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.
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.
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.
[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.
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.