In the name of those who wash others’ clothes
(and flush from their whiteness another’s filth).
In the name of those who care for others’ children
(and sell their labor
in the form of maternal love and humiliations).
In the name of those who live in another’s home
(no longer a warm hearth but rather a tomb or jail).
In the name of those who eat another’s scraps
(and still chew them feeling like thieves).
In the name of those who live in another’s country
(the houses and the factories and the businesses
and the streets and the cities and the towns
and the rivers and the lakes and the volcanoes and the mountains
always belong to others
and thus the police and the guards are there
protecting them from us).
In the name of those who have nothing more than
hunger, exploitation, sickness,
thirst for justice and water,
solitude, abandonment, oppression, death.
I accuse private property of depriving us of everything.1
With the signing of the Peace Accords between the Government of Guatemala and URNG (Unidad Revolucionaria Nacional Guatemalteca) in 1996, Central America’s last armed conflict came to an end.2 In a post-conflict political context, in spite of efforts in plans and policies, Central America has yet to revert to a structural housing deficit. Recalling Roque Dalton’s “Acta,” the Posconflicto Laboratory declares the urgent necessity of a project to rethink architecture, the city, the territory, and the idea of the political to guarantee housing access to all—especially the most disfavored and vulnerable. The laboratory acknowledges the persistence of a long-standing colonial urban land structure in Guatemala City, where land ownership and income inequality have progressively deepened. But it also acknowledges the underlying colonial legacy of ethnic discrimination and class exploitation, and furthermore considers imperative—in countering social segregation within the city—to rethink the post-conflict political subject. Today, labor has been subsumed within the radically disputed city itself, where it reproduces in increasingly contradicting, diffused, and precarious modes. Housing as a human right reverberates as a Cold War pamphlet, where its social demand has been translated exclusively as a qualitative and quantitative abstraction. In this context, the Posconflicto Laboratory proposes a housing project directed towards the construction of a municipal and Central American housing policy. Fundamentally, the Productive Housing Program seeks to revert the chronic housing deficit of both low and middle income sectors unprotected by public policy, and proposes to reinstall a principle of subsidiarity in central urban areas through the provision of a new political pact.3 The program’s financial sustainability is ensured by a system of crossed subsidies, where a newly created public agency performs middle income market housing operations, channeling a percentage of its profits to subsidize self-managed cooperative housing operations directed towards a low income segment of the population.4 In thinking about the productive, the project seeks to reframe the idea of labor and its relationship with production and the generic, in the context of the post-conflict Central American city at large. The Posconflicto Laboratory calls for a project to confront a colonial legacy of social and economic inequity, and to counter neoliberal urbanization’s ever-expanding urban segregation and “pacifying” force. With a pilot project in Guatemala City, and operating from within the generic, architecture becomes the foreground and proactive, and acts as a steering agent for the urgent provision of adequate housing and the possibility of making city in Central America.
Not surprisingly, considering an overarching political apathy, the Guatemalan Social and Economic Accords continue to be a defeated historical demand for both rural and urban social movements.5 The recently passed Housing Law, promoted from within the nation-state scraps, represents a milestone in the struggle for adequate housing. But it remains powerless in providing any tangible means of production, and will continue to be an instrument of statistical abstraction and servile dependence.6 From a national outlook, the possibility of articulating a housing project, despite the “social function of land” as defined since the Guatemalan 1945 Constitution, remains radically utopian. As a reflection on colonial politics, Preconflicto represents a paradox within the 1954 coup d’état—a CIA covert operation codenamed Operation PBSUCCESS—that brought an abrupt end to ten years of progressive democratic reform in Guatemala, and thereafter originated thirty-six years of internal armed conflict (1960–1996).7 From a standpoint of architecture, Diego Rivera’s mural, Glorious Victory, provides an unfolding political setting for architect Ludwig Hilberseimer’s Lafayette Park in Detroit (executed with the collaboration of Mies van der Rohe). Breaking ground in 1956, Lafayette Park embodies settlement principles of a postwar North American political and social ethos, where city planning provides no differentiation between urbanization and the city.8 For the Italian architectural historian Manfredo Tafuri, Hilberseimer’s project is conscious of the necessity to go beyond architecture as the design of objects, and to work within the economic processes that produce architecture itself.9 Tafuri writes: “The only emerging imperative was that dictated by the laws of organization, and therein lies what has been correctly seen as Hilberseimer’s greatest contribution.”10 In this sense, the task of an architect is not in giving form to single elements of the urban fabric, but in identifying the “true unity” of the production cycle. Following a Social-Democratic agenda, Hilberseimer believed that the emerging modes of capitalist production could be tamed and reformed for a more rational organization of the city.11 In confronting and revealing the contradictions of capital, Lafayette Park’s “crossed subsidy” economic model—grounded on market and cooperative housing—today discloses the possibility of a post-conflict critique and the prospect of an autonomous housing project for Guatemala City.
Project A:The Co-Operation
Pilot Project A
San Rafael Avenue, Zone 18, Guatemala City
30—Cooperative productive spaces—16m²
1—Community development center—665m²
Project A, the subsidized operation, allows low-income families to access adequate housing and at the same time develop productive activities on-site, while integrating into central urban areas. Project A’s target social group are families currently living in conditions of poverty and marginalization, with a monthly income between one and four times the minimum wage per household ($290 to $1,160) and no access to market housing. The project is organized into a self-managed cooperative based on mutual aid and collective property.
Project B: The Market Operation
Pilot Project A
9th Avenue, Zone 1, Guatemala City
56— Housing units—21 of 45m²;
29 of 54m²; 6 of 108m²
27—Extended productive spaces—16m²
Project B, the subsidiary operation, allows middle income families to access quality housing in central urban areas benefited by public sector urban recovery projects. Project B’s target social group is the segment of the population currently renting with very limited options in the housing market, with monthly income between five and fifteen times the minimum wage per household ($1,161 to $4,350). The profit generated by this market operation provides the necessary capital counterpart to subsidize Project A.
While the struggle for urban land and housing by the workers’ social movements began organizing legally in Guatemala City soon after the October Revolution of 1944, the outstanding unequal distribution of land and space segregation—a colonial legacy currently in force —demonstrated too great a feat for reformist politics. In 1953, an initiative for urban reform was proposed by the UCL (Union of Plot Buyers or Unión de Compradores de Lotes) with the support from PAR (Partido Acción Revolucionaria), PRG (Partido de la Revolución Guatemalteca), and PGT (Partido Guatemalteco del Trabajo) deputies in Congress, but was immediately defused due to political instability that followed the 1952 Agrarian Reform decree by the democratic government of Jacobo Arbenz.12 To Guatemala’s economic elite and their military allies, as well as US corporations such as the United Fruit Company (Guatemala’s biggest landowner at the time), Arbenz progressive social reforms were unacceptably “communist.” As Glorious Victory denounces, Arbenz’s popularly elected government was blatantly taken over in 1954 by a US-backed military coup. During the 1970s, in the midst of armed conflict, a fundamental intellectual debate takes place in Guatemala, confronting the historic conditions of social and economic inequity. A region with a predominantly native population, the debate on the strategy of political struggle for social justice has at its core the significance of the indigenous peoples as political subject. After publishing Guatemala: una interpretación histórico-social in 1970, Carlos Guzmán Böckler and Jean-Loup Herbert expand the discussion on Guatemala’s colonial situation, claiming how collective subjectivities and the system’s self-fulfilling prejudices work to justify its existence.13 In their view, the established colonial regime originally bases itself on the idea of “white race” superiority—represented by peninsulares and criollos, and ultimately ladinos14—and a corresponding inferiority of the indios.15 Almost simultaneously in 1970, Guatemalan historian Severo Martínez Peláez published La patria del criollo, and opened up a heated debate on how the economic circumstances that assure prosperity for a few and deprivation for the majority hadn’t been altered by independence from Spain in 1821, nor by liberal reform in 1871. Countering Guzmán Böckler and Herbert’s ladino-indio ethnic class contradiction, Martínez Peláez proposes a Marxist interpretation based on society’s division of social class—namely, the exploiter and the exploited—where racism is attributed fundamentally to social discrimination generated by class struggle. “The self-improvement struggle of the ‘indios’ has to be fought not because the protagonists are the ‘indios’ but because they are exploited people.”16 To Martínez Peláez, it is ultimately the criollo or creole class, in its condition of colonial latifundio or landowning exploiter, that appropriates the work of the indio in the form of forced labor.17 In deconstructing class contradictions in Guatemala, the positions developed by Guzmán-Böckler and Herbert, and by Martínez Peláez have demystified the colonial legacy of social and economic inequity, and furthermore potentiated the strategic importance of struggle against space segregation and the possibility of urban reform.
In Guatemala, thirty-six years of armed conflict (1960-1996) have left over 450 villages destroyed, over one million people displaced and over 200,000 people dead. In 1982, the Guatemalan army—under the direction of military dictator Efraín Ríos Montt—initiated a “scorched earth” counterinsurgency campaign indiscriminately massacring thousands of Maya-Ixil indigenous peasants. Genocide did take place in Guatemala.18 The brutality displayed by the elite-backed military government, and the inherent racism present in Guatemalan society have long-called for wider interpretations on ethnic and class contradictions. The 1970s debate between Guzmán Böckler and Herbert, and Martínez Peláez advanced critical positions in addressing the colonial Latin American structural conditions, and had deep implications within the ideological constructions of the Guatemalan insurgency. Among the revolutionary organizations, another debate took place between ORPA (Organización del Pueblo en Armas) and EGP (Ejército Guerrillero de los Pobres). The discussion centered on the strategic organization concerning the awareness and integration of indigenous peoples to revolutionary struggle. The theoretical positions that contributed most to this debate were articulated by Mario Payeras with La cuestión étnico-nacional—on EGP’s stagist positioning—and by Rodrigo Asturias with La verdadera magnitud del racismo—on ORPA’s cause and effect interpretation of racism against the indigenous population.19 Following Martínez Peláez, Payeras’ most significant contribution lies in unifying class and national-ethnic contradictions, with a concrete proposal of a multinational state grounded on ethnic and cultural rights, including political autonomy at a local level. In these lines, Payeras argues for economic policies vindicating indigenous peoples “to enable their true equality at the level of society as a whole.”20 To Asturias, ex-commander of ORPA, racism “is the most comprehensive demonstration of exploitation and the major mechanism of oppression.”21 In his view, racism is also a fundamental apparatus of aggression, where its “true magnitude” actively operates within and throughout the production process, the labor force and ultimately surplus value. As a real source of segregation, racism is also a mechanism of confrontation present within and in-between the oppressed classes. The fact that two of the four revolutionary organizations provided for theoretical contributions to racism and its relationship with the nation-state brought a considerable shift in its conception, and in the role of indigenous people throughout the revolutionary process.
Labor lies at the very core of human production where life, culture, affects, and politics are absorbed into one continuous space of relationships.22 Towards the latter part of the 20th century, Central America underwent an economic paradigm shift of production and extraction of capital: from a colonial agro-export model to a colonial and neoliberal economy based on service, commerce, and transnational finance. The colonial urban land structure has nevertheless persisted, where outstanding wealth and land ownership inequity has actually deepened. Fueled by neoliberal urbanization, colonial production has effectively merged the latifundio or large estate farming system and the maquila factory, with the predominant neoliberal remittance and service-based transnational capital.23 No longer is labor “the activity which corresponds to the biological process of the human body” separated from work and political life, as defined by Hannah Arendt, a political theorist, in the 1950s.24 But rather, in its social and political organization, labor has become ubiquitous, diffuse, and totalizing. In Capital, Karl Marx defines labor-power as the “aggregate of those mental and physical capabilities existing in a human being, which he exercises whenever he produces a use-value of any description.”25 Contrary to Arendt, Marx’s definition of labor recognizes not only physical and mechanical attributes, but also a “mental capability” and a ”living personality” as a potential. In the earlier Grundrisse, Marx interprets general intellect as the scientific knowledge embodied in machines, effectively anticipating its development as society’s main productive force.26 Following Marx’s manuscripts, Italian philosopher Paolo Virno argues that intellectual activity has become the true basis of wealth production. Virno notes that “capitalists are interested in the life of the worker, in the body of the worker, only for an indirect reason: this life, this body, are what contains the faculty, the potential, the dynamis.”27 According to Virno, rather than politics conforming to labor, it is labor that has acquired the traditional features of political action. While labor today has effectively changed, Central America is no exception: we need to acknowledge that production has shifted—in contradicting and superimposed manifestations—from the colonial space of the (pre-Fordist) latifundio and the (Fordist) maquila, to the diffused colonial and neoliberal space of the (post-Fordist) city itself. We are forced to being political not for the sake of being political, but for the sake of generic production as a condition of labor power.
Production, the generic and irreducible form of labor, is at the core of the diffused colonial and neoliberal space of the post-conflict Central American city. Labor power has become its most concrete manifestation, existing only in potential: that is, in production as a possibility. To extract value from production requires capturing this possibility, as an essential activity of a human re-production organized within the city. Today, re-appropriation of the generic is becoming the fundamental spatial, formal, and even existential attribute of production.”28 In the Productive Housing Program, rethinking the productive and redefining the post-conflict political subject becomes paramount: Subject A is an individual person currently living in a marginalized condition of poverty or extreme poverty, with no access to adequate housing, and with a monthly income between one and four times the minimum wage per household ($290 to $1,160). Subject B is an individual person currently living in a marginalized suburban condition, with very limited options to acquire housing in central urban areas, and with a monthly income between five and fifteen times the minimum wage per household ($1,161 to $4,350). Both Subject A and Subject B represent labor power as a potential, and as the ultimate manifestation of self-awareness in production. A pre-condition of production, the generic is ever-present and is explored within the political subject’s labor power, as an instance of repetition. The Productive Housing Program implements a transfer model mechanism of financial resources to revert the chronic housing shortage of popular and lower-middle income sectors unprotected by public policy. Subject A is more and more about less and less. And Subject B is less and less about more and more. Both subjects, however, are always about less and less.29 The profit generated by Project B’s market operation provides the necessary capital counterpart to subsidize Project A. Project A, the subsidized operation, allows Subject A to access adequate housing and at the same time develop productive activities on-site, while integrating into central urban areas. Project B, the subsidiary operation, allows Subject B to access quality housing in central urban areas benefited by public sector urban recovery projects. The model’s productive sustainability is maintained by a system of crossed subsidies, where a newly created public agency performs both market and self-managed cooperative housing operations.
The Productive Housing Program proposes to reinstall the principle of subsidiarity through the provision of a new political pact. In confronting the colonial Guatemalan class contradictions and understanding space segregation, the Posconflicto Laboratory builds upon the legacy of the 1970s debate between Carlos Guzmán Böckler and Jean-Loup Herbert, and Severo Martínez Peláez. The laboratory also considers the synthetic positions by Mario Payeras and Rodrigo Asturias elementary in interpreting class and ethnic contradictions and the complexities of racism present in the Guatemalan post-conflict political subject. To rethink labor today, we need to acknowledge that production has shifted—in contradicting and superimposed manifestations—from the colonial space of the latifundio and the maquila, to the diffused low and middle neoliberal space of the city itself. Production, the generic and irreducible form of labor, lies at the core of the post-conflict Central American city. In 1927, in rethinking the project of the city, Ludwig Hilberseimer published Grossstadtarchitektur and noted: “Metropolisarchitecture is considerably dependent on solving two factors: the individual cell of the room and the collective urban organism.”30 For Manfredo Tafuri, Hilberseimer understood the unity of the capitalist city in its identity as an enormous “social machine,” an apparatus in which the cell or type, and not the overall image of the city represents the starting point for urban design.31 It is in the city as economic cycle that the generic, embedded in the processing of types, may be reproduced infinitely. Hilberseimer did not seek to invent original forms, but rather found the potential in the production of new types (although he never used the word type) in simple forms that corresponded to a highly original combination of different archetypes.32 Building upon this legacy, the Productive Housing Program—starting from the cell or type—combines dwelling and spaces of production interrelated with the city’s emerging economies. As a large-scale initiative, the project proposes a productive housing archetype composed by a community development center, a patio-portico and a housing prototype or cell, capable of adapting to different urban fabrics and densities. It is precisely in the archetype’s generic form that it enables the collectively self-managed housing prototype or cell to inform the economic model’s operations—and the possibility to counter urban segregation—fostering a growing tendency for Project A cells to become part of Project B, and Project B cells to become part of Project A. As in Lafayette Park, the Productive Housing Program confronts private property’s ever-expanding urban segregation and “pacifying” force, operating within and against urbanization. Architecture, in its potential, becomes an architecture of the city in post-conflict Central America.
“Posconflicto Laboratory: MAKING CITY + PRODUCTIVE HOUSING PROGRAM IN GUATEMALA & CENTRAL AMERICA” is a project by URBANÍSTICA—Empresa Metropolitana de Vivienda y Desarrollo Urbano and Asociación Centroamericana Taller de Arquitectura (a—c—t—a).
As a collective initiative, we recognize a collective authorship:
Direction: Roberto Soundy and Álvaro Véliz; Deputy-Direction: Rossana García Ovalle and Silvia García Vettorazzi; Urban Management: Ana Cintrón; Housing Program: Eva Campos; CounterSite General Design: Erick Mazariegos; Communications: Werner Solórzano; Design Participants: Frank Carrascoza, Gustavo González, Hans Schwarz, Felipe Vásquez and Jorge Villatoro; Other Collaborators: Rafael Aycinena, Diego Castillo, Mónica Santos and Emilio Vargas.
Posconflicto Laboratory is at the same time a project and a collective long-span research platform, organized as an inter-institutional and transdisciplinary space centered on housing and post-conflict Central America.