Construction and Care of Campamentos
Residents of campamentos take charge of the construction of their homes as well as the dialogue with governmental authorities regarding legitimization. Since the construction of homes in campamentos are not preceded by extensive planning, materials used are often locally sourced. This includes wood panels, bricks, rocks, and clay. Houses may later be upgraded by installing structures of concrete blocks or paved floors. One’s social network also plays an important role in the acquiring of construction materials, as it does in the case of Caracas’s Barrios.
Mediaguas are the most common form of construction visible in campamentos. The structures are mostly made using wooden poles or stilts and zinc-aluminium panels. Most materials are cheap and easy to find, however Mediaguas are often built out of recycled material, especially in the north where in the dry climate, recycled materials deteriorate less. Many of the residents build their houses themselves and cannot afford expensive materials. There are also those in homegrown settlements who are economically stable and can afford to build secure and solid infrastructure using more expensive building materials, however even they rely on a culture of auto construction. This has allowed for local construction knowledge to pass on from generation to generation with most male homemakers also formally employed in the construction industry.
Jefaturas are the heads of Chilean households and are indicators of the economic status of the household. A significant portion of households have female jefaturas, many of who are young, single mothers. Over the years people have grown accustomed to single mothers and informal female leaders. Similar to the strong presence of female community leaders seen in Caracas, Venezuela, female jefaturas indicate the leadership and supervising role of women in Chilean homegrown neighbourhoods.
At the heart of campamentos is the adaptability and resourcefulness of the inhabitants. Housing is incremental - structures are modular and can grow and expand according to the needs of the families. Rooms are easily added to an existing home by installing more wooden frameworks. In the steep ravines of Valparaiso, families build incremental housing down the slope. Unlike other homegrown neighbourhoods which depend on large groups occupying the land at a go, families who choose to settle in Valparaíso gradually invite other family members to settle as a strategy to occupy and retain self-governance of the neighbourhood. They organize themselves in Family Residential Groups and families have to be invited to occupy the land.
Public open spaces are designed and built by the community itself. Construction is generally viewed as a collective, cultural act. The residents develop a sense of ownership towards the spaces created by them, and this feeling becomes a part of the collective memory of the group. The creation of these shared open spaces and infrastructure does not end at an exact moment, but is rather a circular process in which the nature of participation varies according to the availability of people and resources.
The existence of Campamentos serves as a window into the social and political attitudes of their residents. People often organise meetings before settling, learn about the site and organize the collective move, such as in Santiago’s valley where groups of people approach and occupy many uninhabited parcels of land. By doing so, residents make compelling political statements and also pressure the municipalities to address the needs of the residents and integrate their homegrown neighborhoods with the basic infrastructure of the city.
Similar to Mumbai, and specifically Dharavi, where one lives is a strong indicator of the individuals social and economic status in Chile. The question “where do you live in Santiago?” is a common one that indirectly is an inquiry about an individual’s background and social status, similar to how the social stratification in Mumbai can disclose a lot about a community and its people. Unlike in Dharavi, most homegrown settlements across Chile are mostly residential. Most residents work outside the settlement, but some residents also provide services and commodities from their homes- such as selling bread or providing hairdressing facilities. The homegrown residents of Chile have developed diverse techniques to build their neighbourhoods based on the distinct topography types and local resources. The sheer struggle to occupy the land is reflected in strong feelings of belonging and ownership to these spaces. Chile’s homegrown neighbourhoods, if given basic infrastructural support, can become models for sustainable construction in extreme landscapes and can eventually begin to generate and support their own local economies.
We would like to give special thanks to Begoña Arellano Jaimerena, Eleonora Fiorin, and Sujey Gonzales for taking the time and effort to share with us their knowledge, information, and experiences about homegrown settlements across Chile.
'Residents of a Campamento in Chile in front of their home' & 'A homegrown neighbourhood, embracing both urban areas and part of the ravine next to it' - Begoña Arellano Jaimerena
“Only the organization of the neighbors could lead our population towards the conquest of drinking water and sewerage” - Mapa Social de Campamentos by the Ministerio de Vivienda y Urbanismo