How An Abandoned Skyscraper Became 'The World's Tallest Slum'

Photographer Iwan Baan documents the infamous Tower of David and other artificial communities.

The Tower of David was supposed to be a 45-story skyscraper in Caracas, Venezuela. But after an economic collapse and the death of the man who commissioned it in the 1990s, the tower went unfinished and uninhabited, just an incomplete shell, until 2007, when the city's homeless began moving in. They formed a community inside, allocating space for homes, grocery stores, and even a barber.

But it wasn't pretty. The tower has frequently been called the "world's tallest slum." This year, in a New Yorker article, a writer for the magazine asked the "leader" of the tower's community how he came by his position. The man responded: "In the beginning, everyone wanted to be the boss. But God got rid of those he wanted to get rid of and left those he wanted to leave."

Photographer Iwan Baan, whose portrait of Manhattan after Hurricane Sandy became one of the most iconic images of the storm, gave a TED Talk last month (now online and embedded here) on "ingenious homes in unexpected places," where he mentions his travels documenting the tower and other economically downtrodden, artificial communities. It's fascinating. But I'd be wary of potential TED-style over-optimism: Baan concludes that the tower is a story of people surmounting the odds, coming together and making something out of what they have. That's true. But what doesn't get attention are the total failures of the community and government, which put them there in the first place. Here's another documentary that casts the tower in a much different light: