Iwan Baan is a renowed Dutch architectural photographer. In his TED talk, he shows us how people and communities thrive and build homes in the most unlikely of places. Baan takes us to an abandoned building in Caracas, Venezuela that has become a miniature city, the slums of Nigeria built on water, a community in Cairo amid recycling heaps and and underground village in China.

Here are the images that celebrate humanity’s ability to survive and make a home – anywhere.

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In Caracas, the capital of Venezuela, nearly seventy percent of the population lives in slums that seem to drape over every corner of the city.

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In the centre of the city is the Torre David, a forty-five story unfinished office tower that was in the midst of construction until the developer died in 1993, and the crash of the Venezuelan economy the following year. About eight years ago, people started moving in to the abandoned construction site, and today it is considered the world’s largest vertical slum.

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With no lifts or escalators, the tower is essentially a forty-five-story walk up. You’ll find seniors or those less physically-abled on the lower floors, and the young and healthy near the top. Public spaces like this stairwell are painted with care in order to make the tower feel more like an apartment building.

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With the average temperature in Caracas reaching twenty-eight degrees, the inhabitants needed to find ways to induce airflow, and this also serves as a circulation system to help inhabitants better navigate the building.

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In an exercise of ingenuity, inhabitants like this family typically mark their space with whatever materials they can find or purchase. Here, newspaper becomes wallpaper.

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Every home in the tower is designed with love and passion – at least up until as far as one can reach.

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The tower functions on an entire system of micro-economies, and on each floor, you’ll find a collection of shops and services. You’ll find the church, the grocery store as well as the gym on the thirtieth floor, where all of the weights are made from the unused elevator equipment.

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Like a beehive, the tower provides a skeleton framework for each inhabitant to create something for himself or herself by whatever means they can afford.

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In the centre of Lagos is Makoko – a community of approximately one hundred and fifty thousand who live and work on stilted structures, just meters above the Lagos Lagoon.

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Makoko is both an example of Nigeria’s seemingly irrepressible population growth, and an incredible illustration of our human ability to adapt to seemingly inhospitable conditions.

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From the barbershop to the movie theatre, every aspect of life in Makoko has been adapted to meet the demands of life on the water.

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Despite being a highly disadvantaged community, when it comes to good live music, the atmosphere in Makoko is quintessentially Nigerian. At any given time, you’ll find a band floating down the lagoon, for all of the community to enjoy.

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Under the cliffs of the Mokattam Rocks one will find the Zabaleen – a community of Coptic Christians who make their living by collecting and recycling waste from homes and business across Cairo.

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The collected waste is brought back home where it is sorted and crushed before being sent off to a third party. To those in the Zabaleen, the waste becomes nearly invisible, as living amongst piles of garbage is merely a new definition of normal.

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On the street level, the area seems to be in complete disarray, but step inside one of the homes, and you’ll be met with all manner of elaborate interior design choices.

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In the provinces of Shanxi, Henan and Gansu you will find collections of yadongs – underground cave dwellings that are dug out from the soft and malleable Loess Plateau soil. Up until the early 2000’s an estimated forty-million people still lived in sunken courtyard houses which sit seven meters below-ground.

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For the poor farmers, building a yadong costs next to nothing – all one needs is a shovel and a few friends to dig the soil.

 

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This feature appeared on TED.

 

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