• The Informal as a Project: Practices of Self-Help Housing in Peru, 1954–1986
    Helen Gyger
    University of Pittsburgh Press, 2018
    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 taught courses on architectural history and theory for the Department of Art History and Archaeology at Columbia University, Pratt Institute’s School of Architecture, Yale University’s School of Architecture, Parsons/the New School for Design, and the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation at Columbia University, where she also received her PhD in 2013. Most recently, she was a Mellon Junior Fellow in the Humanities + Urbanism + Design Initiative at the University of Pennsylvania. Her research focuses on the architecture and built environments of Latin America in the modern period, and contemporary patterns of urban informality, considered as a global phenomenon. She is the coeditor (with Patricio del Real) of Latin American Modern Architectures: Ambiguous Territories (Routledge, 2012) and author of The Informal as a Project: Practices of Self-Help Housing in Peru, 1954­–1986 (University of Pittsburgh Press, forthcoming).