Beginning in the 1950s, an explosion in rural-urban migration dramatically increased the population of cities throughout Peru, leading to an acute housing shortage and the proliferation of self-built shelters clustered in barriadas, or squatter settlements. Improvised Cities examines the history of aided self-help housing, or technical assistance to self-builders, which took on a variety of forms in Peru from 1954 to 1986. While the postwar period saw a number of trial projects in aided self-help housing throughout the developing world, Peru was the site of significant experiments in this field and pioneering in its efforts to enact a large-scale policy of land tenure regularization in improvised, unauthorized cities.
Gyger focuses on three interrelated themes: the circumstances that made Peru a fertile site for innovation in low-cost housing under a succession of very different political regimes; the influences on, and movements within, architectural culture that prompted architects to consider self-help housing as an alternative mode of practice; and the context in which international development agencies came to embrace these projects as part of their larger goals during the Cold War and beyond.
Gyger and the University of Pittsburgh Press should be applauded for producing a beautiful book. . . . Gyger’s detailed interdisciplinary approach is something that will hopefully appear in and inspire more urban histories of Latin America.
An immensely complex and instructive analysis of the politically motivated and socially contested housing proposals in Peru. . . . Helen Gyger’s book . . . belongs undoubtedly to the best and most meticulously researched books in these fields and is a sharp portrait of the North-South relations and their enduring effects of dependency.
[Improvised Cities] moves beyond well-rehearsed endorsements of slum upgrading, bringing needed critical perspectives about the technologies and politics of spatial coproduction among civic, public, and third-sector actors.
An excellent, exciting and timely historical investigation. . . . a brilliant, thorough and exciting study of a crucial moment for low-income housing. The amount and density of sources collected is impressive, the analysis comprehensive, and the resulting text is not only illuminating but also enjoyable and relevant to current practice.
A welcome addition to the growing scholarship on post-war modernism in Latin America. . . . Improvised Cities is the most comprehensive work on urban housing in Peru. As it moves effortlessly across various scales, Gyger reveals how transnational forces shaped Peru’s mid-century housing programmes in a period rife with political volatility.
A very welcome, and much needed, addition to the literature on informal urbanization, social housing policy, planning, and social housing design in developing countries. . . . mandatory reading to Peruvian scholars, practitioners and policy-makers, as well as to international scholars and policy-makers working in the field. It has the potential to re-engage the architectural discipline in these cross-cutting discussions, which . . . could lead to the acknowledgement that architectural design is not an isolated creative process.
Improvised Cities is a model exploration of the social, political, and cultural dimensions of construction. Probing and insightful, Gyger is equally at home discussing vanguard architects or community activists, dogmatic economists or policy entrepreneurs. This essential and sobering book draws powerfully on experiences in Peru to address urban questions and professional enthusiasms now debated worldwide.
This is a very important book. It skillfully provides much-deserved attention to a series of major themes in the history of twentieth-century architecture. This is the most detailed study of urban expansion and architectural planning and production in Peru.
This book is an indispensable resource for studying the problems of rapid urbanization and housing. Gyger’s multidisciplinary research—in which midcentury anthropological studies and governmental policies figure prominently—not only offers welcome, new historical perspectives but also informs current efforts to create healthy, safe, and just urban environments.
Helen Gyger has a master’s in liberal studies from the New School for Social Research, New York, and a PhD in the history and theory of architecture from Columbia University. She is the coeditor of Latin American Modern Architectures: Ambiguous Territories.