Experimental housing

Seeking to solve the issues associated with the relentless flow of people to the cities, the then President of Peru, Fernando Belaúnde Terry, an engineer and Architect started a programme of social-housing interventions in 1965. Belaúnde, together with the United Nations Development Programme, and Peter Land, Chief Architect for the project, invited the avant-garde of the architectural world to compete to devise housing prototypes for this initiative.

13 world Architects including James Stirling and Charles Correa, as well as 13 Peruvian Architects, were tasked with proposing a model neighbourhood of prototype housing to provide a solution for the overcrowding of Lima, with people living in very poor conditions in the barriadas of San Cristobal.

The idea was simple. Provide a single storey dwelling that was adaptable to people’s future needs. This dwelling would then be repeated to create a low rise, high density masterplan across an area of land just outside the city limits along the Pan-American Highway. A school and community facilities were also to be provided.

While winners were chosen, it was decided that 20 of the 26 schemes should be built around a hybrid masterplan in order to test which housing prototype was the most successful, with the idea that these housing prototypes may then be able to be reused around the world to solve similar issues.

Once occupied the scheme took on a life of it’s own. The austere concrete was painted and squares were planted with bushes, trees and flowers. As families grew the houses were adapted to meet the needs of the families, by the families. By understanding how the people of Peru lived, Belaúnde and Peter Land were able to provide the architects with a brief that not only dealt with the housing problem but allowed the inhabitants to thrive by allowing them to take ownership of the scheme and in this way have a vested interest in it’s success.

I was fortunate enough to visit the Proyecto Especial de Vivienda in Los Olivos and it truly is a testament both to the vision of the architects and the ingenuity of its inhabitants, that those who have so little have been able to make such a success of this area of Lima.

Just this week Alejandro Aravena has announced that his firm, ELEMENTAL, has chosen to release four of their social housing designs to the public, which focus on providing a framework for future adaptation, for open source use. With this, 50 years later, Belaúnde’s vision of a solution to the rapid growth of world cities may finally be realised.

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