Arch. Myriam B. Mahiques Curriculum Vitae

Thursday, October 22, 2009

"Ghost Lots" and Negative Space in California

Le Chateau des Pyrenee, by R. Magritte. Web download
My term “ghost lots” has nothing to do with the current Halloween wholesales. And it does not mean a lot where ghots live, not even a ghost town.

In my previous post about negative space, I explained that an open space, that was designed as part of an urban project, is positive space. But sometimes the circumstances indicate that this open space is not positive space any more, it has become negative, it is the “left over”. Or, in extreme cases, it does not exist any more, at least legally speaking.
I found some interesting cases on line, this one is an auction of lots originated in a huge building, in Madrid, Spain. The problem, the building does not exist.
Next case belongs to Phillipines, the A P78 million road right of way claim by a realty firm owned by Sen. Manuel Villar could possibly be for a non-existent lot, the Senate committee is investigating an ethics complaint against the senator; in the original plan prepared in 2002, GHMI property was not included. (Malaya News. October 2, 2009. Phillipines.
There is also a denunciation of fraudulent sales on line “A seller and perhaps his surrogates have been promoting and selling lots located just outside the Puerto Viejo area near Margarita - Sixaola……Despite many victims that fly down to locate their investment once they have made the final payment - none have ever found the lots. Topographers have been hired - neighbors have been harassed - some even sued - and yet no buyer has ever ended up with what they purchased”.
The list of cases continues everywhere, but I’d like to focus on Southern California and the meaning of “ghost lots” in the planners’ jargon. Since the last two years or perhaps more, many lots have been sold in short sales, or foreclosures. Usually, the lots have a big taxes debt. What the potential buyers did not know, is that some of those lots were affected by Zoning Code changes, and the investment plans they had in mind, had no feasibility at all. In simple words, for a retail that belonged to a commercial zoning, when the Zoning is changed to residential, the new owner has only six months to rent it as commercial, if not, the lot is only for residential purposes and there is no way to submit a variance asking to avoid the two cars garage, just to begin with. So, no house could be built, the lot – retail remains empty. Or, a lot is sold in between two other lots, it has a legal grant deed, but there is no way to access with a car, or the set backs and lot coverage required make it impossible to build a house with the required garage. If the City Council is really helpful, maybe there is a solution. Or, it will be in lawyers’ hands.
Theory says that positive space is the one conceived as a void, then wrapped in a built shell erected to define and contain it. But in architectural theory, this space inside must have a purpose, it has to be for humans use. If not, it is a mere (artistic or not) installation, a construction. When the building has no purpose, it is kept empty, it would be like Rachel Whiteread’s house in London. Only the memories are still there, and the space that was conceived as positive becomes definitely negative.

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