Introducing Tolerance: Strategies for Operating on the ‘As Found’ in Self-Built Settlements of Caracas

Josymar Rodriguez Alfonzo, Stefan Gzyl

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In Venezuela, the term ‘rancho’ designates dwellings built by the urban poor. The word connotes a precarious structure and the crudest material expression of poverty. However, ranchos are the result of adaptation to changing needs and networks of cooperation. Strategies developed around material scarcity and gradual change are relevant to critical discourses on adaptive reuse, as they show the value of affective infrastructures and fl exible planning. Through a case study, this paper will describe project strategies for operating on the ‘as found’ in the self-built settlements of Caracas, pointing to other ways to engage with preservation and re-use strategies and consolidating local community values. Case study: Incursiones is an architecture practice based in Caracas, Venezuela. Between 2018 and 2021 the studio collaborated with a local NGO in the design of six community kitchens in some of Caracas’ poorest neighborhoods. The precarious conditions under which these spaces were developed, including budget, time, material resources, technical expertise, and accessibility, demanded a fundamental reorganization of the architectural project as a territory of professional expertise and creative experimentation. “Introducing tolerance” became a conceptual strategy to explore and harness the possibilities of scarcity at three levels. First, the project inverted the length of conventional phases, extending conceptual stages to engage with fl uid conditions while reducing fi nal project phases. Projects were in fl ux until the last minute, incorporating collective knowledge and responding to the availability of expertise and materials. Second, tolerance was interpreted spatially as a ‘slack’ between new and existing construction. Intentional misalignments, overlaps, non-fi tting details, and contrasts responded to a need to negotiate with the ‘as found’ on multiple levels, from imprecise construction to lack of coordination between teams. Finally, the projects relied on communities’ affective infrastructures from design to construction. The ‘as found’ is underpinned by networks that make everyday life possible. Articulating these around concrete problems and tasks (from storing materials to feeding and housing construction crews) created a sense of ownership and belonging over the space. Contribution: By restructuring standard professional procedures, giving physical expression to limitations, and building upon intangible affective values, these projects introduce design methodologies relevant beyond the case study, particularly around issues of resource scarcity. In this sense, strategies that conceptually draw from development and behavioral economics can expand the literature and interdisciplinarity of adaptive reuse. Finally, as experimental spatial intervention strategies operating in fringe contexts dismissed by mainstream architectural values, these projects extend the range of the ‘as found’ and highlight relational notions of heritage value.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationAs Found International Colloquium on Adaptive Reuse
Subtitle of host publicationBook of Abstracts
EditorsNadin Augustiniok
PublisherHasselt University
Number of pages2
ISBN (Electronic)9789089130839
Publication statusPublished - 2023
EventAs Found: International Colloquium on Adaptive Reuse - Hasselt University & Flanders Architecture Institute, Hasselt, Belgium
Duration: 5 Sept 20237 Sept 2023


ConferenceAs Found
OtherFrom 5 to 7 September 2023 the Flanders Architecture Institute and Hasselt University organized the international colloquium As Found. It aimed to bring together designers, researchers and students to discuss experimental concepts and practices to intervene in the existing built environment and heritage.

The colloquium is closely linked with the exhibition As Found which will take place from September 2023 until March 2024 in De Singel in Antwerp.
Internet address

Bibliographical note

The organization of this international colloquium was made possible through the generous fi nancial support of the DIOS Incentive Fund (UHasselt), the Doctoral School of Behavioral Sciences and Humanities (UHasselt), and the Research Foundation Flanders (FWO), as well as the invaluable practical assistance provided by the Faculty of Architecture and Arts of UHasselt and the Flanders Architecture Institute. Our heartfelt appreciation goes out to all our esteemed colleagues whose dedicated efforts contributed to the seamless execution of this event. This colloquium is organized as an extension of the exhibition As Found: Experiments in Preservation by the Flanders Architecture Institute. Curated by Sofie De Caigny, Hulya Ertas and Bie Plevoets, the exhibition is on show at De Singel, Antwerp, from 6 September 2023 to 17 March 2024. The exhibition is accompanied by a catalogue, available in English (ISBN: 9789492567321) and Dutch (ISBN: 9789492567338).


  • tolerance
  • as found
  • self-built settlements
  • caracas
  • venezuela
  • conceptual strategy


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