Back in the 60’s, Puerto Rico’s government considered the development of a social housing project called “Habitat“. The monstrous structure had its life, for pre-fabricated pieces were actually ordered and many arrived on the island. Thankfully, it was never built.
As this cartoon from 1969 satirically emphasizes, the social implications associated to the design of this structure would have only lead to a catastrophe. It’s labyrinthic layout would have provided a space for crime and drugs to prosper, and a new meaning to the term “cacerío“.
It’s a learning experience to look back at these materials. As a designer, I can imagine all of the blind efforts that must have been pushed forward by the building’s creators. As this case clearly illustrates, designers have the responsibility of understanding the implications of one’s work, specially if the social impact is at a scale that affects communities or cities. Of course, you may think “duh”, but proposals like Habitat make me aware that not everyone out there actually thinks this way.
Today, there are a few of the prefabricated pieces of the Habitat still around Puerto Rico.
Recently my father, an avid architectural historian, managed to track 2 of them down in the town of Arecibo. These pieces never fulfilled their original purpose, but today form a new kind of habitat that keeps intriguing some of us whose curiosities never sleep.