Torre de David Avant la Lettre

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PH_02A visionary Caracas urban development abandoned amid political turmoil, squatted on, turned into an epicenter of urban legends and violence…El Helicoide was Torre de David before there was a Torre de David.

Celeste Olalquiaga picks up the fascinating, mostly forgotten story of what’s now Venezuela’s Security Policy headquarters for Failed Architecture.

Nelson Rockefeller tried to buy El Helicoide, but even he couldn’t overcome the legal quagmire that paralyzed the building until the state intervened and took it over. El Helicoide was a feat of the imagination and of technology, yes, but in a context where such things are secondary, where continuity is non-existent and maintenance considered a waste of time, and where purpose falls prey to a proprietary politics that binds the country to its leaders in a perverse filiation.

In the end, El Helicoide stands for exactly the opposite of what it was built to be. Instead of a dynamic center of exchange that might have revitalized the area and its surroundings, the building grew melancholically inward, fated, like an obsessive thought, to repeat its failure over and over again. Rather than expansive, it became sinister, a threatening fortress of “law and order” in a country that endemically ignores both. The building that could have become a symbol of modernity’s progressive thrust became instead an emblem of its failures—of the price paid for wishing to change everything at all costs, for imposing a vision unilaterally, for dreaming for others what they may not want to dream at all. As such, many think that in its ruined condition, El Helicoide offers the most appropriate portrait of a dystopic Caracas.

1 COMMENT

  1. That’s a great find, Mr. Toro. I had no idea of the original history of the building; I had always just assumed it was a governmental holdover from better days.

    While the author went into a bit of the etymology of the hill, I wish she’d mined it a bit further (no pun intended) for the underlying irony.

    The Tarpeian Rock of ancient Rome had a far more sinister reputation than what the author details: it was where citizen traitors against the state were cast to their deaths, often in an extra-judicial manner. Whether it was Sulla’s greedy and manipulative freedman Chysogonus, the son of Gaius Marius, or Coriolanus, if the state didn’t like you, thought you were an inconvenience, and had previously denounced you a traitor, off the rock you went. Moreover, it was a common threat by the dictators (de facto or elected) of the time to threaten their enemies in the Senate that they would be “thrown off the Tarpeian Rock” to quell political dissent.

    Oddly fitting, given the current government and its use of the building.

  2. “[…] a threatening fortress of “law and order” in a country that endemically ignores both.”

    That’s a great way to put it. There is no law in this country. My friends were robbed by the police this weekend. Screw us, right?

  3. I’m quite happy to see more people will get to know the truth and bust popular myths on El Helicode as well as the article’s thoughtful two-paragraph conclusion on how Venezuelans of that era went overboard and boastfully got wrong what true modernization was all about.

  4. Loved the story, Quico, thanks for digging it.

    Perez Jimenez was a terrible dictator, but at least he had that idea of building for the future…Chávez did not left us anything.

  5. It will remain an icon of a future that never quite made it to the present…….. trying to figure out that one. Very interesting piece… should be in the history books.

    • It is one of the best articles I’ve read about Venezuela the whole year. As fascinating as the story of the Helicoide is, the parallelism to Venezuela evolution is brilliant.

      I find that many middle class opposition people are unaware of the cultural faults that produced the 4ta republica’s failure.

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