The city of Caracas is situated in a valley, and its informal settlements ring the steep mountain slopes surrounding the central city. La Vega is one of the largest, with a population of 95,000 living within 400 hectares (1.5 sq. miles). Working with the San Rafael-Barrio Unido community in La Vega, a team of architects, engineers, a road designer, and a geologist assessed the settlement’s conditions. The architects, Proyectos Arqui5, concluded that the vertical typography (with steep slopes higher than 50% or 2:1 run-to-rise) was the determining condition, limiting accessibility, services, and public spaces.
Based on community-established priorities, the team devised the Integral Urban Project to help solve the main challenges. First, a new road system was designed, with one main road around the top hills and a secondary road connecting smaller streets, which allowed better access to public transportation and circulation. The existing pedestrian walkways were a series of resident-built stairs, narrow in width, with variable step size, no handrails, high slopes, and no stairs higher up the hill. To connect neighbourhoods and improve residents’ daily commute, the team designed a network of stairs which incorporated basic services such as electricity, drainage, sewer, gas, and water. Every spare space was integrated into walkways, and public landings inserted at intervals acted as new spaces for social interaction. Most important, families were able to remain in their homes, which was critical to maintaining social cohesion.
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