Caracas: Growing Houses, with a Dry Toilet is an architectural case study that shows the negotiation of space and infrastructure in the informal city of Caracas. Two families living next to each other share space for a business on the ground floor and a dry toilet on the upper floor.

The informal city is a growing part of the global city: more than half the world’s population lives in such settlements. The residents of Caracas’s informal city come from a rural background and have preserved a way of life based on community values. In contrast to those in the modernist part of Caracas, who are proud to live autonomous lives as individuals, those in the informal city maintain strong ties with their communities, as is reflected in the saying: “If you know your neighbour, you’ll be fine.”

The difference between the formal and informal cities – between urban and rural forms of social organization – can be seen in the different ways the two environments are built. The informal city grows on “invaded” public land, with improvised structures that are constantly being added to. These “growing houses” visibly and confidently assert their status as temporary architecture. Houses are built first, while the infrastructure is dealt with later. Not only space but also energy and water are negotiated by the residents among themselves, as well as between them and the municipal authorities. In a seeming contradiction, even as they seek to legalize their existence in the city, the residents of the informal city also steal electricity from the municipal power grid. Because they lack the level of public services that is considered standard in the formal city, including regular access to drinking water, the residents of the informal city often employ outside-the-box solutions, such as an ecologically safe dry toilet – a toilet that does not use water – for a site with no access to the municipal water supply.

Once considered a place “in crisis”, the informal city can now be seen as a place of hope, where individuals, families, and communities are building their lives and creating their own culture of living.