"What we're seing at the moment is a return to architecture as a social pursuit," Justin McGuirk said in conversation with Chuck Mertz, the host of WNUR's weekly This is Hell! McGuirk, the author of Radical Cities, talked to Mertz about how architects and urban planners in Latin America have responded to the decades-in-the-making explosion of slums by integrating them into the fabric of cities.
Through a mix of bottom-up construction and top down resources, in the past decade, Latin America has become a hub for urban innovation.
"Architects with a social conscience and politicians with a social conscience are going back into the city and saying, well, ‘Architecture has a role here again.’ Because, you know, we used to build big modernist estates, architects had political backing, and when that fell through, architecture had like three decades of being a cultural pursuit—not really such a strong social pursuit. And what we’re seeing at the moment is a return to architecture as a social pursuit."
McGuirk said that his book functions like a toolbox and contains a collection of stories and ideas that are applicable to places with massive urban inequality, where the informal city not only prevails, but is estimated to grow massively in the coming generation.
In the global South, McGuirk said,
“We don’t need massive housing building programs because people are building houses perfectly well. What they need is support. They need infrastructure, they need services, they need transport—all these things that were not the architects role, actually. But architects can come in and they can start to retrofit these informal cities and make them healthier, better, more livable, more connected places.”
However, McGuirk makes it clear: while the urban innovations of Latin America are promising responses to inequality, we need to think about how fairer systems can operate at a larger scale. The cost of construction for megasporitng events in Brazil at the expense of plans to upgrade favelas illustrates the larger structural issues at hand.
“We know for a fact that neoliberalism has had a devastating effect of cities,” McGuirk said. We should not romanticize the favela.
“The main thing is to give them the attention they deserve, intellectually, so that we understand these places.”
Listen to the full episode at This is Hell!
Read an excerpt of Radical Cities in the Guardian.