helicoide juan carlos montes
The Helicoide in Caracas, Venezuela. Juan Carlos Montes/Panoramio

Amongst 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 originally planned as a drive-through 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-through windows.)

Construction on the mall 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 by 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 below.

Located in Caracas, Venezuela, the Helicoide — which translates to “the helix” — stretches 25 acres.

Located in Caracas, Venezuela, the Helicoide — which translates to “the helix” — stretches 25 acres.
Archivo Fotografía Urbana/Project Helicoide

In the early ‘50s, architect Jorge Romero Gutiérrez 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 BI.

In the early ‘50s, architect Jorge Romero Gutiérrez 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 BI.
Archivo Fotografía Urbana/Project Helicoide

At the time, Venezuela’s state-owned oil company had made significant profits as a petroleum supplier to WWII 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 WWII 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 Gutiérrez. 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 Gutiérrez. 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. 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...