VENEZULA/ CARACAS :: METRO CABLE, San Agustín, CARACAS, by ALFREDO BRILLEMBOURG, HUBERT KLUMPNER & URBAN THINK TANK (2003-2010)

TRAVELING IN AMOR _

How can one infuse a metropolis with more mobility, and therefore also with more equality and liberty, or values such as imagination, poetry or joy, breaking up barriers between rich and poor, or the center and its periphery, by means of an infrastructure that has as light a footprint as possible? The recent but already historical Metro Cable which Urban Think Tank designed for Caracas, Venezuela, exploiting a hilly landscape to the maximum could well serve as a perfect example. Max Borka reports.

Images: © Urban-Think Tank

The Metro Cable San Agustín was commissioned by C.A. Metro de Caracas. It connects poor and isolated mountainside barrios to downtown Caracas and was constructed as an extension of the local metro system. The hills surrounding the city center of Caracas have long been the sites of barrios — informal settlements populated by a steady influx of poor, rural migrants. It is estimated that about sixty percent of the city’s five million inhabitants live in such communities, but due to their illegal status these areas have never been formally connected with public transit or other civic services. Until recently they were even ignored by government officials to such a degree that the barrios were not even marked on maps. The result was a seemingly inexorable social divide between the center and the outskirts in the mountains ringing it.

Metro Cable was inspired by a grassroots campaign against the construction of new bus routes that would have entailed demolishing one third of the homes in the vibrant San Agustín Barrio, home to 40,000 people. Architects Alfredo Brillembourg and Hubert Klumpner, co-founders and co-principals of Urban-Think Tank, made a proposal to the city in 2003 to build a cable car system that would connect this poor mountainside barrio to downtown Caracas. The idea was a radical departure from the then ruling official planning strategy, which still sought to gradually link the barrios to the rest of the city by new streets. Urban-Think Tank argued for a fast and effective alternative: a gondola lift system, which would intrude minimally and selectively into the existing urban fabric. C.A. Metro de Caracas embraced the plan and set up a joint venture in May 2006 between the state and the Doppelmayr/Garaventa Group — an Austrian ropeway engineering firm, to begin implementing the plan.

Urban-Think Tank was founded in Caracas in 1993 by Alfredo Brillembourg. In 1998 he was joined by Hubert Klumpner. Brillembourg graduated from Columbia University, New York, in 1986, while Klumpner graduated from the University of Applied Arts in Vienna in 1993. As a multidisciplinary studio, with offices in Zurich, New York, Caracas and São Paulo, Urban-Think Tank focuses on the development of strategies for upgrading informal settlements. With Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation, Brillembourg and Klumpner also founded Sustainable Living Urban Model Lab (S.L.U.M.Lab) as a research and planning studio that connects planners, architects, and students. In 2010 they were appointed Chairs of Architecture and Urban Design at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, ETH Zürich.

The Caracas Metro Cable started construction in 2007. The city’s first completed line stretches in a broad 2.1 km arc, from the San Agustín Barrio to Parque Central where it is linked to the subway network, connecting three hilltop communities in between. Opened for regular service in January 2010 it has five stops, including the uppermost terminus. Built from aluminum, using an electrical power supply, and adorned with moral, political and poetic imperatives such as Sacrificio, Moral, Libertad, Equidad, Humanismo, and Amor, the cabins seat a maximum of eight people. High above Caracas, the cable cars are a distinct feature of the city landscape, giving great visibility to the barrios that were formerly officially non-existent. Due to the Metro Cable a normal 2 ½ hour commute is now only 20 minutes. The line is able to transport up to 1,200 people per hour in each direction. Second only to the one in Medelin, that was launched later but finished construction earlier, the San Agustín line also introduced several technical novelties, such as the fact that it is the first to implement a 90 degree turn. But, even more important: built as a tool of social reform, its stations have been built on stilts to have a minimally invasive footprint. In addition to being transportation hubs, they are also meant to serve as community centers, and to house a broad network of services such as daycare, libraries, police stations, markets and even theatres and other cultural and recreational programs. In fact, only 7 % of the total cost, 250 million euros, went to building transit system itself, the additional money went to the community centers and compensation for land expropriations. (mb) www.u-tt.com

The Caracas Metro Cable will be highlighted by the Mapping the Design World Meeting Point at Reciprocity, the Design Biennial for Social Innovation in Liege, Belgium, from October 5 through October 28 2012, and will also feature in the accompanying MAP-Mapping the Design World magazine – focusing on some 100 examples of (Do) Good Design from an equal number of countries.

01 METRO CABLE, San Agustín, CARACAS 02 METRO CABLE, San Agustín, CARACAS 03 METRO CABLE, San Agustín, CARACAS 04 METRO CABLE, San Agustín, CARACAS 05 METRO CABLE, San Agustín, CARACAS 06 METRO CABLE, San Agustín, CARACAS 07 METRO CABLE, San Agustín, CARACAS 08 METRO CABLE, San Agustín, CARACAS

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