Concrete Dreams

Practice, Value, and Built Environments in Post-Crisis Buenos Aires

Book Pages: 312 Illustrations: 55 illustrations Published: November 2019

Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Latin American Studies, Sociology > Urban Studies

In Concrete Dreams Nicholas D’Avella examines the changing social and economic lives of buildings in the context of a construction boom following Argentina's political and economic crisis of 2001. D’Avella tells the stories of small-scale investors who turned to real estate as an alternative to a financial system they no longer trusted, of architects who struggled to maintain artistic values and political commitments in the face of the ongoing commodification of their work, and of residents-turned-activists who worked to protect their neighborhoods and city from being overtaken by new development. Such forms of everyday engagement with buildings, he argues, produce divergent forms of value that persist in tension with hegemonic forms of value. In the dreams attached to built environments and the material forms in which those dreams are articulated—from charts and graphs to architectural drawings, urban planning codes, and tango lyrics—D’Avella finds a blueprint for building livable futures in which people can survive alongside and even push back against the hegemony of capitalism.


Concrete Dreams is a beautifully written ethnography that focuses on how the specific everyday practices of lay investors, real estate analysts, and architects produce divergent forms of value in the volatile political and economic landscape of recent Argentine history. The ethnographic narratives show exactly how ‘buildings’ emerge as partially connected conceptual and concrete entities that hold value as investments, as objects of design, and as homes. The power of the analysis lies in the combination of a deep understanding of dominant economic modes of valuation with a sensitivity to the fragile relational spaces where alternative possibilities are kept alive.” — Penny Harvey, University of Manchester

“Nicholas D’Avella has managed to take a topic central to the historical sweep of Argentine political economy and written an intimate, engaging portrait of quotidian life amid economic uncertainty. He makes real estate markets and municipal zoning understandable at the macro-scale with which they crash economies and at the micro-scale that causes people to strap money to their bodies. Ambitious and weighty, subtle and intimate, Concrete Dreams is an exceptional urban ethnography.” — Kregg Hetherington, editor of Infrastructure, Environment, and Life in the Anthropocene


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Nicholas D’Avella is an anthropologist who lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments  vii
Introduction. Concrete Dreams  1
1. Crisis Histories, Brick Futures: Economic Storytelling and Investments in Real Estate  32
2. A Market in Square Meters: Numbers and Narrative in Real Estate Market Analysis  67
3. Barrio Ecologies: Parks, Patios, and the Politics of Articulation  94
4. Recoding the City: Plans, Codes, and the Politics of Voice  140
5. Architecture is for Everyone: Bodies, Drawing, and the Politics of Care  179
Epilogue. Enduring Values  222
Notes  235
Works Cited  255
Index  271
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-1-4780-0630-5 / Cloth ISBN: 978-1-4780-0535-3