Caracas, Venezuela
Urban-Think Tank
  • Overview

    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. The result has been a seemingly inexorable social divide between the two parts of the city. In 2003 architects Alfredo Brillembourg and Hubert Klumpner, founding partners of Urban-Think Tank, made a proposal to the city to build a cable car system linking two barrios with Caracas’s public transit system. The plan, the result of site surveys, community workshops, and other on-the-ground fieldwork by the architects, centers on the cable car system but calls for “plug-in” buildings—structures attached to each station housing cultural and recreational programs—as well as other, smaller-scale interventions close by. The idea was a radical departure from official planning strategy, which sought to gradually link the barrios to the rest of the city by creating new surface streets. The construction of roadways in the barrios would entail the loss of many dwellings; the cable car system intrudes minimally and selectively into the existing fabric.

    President Hugo Chávez personally embraced the plan and set up a joint venture in May 2006 between the state and an Austrian gondola engineer to begin implementing it. The city’s first completed cable car line, with five stations, serves the barrio San Agustín; regular service began in January 2010. Some elements of the highly politicized project have been altered or not yet realized, but the project will continue to contribute to gradual changes in Caracas’s social structure; Urban-Think Tank has set a new precedent for development in the informal city.

  • Architect

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

  • Audio
  • Credits
    • Design team: Alfredo Brillembourg and Hubert Klumpner (project design architects); José Antonio Nuñez, Carlos Bastidas, Alfredo Brillembourg, Patrick Edlinger, Elizabeth Florian, Cesar Gavidia, Dora Kelle, Hubert Klumpner, Rafael Machado, Claudia Ochoa, Regina Orvañanos, Juan Ponce, Matt Tarczynski (conceptual design team); Michael Contento, Lindsey Sherman (Metro Cable research, design, and exhibition)
    • Landscape design: Topotek 1: Christian Bohne, Martin Rein-Cano
    • Construction and project management: Constructora Norberto Odebrecht S.A. (CNO)
    • Engineers: DAC: Deleida Alvarez (project m/e/p coordination and project shop details), Carlos Silva (site supervision and project shop details); Doppelmayr Seilbahnen GmbH: Martin Schöffel (interurban ropeway system); Eduardo Lopez (structural design project); Robert Silman Associates: Pat Arnett (structural design concept)
    • Project consultants: Felix Caraballo (community outreach); Intégral Ruedi Baur & Associés: Ruedi Baur (graphic design)
    • Client: C.A. Metro de Caracas: Cesar Nuñez
    • Graphic identity: Ruedi Baur