• Improvised Cities: Architecture, Urbanization, and Innovation in Peru
    Helen Gyger
    University of Pittsburgh Press, 2019
    Helen Gyger

El Ermitaño barriada: constructing a provisional dwelling, using a framework of wooden poles that will support esteras (bamboo mats), 1962, Lima, Peru. Courtesy of John F. C. Turner Archive.

This book concerns the limits (and limitations) of architecture as a means to provide housing under conditions of crisis, such as those facing postwar Peru, which experienced rapid demographic growth, a very low-income population, intensifying economic modernization, and increasing rural-urban migration, resulting in extensive unplanned urban development. As the sheer scale of the housing deficit tested the capacities of conventional modernist housing reform and its claims of universal applicability, aided self-help housing presented itself as a response to the constraints and apparent opportunities of this situation: it would bring together the benefits of "formal" architecture (an expertise in design and construction) with those of "informal" building (substantial cost savings, because residents themselves furnished the labor). However, despite promises of assistance to self-builders, in practice the needed resources often failed to appear, suggesting that all too frequently the rhetoric of aided self-help simply masked the state's disengagement from housing provision.

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 (Routledge, 2013), and author of Improvised Cities: Architecture, Urbanization, and Innovation in Peru (University of Pittsburgh Press, forthcoming).