Chapter 4: Summary of Findings


This chapter summarizes the general findings on the process of dwelling evolution observed at El Gallo. Ideas have been organized in three sections to answer the questions raised by this research. The first section summarizes how dwelling evolution occurred at El Gallo, the second identifies aspects that influenced the process of progressive development of dwellings at El Gallo, and the last section describes the general aspects of the housing produced at El Gallo.

4.1 Dwelling Evolution at El Gallo

Based on observations during the lifetime of the settlement, this study discerned two periods in the process of dwelling evolution: the non-permanent structure and the permanent structure. The non-permanent structure was built by most of the households using non-permanent materials similar to those used in informal settlements. This initial dwelling was not considerably enlarged nor improved with permanent materials while it was used, although several dwellings were considerably small, and families lived in some of them for up to 16 years.

The non-permanent structure was removed when the first permanent structure was built. According to household preferences, many permanent structures were built under assisted self-help and basic housing programs, but many others were totally built by self-help means. In all cases these structures had a very complete layout and were considerably large compared with provisional structures. However, in the stages that followed, permanent structures were continuously modified by additions and internal modifications that often made the first dwelling unrecognizable. According to the dimensions of evolution observed in this study, identifiable patterns of evolution were found for permanent structures in the three different group studies of the sample; that is, area, spatial structure and use-layout changed in an identifiable sequence in dwellings of similar original characteristics.

The way dwelling area was increased in the three groups was not substantially different along their stages of evolution, suggesting that households had a similar capacity of construction. However, the average dwelling area along the lifetime of thesettlement was larger for dwellings that were initially in the hands of the households. Consistently, dwellings that followed prescribed plans, but were built by their users, were second in size. Finally, the basic units produced by the housing agencies were the smallest.

The extension of the spatial structure of the dwelling occurred differently among some of the studied groups. Most of the additions were continuously attached to the rear façade of the dwelling, extending towards the backyard, where most of the available space was. However, households of formally produced dwellings of group A found it difficult to make these kinds of additions. Whenever they were done, these extensions affected light and ventilation of rear spaces. Instead, dwellings of group B had no problem making consecutive rear additions. Also, building a roof over the wide side yards of group B dwellings represented a considerable improvement of the habitable area. Dwellings of group C and D had similar advantages, but they had fewer extensions on average probably because their initial area was larger.

The functional layout also evolved differently according to the type of dwelling. In general terms, dwellings of groups A, B and even C were built with conventional use-layouts which group D replicated. However, while in groups C and D dwellings were being enlarged with additions to generate income, dwellings of groups A and B were enlarging and accommodating many of the small existing areas to household functional requirements. Changes of these spaces often resulted in oversized areas; for instance, a small living room and a bedroom were joined in a long and narrow living room.

In summary, the evolution followed by dwellings was, in fact, a product of a progressive development process. Dwellings were continuously adapted to the household's specific characteristics, changing priorities and emerging needs. Progressive development, however, did not occur similarly in all dwellings. The following section explains factors that influenced this process and its outcome.

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4.2 Factors that Affected the Process of Progressive Development at El Gallo

Two groups of factors were found to affect the process of progressive development of dwellings at El Gallo. These groups were factors which were inherent to the context in which dwellings evolved, and factors which were inherent to thedwellings themselves. Factors inherent to the context facilitated continuity and freedom in the process of dwelling evolution that occurred at El Gallo. Factors that were inherent to dwellings caused the incremental differentiation in the process of evolution and the houseform that resulted from this process even in those dwellings that had similar origins.

4.2a Factors Inherent to the Context

. Availability of Private Open Space

The fact that the space used for dwelling growth was circumscribed by the plot limits facilitated the successive extensions made by households to their dwellings. Despite the pattern of detached units and the local setback regulation, which created constraints on the occupation of the open space, all additions were produced within the plot area.

When dwellings grew, about three-quarters of all additions were built on backyards, where most of the space was available. The remaining fourth was divided between side yard and front yard additions. Backyards were considerably reduced, and in many cases, side yards disappeared. Front yards were less occupied, mostly for commercial purposes. Although the tendency seemed to built up the whole plot, some dwellings started second stories without occupying open areas totally. Due to the activities developed in backyards, it is likely that open yards will be maintained.

. Local Regulations

Zoning regulations and construction controls were very flexible regarding the building activity developed by households. In 1964, local authorities of Ciudad Guayana were not prepared to supervise the kind of construction activity going on at El Gallo. Contributing to the relaxation of local authorities was the conflict of responsibility that always existed between the local government and the development agency. This conflict was especially evident in this kind of projects (financed and developed by the CVG -- a powerful development agency -- on the CVG's land, but regulated by the local government). To show how controls were eased, it can be said that confrontations did take place between the local housing authority and loan program participants who did not follow the exact plans and specifications for construction. Eventually, official pressure ceased and users were left with a great dealof freedom in building their dwellings. Another fact supporting this is that most of the inhabitants at El Gallo built on far larger areas than local building regulations allowed. Extreme cases built on almost all the 300-sqm plot. Moreover, neither the plans of the initial dwellings nor the plans of any of the extensions were ever registered at any local authority, as was legally required. In summary, even when El Gallo was not a product of a laissez-faire policy, the predominant conditions of flexible controls increased the freedom to make the dwelling grow. This tolerant situation could be described as being almost identical to that found in irregular unplanned settlements.

4.2b Factors Inherent to the Dwellings

. The User Participation Approach

Findings reaffirm that the more the user was in control of the process of dwelling development, the better the dwelling responded to user characteristics and needs. In basic dwellings produced according to official standards, users were introduced after the unit was built. Although the unit represented an improvement for these households in terms of the total area and quality of construction, many of the spaces went through modifications to meet household requirements.

Consistent with these findings, dwellings built by their users according to prescribed plans and specifications changed spatial dimensions, layout and use of the spaces during construction. The result was larger spaces and different layouts, but this also contributed to reduce the number of modifications made in these dwellings after construction.

Dwellings with the highest user-participation level were the largest first permanent structures and were also enlarged but not modified after being built. Moreover, these dwellings also went through fewer stages to reach their current form and were larger than dwellings of any other group.

. Design of the First Permanent Structure

The first permanent structure served as a `support' for all the successive additions made to the dwelling. Consequently, its design was determinant for further interventions. When the two formally produced basic dwellings were compared (group A and group B), the importance of the permanent dwelling's design became especially clear. Dwellings of group A left narrow side yards on which extensions were seldombuilt. Their internal layout also prevented continuous additions toward the backyard without affecting light and ventilation of existing spaces. Most of the users handled this problem by making partial or detached additions that minimally affected the rear openings of the existing structure. Finally, the connection with additions could only be made through the kitchen area unless other walls were removed.

Instead, dwellings of group B allowed continuous extensions toward the back and on the side yards. The internal layout also allowed an easy connection with further additions by extending the central axis. The user's preference for designs allowing for extension is seen in group C. Among the three different designs offered to households, people chose the one that facilitated backyard extensions. This preference was confirmed when dwellings of group D emulated the plans of groups B and C.

Other design considerations that affected the process of progressive development were the dimensions of the internal spaces. The reduced dimensions of kitchens, dining rooms and living rooms of formally provided dwellings motivated immediate additions and modifications to reaccommodate existing spaces. As stated earlier, enlarging these spaces by joining adjacent areas, often resulted in oversized rooms even compared to the self-produced dwellings.

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4.3 Characteristics of Housing Produced at El Gallo

The characteristics of the dwellings produced at El Gallo are very much the characteristics of their households. As progressive developments, dwellings reflected household needs. Houseform at El Gallo is the combination of the spatial responses to these needs with the limitations imposed by the factors mentioned in the last section. The result is the growing diversity of El Gallo despite the common origins of many dwellings. The sequence of additions suggests the general pattern of household priorities.

During the first stages of growth measured in this study, the addition of extra bedrooms was responsible for a fair part of the area increase. In the three groups of dwellings observed, the number and size of existing bedrooms became insufficient to accommodate the growing size of the household. Of the 20 dwellings that added one or more bedrooms to the initial permanent structure, 18 were built during the first and second stages. Additions of this kind were made to obtain extra habitable space.

At the same time modifications in formally produced dwellings (groups A andB) were made to enlarge existing areas of kitchens, dining rooms and living rooms . These changes were made to increase the size of the space and to modify the location or spatial arrangement of the space. The reduced kitchens of formally produced dwellings were almost immediately rearranged to include other functions such as dining and social gathering. Also, the reduced dining and living rooms were enlarged. Formally prescribed dwellings were not adapted to households' spatial requirements either. However, users modified the proposed plan while the dwelling was being built, thus saving time and resources. Additions and modifications of this kind were made to adapt existing spaces to the spatial standards of the households.

At several stages, additions and modifications were made in several dwellings to generate extra income. At this time, front bedrooms were transformed into small shops, or grocery stores were added in the front and side yards. Laundry areas were enlarged or added for washing as an income-generating activity. Finally, existing or newly added rooms were rented to tenants.

Finally, several households kept adding new areas to the dwelling either to increase the dwelling value or to assure a source of income for their future. In several instances rooms for renting were being built as a future source of income for the elderly. These additions had been slowly built for the last 4 years, and they were still not ready. For other households, the house was a means to elevate the housing entry level of later generations (Caminos, H., J. Turner and J. Steffian 1969:vii). As one household affirmed:

Yes, maybe the house is too big just for us, but see, this is all I will leave to my sons. If they want, they can live here with their families. They can also rent it..., or sell it too! I have nothing else for them..., they will have this house.

. Notes for Chapter IV

1 In 1962 Roderick Peattie's observations revealed the severity of the construction controls:

"I witnessed horrifying scenes in which people who had decided they would rather move a doorway over a few feet, or had misunderstood the plans, or tried to make some other change, were forced to tear things out and re-do them. One man had reversed the positions of the kitchen and bathroom, and was told to change them back. It is true that the engineer's inspector argued forcefully that the published plans made more sense; but the owner had to go to a lot of time and expense in changing a house which was almost finished, just because he preferred his own room arrangement to that of the architect" (Peattie, R. 1962:4).

However, later in 1964, Silva showed the release of such rigid controls when he described the large number of changes found in the houses of the "El Roble Pilot Project" in his evaluation to the program (Silva, J. 1964:15).

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