Tech The world's first planned drive-thru mall is now a prison — take a look at its history

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Intended to serve as a mall, the Helicoide instead turned into a prison and alleged torture chamber, according to former inmates.

The Helicoide in Caracas, Venezuela. play

The Helicoide in Caracas, Venezuela.

(Juan Carlos Montes/Panoramio)

Among the small houses on a hill in Caracas, Venezuela, the massive Helicoide looks otherworldly — or, at the very least, out of place.

The spaceship-like building was planned as a drive-thru mall. Instead of walking, shoppers would have been able to drive right into the complex and park in front of the shops they wanted to visit — though the shops wouldn't have drive-thru windows.

Construction started in 1956, but the project was abandoned a few years later because of funding woes.

Over the next few decades, the building transformed into a prison and, according to several former inmates, a torture chamber for political prisoners.

A new book edited by the historians Celeste Olalquiaga and Lisa Blackmore, "Downward Spiral: El Helicoide's Descent from Mall to Prison," aims to bring its mysterious history to light.

Take a look:

In Caracas, Venezuela, the Helicoide — which translates to "the helix" — stretches 25 acres.

In Caracas, Venezuela, the Helicoide — which translates to "the helix" — stretches 25 acres. play

In Caracas, Venezuela, the Helicoide — which translates to "the helix" — stretches 25 acres.

(Archivo Fotografía Urbana/Project Helicoide)


In the early '50s, the architect Jorge Romero Gutierrez designed the structure to be a modern retail destination inspired by the Tower of Babel and Frank Lloyd Wright's proposed planetarium, the Gordon Strong Automobile Objective, Olalquiaga told Business Insider.

In the early '50s, the architect Jorge Romero Gutierrez designed the structure to be a modern retail destination inspired by the Tower of Babel and Frank Lloyd Wright's proposed planetarium, the Gordon Strong Automobile Objective, Olalquiaga told Business Insider. play

In the early '50s, the architect Jorge Romero Gutierrez designed the structure to be a modern retail destination inspired by the Tower of Babel and Frank Lloyd Wright's proposed planetarium, the Gordon Strong Automobile Objective, Olalquiaga told Business Insider.

(Archivo Fotografía Urbana/Project Helicoide)


At the time, Venezuela's state-owned oil company had made significant profits as a petroleum supplier to World War II allies. The government funneled some of this money into building the Helicoide.

At the time, Venezuela's state-owned oil company had made significant profits as a petroleum supplier to World War II allies. The government funneled some of this money into building the Helicoide. play

At the time, Venezuela's state-owned oil company had made significant profits as a petroleum supplier to World War II allies. The government funneled some of this money into building the Helicoide.

(Archivo Fotografía Urbana/Project Helicoide)

Source: FiveThirtyEight



"We are going to build ... a super project with Romero Gutierrez. A mountain of shops, with ramps!" the architect's partner, Dirk Bornhorst, wrote in 1955.

"We are going to build ... a super project with Romero Gutierrez. A mountain of shops, with ramps!" the architect's partner, Dirk Bornhorst, wrote in 1955. play

"We are going to build ... a super project with Romero Gutierrez. A mountain of shops, with ramps!" the architect's partner, Dirk Bornhorst, wrote in 1955.

(Archivo Fotografía Urbana/Project Helicoide)

People around the world renowned the Helicoide for its spectacular design. The poet Pablo Neruda called the building "one of the most exquisite creations to emerge from an architect's mind."

Source: CityLab



The plan called for 320 stores and two elevators. But instead of walking through the mall, shoppers would be able to drive through on double-lane ramps.

The plan called for 320 stores and two elevators. But instead of walking through the mall, shoppers would be able to drive through on double-lane ramps. play

The plan called for 320 stores and two elevators. But instead of walking through the mall, shoppers would be able to drive through on double-lane ramps.

(Archivo Fotografía Urbana/Project Helicoide)


The Helicoide would also include a car showroom, a gas station, a repair shop, a car wash ...

The Helicoide would also include a car showroom, a gas station, a repair shop, a car wash ... play

The Helicoide would also include a car showroom, a gas station, a repair shop, a car wash ...

(Archivo Fotografía Urbana/Project Helicoide)


... as well as exhibition halls, a gym, a nursery, a pool, a seven-screen movie theater, and a bowling alley.

... as well as exhibition halls, a gym, a nursery, a pool, a seven-screen movie theater, and a bowling alley. play

... as well as exhibition halls, a gym, a nursery, a pool, a seven-screen movie theater, and a bowling alley.

(Archivo Fotografía Urbana/Project Helicoide)


But the project was abandoned in 1958, after the Perez Jimenez dictatorship collapsed. The spiraling building was left in concrete, just one year short of completion, leading to a long bankruptcy process.

But the project was abandoned in 1958, after the Perez Jimenez dictatorship collapsed. The spiraling building was left in concrete, just one year short of completion, leading to a long bankruptcy process. play

But the project was abandoned in 1958, after the Perez Jimenez dictatorship collapsed. The spiraling building was left in concrete, just one year short of completion, leading to a long bankruptcy process.

(Archivo Fotografía Urbana/Project Helicoide)


In 1975, it became government property, still empty (though there were proposals to turn it into an environmental center or a museum). From 1979 to 1982, it was used as a temporary shelter for about 500 families and flood victims, who lived in shipping containers inside the building.

In 1975, it became government property, still empty (though there were proposals to turn it into an environmental center or a museum). From 1979 to 1982, it was used as a temporary shelter for about 500 families and flood victims, who lived in shipping containers inside the building. play

In 1975, it became government property, still empty (though there were proposals to turn it into an environmental center or a museum). From 1979 to 1982, it was used as a temporary shelter for about 500 families and flood victims, who lived in shipping containers inside the building.

(Archivo Fotografía Urbana/Project Helicoide)


In 1984, a Venezuelan police agency — the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service, or SEBIN — moved in and built a prison for political detainees.

In 1984, a Venezuelan police agency — the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service, or SEBIN — moved in and built a prison for political detainees. play

In 1984, a Venezuelan police agency — the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service, or SEBIN — moved in and built a prison for political detainees.

(Archivo Fotografía Urbana/Project Helicoide)

One report by a local nongovernmental organization said there were 145 cases of torture and inhumane treatment, mostly by SEBIN and Bolivian National Guard agents, from January 2014 to June 2016. Other former inmates allege they were given electric shocks or beatings, or were left hanging for hours.

Source: CityLab and "Repression by the Venezuelan Government from January 2014 to June 2016" (PDF)



"Helicoide is an incredible paradox, so futuristic and yet so retrograde in its use," Olalquiaga said. Today, there are at least 340 prisoners in the Helicoide, including students who protest the government.

"Helicoide is an incredible paradox, so futuristic and yet so retrograde in its use," Olalquiaga said. Today, there are at least 340 prisoners in the Helicoide, including students who protest the government. play

"Helicoide is an incredible paradox, so futuristic and yet so retrograde in its use," Olalquiaga said. Today, there are at least 340 prisoners in the Helicoide, including students who protest the government.

(Archivo Fotografía Urbana/Project Helicoide)

Source: CityLab and “Repression by the Venezuelan Government from January 2014 to June 2016



"In the 1960s, Venezuela was geared to become a leading Latin American country, but its fast-paced modernization was made at the expense of a vast majority of people living in misery, precisely in the type of slums that surround the building," she added. "Had the modern process been more socially inclusive and the successive governments less corrupt, Venezuela would be in a very different situation. But for many Venezuelans, El Helicoide has become a symbol of torture."

Lilian Tintori, center, the wife of the jailed Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, with the relatives of other political prisoners, yell "Liberty" from inside a mock prison cell in Caracas, Venezuela, in December 2015. They demonstrated to demand the release of all whom they consider political prisoners. play

Lilian Tintori, center, the wife of the jailed Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, with the relatives of other political prisoners, yell "Liberty" from inside a mock prison cell in Caracas, Venezuela, in December 2015. They demonstrated to demand the release of all whom they consider political prisoners.

(AP)


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