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Radical Cities: Across Latin America in Search of a New Architecture

4.31  ·  Rating details ·  340 ratings  ·  38 reviews
What makes the city of the future? How do you heal a divided city?

In Radical Cities, Justin McGuirk travels across Latin America in search of the activist architects, maverick politicians and alternative communities already answering these questions. From Brazil to Venezuela, and from Mexico to Argentina, McGuirk discovers the people and ideas shaping the way cities are e
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published June 10th 2014 by Verso (first published January 1st 2014)
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Oct 05, 2016 rated it it was ok
This book is just rubbish.
I found it by chance while looking for urban transport in South America- being a brazilian myself- and I don't know how to describe my disappointment.
This is the kind of architecture literature that people find acceptable: where slums are described as resourceful, where poverty is considered exotic and interesting, where the foreword contain anarchist quotes, and there is no mention whatsoever about objective elements of urbanism, transport, zoning, topography, history
Kristen Shaw
This is a really excellent, enjoyable and accessible book examining a series of case studies of urban and architectural development throughout Latin America. I was expecting this to be a more academic text, but McGuirk's tone is conversational and easy to follow, as well as precise and meaningful when it branches in to critical analysis.
The are two main arguments that I get from this text. 1) Instead of demarcating between "formal" and "informal" cities, with the latter being seen as temporary
Much gets written about the mass-urbanisation happening in China and Africa, but Latin America is often strangely overlooked, even though it went through almost identical patterns half a century ago, and in some countries has over 80% of the population living in cities. In the process it experimented with many different approaches, often swinging rapidly back-and-forth between housing as a basic human right for the government to provide, and the sometimes-ideological, sometimes-merely-pragmatic, ...more
Shanta Deva
Feb 10, 2019 rated it it was ok
He presents some interesting ideas (none of which are his own) but the absolutely condescending tone he uses to describe the people he meets (especially indigenous people) is absolutely insufferable. He also lacks so much context, his writing had a strong I’ve been here for like a week and I’m gonna act like I know more about this place than the people who live here.

The topic is so fascinating but he wasn’t the right guy for this I guess, the tone especially bothered me as someone who is Latin
Dec 27, 2014 rated it it was amazing

kind of inaccessible? in that- i don't have the architectural/historical/philosophical/political background. (i mean we learned about le corbusier in high school but it was all about FORM, i don't know if we touched on his political(?)/social housing shit at ALL, thanks ap art history lol). and like, my knowledge of for ex. neoliberalism is really informal, and of free trade agreements and washington consensus i pretty much only know that they wreck everything. DESTROY CAPITALIS
Anders Moeller
An important book to read for those interested in radical architecture and alternative urban futures, although at times very boring to chug through. This stems from the author's sensationalist writing style, which seems designed to filling up more page numbers while adding a sense of urgency that is wholly unnecessary (not to mention repetitive and paternalistic). Nevertheless, as someone interested in urbanization and social equality, this was a very valuable read. I particularly appreciate how ...more
Apr 18, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An enjoyable read that's great for the layperson, urban planner/architect, or those interested and/or with background on spatial theories. I enjoyed the case studies, and how the author wove interviews and observations with textual research and his own analysis, quoting theorists on space. The book has that perfect balance between all those, making it an easy but very informative read. However, the concept of "slums" and rebuilding/resourcefulness can be questionable here, as it could be seen as ...more
Apr 14, 2015 rated it it was amazing
very good and also very interesting!! the emphasis of the book was on how to make cities more equitable for the poor. lots of good examples of how architects (and planners, and engineers, etc) can't jut create things in vacuum, and need to work with the community in order to incite social change. lots of good lessons to be learned, and all examples were from south american cities (as opposed to europe, which people tend to focus more on when thinking about sustainability and urban design)

Em "Reacher"
Jul 12, 2016 rated it it was amazing
What if architects, displaced citizens, and public housing authorities behaved like Jack Reacher? That is, what if they were bum-chucking, swift-witted vigilantes hellbent on rattling the massive Latin American housing crisis caused by inequality, misguided utopianism, and political corruption and incompetence? Find out for yourself and read Radical Cities. This is a firm recommendation (and props to my pal Steve who got me this book as a Christmas gift.)
It started out with interesting historical surveys. Then it lost its fizz.
Christian Alonso
Mar 31, 2018 rated it it was amazing
"While architects have been focusing on spectacular buildings they could export to China and Dubai, the real gains were to be made on a diffenrent plane entirely, at the level of infraestructure, networks and politics. Designing a good building becomes a rather academic exercise when the entire system that allows that building to materialise is geared towards increasing social inequality. New social and political frameworks also need designing."
And that's exactly what this book is trying to desc
Oct 24, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Good introduction to various interesting things that happened in South America but somehow I'm not sure if I should trust in everything author wrote. Too often he sounded like he knew everything about situation he described even though it was obvious that he didn't.

Also if I didn't knew anything about history of South America I'd think that the worst thing that happened to them was NEOLIBERALISM. military coups? right wing dictatorships? well, they were bad because theyoften brought the n-word I
nice to read something with some optimism and concrete (lol) possibilities and projects (though 2014 feels like a different era for LatAm really). the e-book is a bit crap, photos are published miles away from the relevant sections so its hard to picture stuff. shows the stitches of maybe being several reported articles expanded into a book with repetitions of some context and history etc. good though, surprisingly few explanations of the neoliberal turn considering it's a Verso book. ...more
Oct 30, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
In Radical Cities, the author travels across Latin America in search of architects and politicians attempting to address vast inequalities in housing. If you have any interest in housing reform, this book is a good place to start.
Dec 10, 2017 rated it really liked it
Enjoyable and informative read, describing social housing efforts across south and Central America. Learnt lots and some oddball schemes described that seem to have worked.

Oddly little in the way of conclusion though, and ended on a dull case of Tijuana and the American-Mexican border.
Diana Sz
Oct 01, 2019 rated it really liked it
Justin's journey across Latin America is intriguing and insightful. He explored different solutions to the housing crisis across Latin America, where he went looking for urban innovation through architecture. ...more
Dec 19, 2016 rated it it was amazing
A necessity for anyone interested in urban planning, urbanity, or just the social life in general. Latin America has experienced mass urbanization far longer than China or Africa let alone the U.S.
Mar 06, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Definitely not light reading, but it gave me a cool intro to urban studies that I was looking for (plus made me want to go back to Bogota!!)
Dec 28, 2019 rated it really liked it
v interesting case studies, to be sure, but almost a year after having read it, i have a hard time recalling the main takeaways. it might be my memory, tho
Cal Corkery
Apr 28, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Fascinating account of a range of radical approaches to municipal government across Latin America.
May 12, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: urban-planning
I found this book informative and easy to read, although I didn't read the chapters in order. He draws a lot of information from experts and locals from each case study, and provides some political and cultural context for each case, which are clearly just summaries of the history that has shaped each of the cities he talks about. In general, I thought it was a good book that touches on different aspects of informal settlements, mostly on housing, and can help spark interest in specific topics t ...more
Brenda Salas
Jun 08, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Wonderful and easy read. Justin did a great job explaining the policies, architecture and problematic that most LATAM cities are facing.
Apr 29, 2015 rated it really liked it
very nice architecture study book, looks at argentina, rio and 'the' favela, caracas, and has chapter on torre david in caracas, a pirated living space, bogota, medillin, and tiajuana (a disaster).
medellin is of particular interest in that there is simultaneously an on going human rights disaster and some institutional action for better housing, libraries, transportation (cable cars becuase really, there are no streets as such), also lima, the first chapter, looks at some very 'old' urban renewa
Sep 20, 2014 rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this unusual book. I gave me a new pictue of Latin America. The author is hopeful but does not ignore the enormous problems the cities south of the border face. There is a chapter on Caracas, another on Bogota, and even one whole chapter on a single building in Caracas, a 44 storey unfinished skyscraper which has been occupied by squatters for nearly a decade. And it doesn't have an elevator. Most of the chapter on Bogota focuses on the colorful mayor, Antanas Mockus, who is des ...more
Shafira Hexagraha
Jan 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing
"What do we mean by ‘informal’? The short answer is slums. The slums are not defined as informal because they have no form, but because they exist outside the legal and economic protocols that shape the formal city. But slums are far from chaotic. They may lack essential services yet they operate under their own self-regulating systems, housing millions of people in tight-knit communities and proving a crucial device for accessing the opportunities that cities offer."


A simple book narrating i
Pam Thomas
Apr 09, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: radicat-cities
Row upon row of mega blocks over mexico city, the modern utopia which causes massive housing problems within mexico city and the population house is built on the site of an overcrowded slum district.

Housing estates in Europe and america are blighted with poor maintenance, mismanagement and poverty, people are treated like ants, governments stop building social housing, relying on the private sector. London alone , its housing estates show symbols of welfare state are now being pulled down to mak
Charles Heath
Jan 20, 2016 rated it really liked it
Architecture is the most social of the arts. This book: part travelogue, part art history, locates Latin American architects at the cutting edge of social issues as they cope with marginalized sprawling favelas, comunas,. This is a really interesting book, easy to read, and provides the reader with a sense of having visited some of the megalopoli and their poor sister cities.
Nov 18, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: architecture
An interesting overview of socialist domestic architecture and urbanism with examples from across South America. A good introduction to architects of note from the region, and the history of favelas for better or worse. 3 stars due to unnecessary political commentary, over-referencing of Corbusier and lack of visual examples.
Joni Baboci
Radical Cities is a fantastic book about cities all across latin america collapsing with the future. It studies some of the most interesting examples from the continent describing the future of the city and proposing potential solutions. Recommended!
Sandra Štasselová
Jan 05, 2016 rated it it was amazing
from my eastern-european (seemingly very different) standpoint, it was a massively huge inspiration of how can democracy on local level be practiced through a-right-to-the-city/housing paradigm. architecture and social movements have a political meaning. and housing housing housing.
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