Downward Spiral: El Helicoide’s Descent from Mall to Prison | New Book from Urban Research

The first book to address El Helicoide's extraordinary architecture and history, seeks to rescue this singular site from oblivion.
Downward Spiral: El Helicoide’s Descent from Mall to Prison | New Book from Urban Research

Press Release ( - NEW YORK - Jul 12, 2017 - “One of the most exquisite creations ever to have sprung from the mind of an architect.” — Pablo Neruda

NEW YORK — Inspired by the architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright and capped with a Buckminster Fuller dome designed by Donald Richter, Venezuela’s spiraling concrete Helicoide once seemed destined to consolidate Caracas’ reputation as a modern Latin American capital. Constructed in the late 1950s as a futuristic shopping mall with 2.5 miles of vehicular ramps, customers would not walk but circulate with their cars along 320 stores, exhibition halls and state-of-the-art facilities featuring inclined elevators and close-circuit television. The goal was to implant modern consumer culture in Caracas and catapult Venezuelan society into the First World.

The project faltered mere months from completion and the building’s unfinished ramps were relegated to the backdrop of the city’s southern slum-covered hills. Despite myriad private and public attempts at recovery, El Helicoide has known only two uses: first, as a temporary refuge for almost ten thousand people in the late 1970s; then as a police headquarters and penal institution from 1985 on.

Downward Spiral, the first book to address El Helicoide’s extraordinary architecture and history, seeks to rescue this singular site from oblivion. In five sections representing the building’s complex cultural history, the book presents El Helicoide as a living ruin, with its paradoxical status as half-abandoned, half occupied site that bears witness not only to one of the most outstanding periods in Venezuela’s architectural history, but also to the social and political upheavals that modernity has entailed.

Combining archival documents, critical analysis, literary excerpts and visual artworks, the book traces the turbulent history of this living ruin and shows the dystopic side of urban modernity.

“This anthology offers a veritable 360-degree tour of El Helicoide’s history from conception to modernist ruin, revealing in its various twists and turns a profound view into more than half a century of Venezuelan politics and the follies of 20th century automobile urbanism.” – Barry Bergdoll, Meyer Schapiro Professor of Art History, Columbia University

“Wide-ranging and richly illustrated, this book is a landmark contribution to the history of architecture and urbanism, not just in Venezuela but in Latin America and beyond.” – Valerie Fraser, Emeritus Professor of Art History, University of Essex and author of Building the New World: Studies in the Modern Architecture of Latin America 1930-1960

“This book vividly illustrates, this urban progeria (or premature rubble syndrome) is but the symptom of a tropical modernity whose violent, syncopated, and contradictory temporality is materialized in and as space.” – Jens Andermann, Professor of Spanish and Portuguese, New York University

Downward Spiral: El Helicoide’s Descent from Mall to Prison
Celeste Olalquiaga and Lisa Blackmore, Editors
Contributors: Pedro Alonso, Carola Barrios, Ángela Bonadies, Bonadies + Olavarría, Rodrigo Blanco Calderón, René Davids, Liliana De Simone, Luis Duno-Gottberg, Diego Larrique, Vicente Lecuna, Engel Leonardo, Albinson Linares, Sandra Pinardi, Iris Rosas, Alberto Sato, Elisa Silva, Federico Vegas, Jorge Villota. Designed by Álvaro Sotillo and Gabriella Fontanillas.
Paperback: $50
ISBN 978-1-947198-00-5

About the Editors:
Celeste Olalquiaga is an independent cultural historian and the author of Megalopolis: Contemporary Urban Culture and The Artificial Kingdom: A Treasury of the Kitsch Experience. In 2013 she founded PROYECTO HELICOIDE, a non-profit organization dedicated to rescuing the memory of El Helicoide.

Lisa Blackmore is a scholar of Latin American visual culture and the author of Spectacular Modernity: Dictatorship, Space and Visuality in Venezuela, 1948-1958. In fall 2017 she will join the University of Essex, UK, as Lecturer in Art History and Interdisciplinary Studies.

Information and orders:

Urban Research (UR) is a book series devoted to speculation about the condition and future of the city. We publish projects ranging from the practical to the utopian, from community-generated plans for neighborhood transformation to outstanding outcomes from academic studios, visionary speculations by designers burning the midnight oil, and collations of arguments about the most urgent issues of urban growth and survival. Our remit is to get the word out about solutions that exceed the imaginative reach of “official” planning and design and to encourage the most vigorous debate.

UR, the imprint of Terreform, seeks to become a key venue both for individuals and organizations engaged in progressive urban research, design, and critical advocacy. We invite the collaboration of all who share our interest in creating sustainable, beautiful, and just cities around the world.

Source : Urban Research


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