The architecture of hope: All those unfinished concrete block houses with rebar sticking out are someone’s dream for the future

Sep 21, 2019 | 26 comments

The brick, cinderblock, concrete and rebar looks the same whether you’re in Morocco, Mexico, Peru or Ecuador. Provisional, half-finished brick and cinder block dwellings. Lone structures slouching in patches of prickly pear along the highway, jagged villages clinging to hillsides and fractal barrios hemming the outskirts of major cities.

What looks like abandoned construction projects is actually work in progress. Progress too slow to detect with the naked eye. God willing and the creek don’t rise, someday these will be homes.

Ojalá.

It might take a generation before a family can scrape together enough cash to buy a bit of land or a lot on the edge of town. Throw down a bit of structure to stake the claim and the long process begins. A pallet of cinder blocks may wait a year for fresh cash and concrete to flow.

Sporadic money may be wired by a relative working up north but much of it dissipates into daily life. A medical bill here, a schoolbook there. A funeral. A  celebration. An out-of-work in-law. A bike or a bribe.

Plans? Permits? Inspections? It’s all negotiable. These structures have no addresses, the streets have no names. You won’t find these homes on Zillow.

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Walls rise brick by block. It may be years before plumbing’s in place. Maybe never. The roof might be corrugated fiberglass, scrap metal or plywood — anchored against the wind with stones and tires. Rebar reaches skyward from the corners of every roof, offering encouragement and support if and when another floor can be added. Until then, the rusty iron rods provide a convenient perch for birds, aspirations and laundry.

Life and color emerge where previously there was none. Resilient children chase around a makeshift fruit and vegetable market. Cats prowl the shadows and moto-taxis ply the unpaved streets. A bus stop connects the barrio to the world beyond. The steady drumbeat of urban migration from “el campo” echoes along the outskirts.

While the historic centers sleep soundly under red tiled roofs, the expanding edges of every town pound out a raucous symphony of barrows, trucks and shovels. Schools, streets and services may arrive in time for the next generation to rise from the patchwork barrios and highway outposts.

Two bricks forward, one block back. There is no construction schedule, no timeline in this parallel universe. To win the slow race with the elements the structure needs to survive to the next dry spell when, hopefully, another trickle of funding will flow.

These jagged little homes are held together with pride and mortar mixed with pure hope.

Hope. There’s nothing more tenacious.

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