienal, Di Venezia e Mestre La Nuova, September 8, 2012
“The architects that put forward the “Torre de David” in Venice acted as publicist. They saw an extraordinary opportunity to claim international recognition and acted deliberately and with the opportunism of those who manipulate advertisement; because the “Torre de David” is an architectural phenomenon, urban and human as excessive as the resources that made it possible. In it one could find all that we are short off and all that we have in excess, our neglect and false promises, our blindness and stupidity, the despair and imagination of the weakest.
In the presentation of these architects there is no evident intent or interest in any social interest, architectonic or moral. It is only about the use of an image and certain circumstances. If opportunity is bold, this one has its brains exposed…”
Vegas Federico, Venezuela en Venecia, Prodavinci, Weblog, September 10, 2012
“We used the colloquial name of the tower to title the blog and a research Project that we have been developing for the last three years with a very different approach to that stated by the Urban Think Tank. We center in the visualization and discussion around a subject that we consider it cannot be limited to mere formalities or to an exotic discourse about popular creative, or more appropriately poverty in which is present a repetition of vertical schemes of power and submissiveness. And the ethical distance discussed by Serge Daney: if we cannot do something to improve the situation of people we should focus on the problem so it becomes visible and discussed”.
Ángela Bonadies & Juan José Olavarría
Bonadies Angela & Olavarría Juan José, Estimados lectores:, La Torre de David, Weblog, August 30, 2012