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ARQ (Santiago)

versión On-line ISSN 0717-6996

ARQ (Santiago)  no.100 Santiago dic. 2018 


Ten by ten squares: Santiago in La Gran Capital and the visual imagination of the speculative city

Gonzalo Carrasco1 

1 Profesor, Facultad de Arquitectura, Arte y Diseño, Universidad San Sebastián, Santiago, Chile.


A view of Santiago divided into 10 × 10 squares is offered in La Gran Capital, the local version of the famous game Monopoly. Faced with this abstraction, which reduces urban complexity transforming the city into entertainment, the question that should be asked is not only what is left out of that game, but also what those 10 × 10 squares hide: namely, the reduction of the logics of liberal economy to a simple game where, curiously, every player starts from the same conditions.

Keywords: monopoly; game; heterotopia; rules; land value

When I was a child I used to play La Gran Capital / and now seriously, with the dice of destiny / I’m moving through the slots of a path / in the city7

Games, imagination and the city

In Man, Play and Games, Roger Caillois proposed that, as a “reserved, closed and protected universe,” a game becomes a “pure space” (1994:37-39). Such spatial condition of the game is also highlighted by Johan Huizinga, when he notes that it “is executed in a certain time and a certain space” and that “it is developed in an order subject to rules and which results in associations that tend to be surrounded by mystery or disguise to stand out from the usual world” (Huizinga, 2000:26).

In the so-called edition games, such as the derivatives of Monopoly, this spatial dimension is duplicated. Here, not only is the game as practice developed in a regulated and specific time and space, but, as Brougére has pointed out, “it does not refer the individual to himself, to his own imagination, as a spontaneous and thoughtless game would do, but exposes him to a social fabric” (1981:115), referring to a space that is its image and simulacrum: the city.

Source: © Gonzalo Carrasco

Figure 1 La Gran Capital. Juguetes Meyer: Guau. Game board. 

Source: © Gonzalo Carrasco

Figure 2 El Gran Santiago. Juegos Toledo: Impresos El Volcán. Game board. 

A city reconstructed by images, but also by a repertoire of solely economic rules that allow describing some of the objectives, protocols and practices that have been constitutive of what has been called ‘speculative city.’ This way of building a city is strongly linked to the development of avant-garde capitalism and the emergence of the modern city that, at least for Kostof (1999), began with the Commissioners’ Plan of 1811 for New York, while for Harver (2008) coincided with Haussman’s plans for Napoleon III’s Paris. This way of imagining, producing and managing the city has marked the development of contemporary cities, where urban land as both property and a means to speculate and create surplus value has become the main variable when defining urban theories and praxis.

The following text seeks to reflect on the relationships that this type of games has shown and its role in building the speculative city. As Christine Boyer has suggested, the power of the image - an aestheticized matrix that covers the city as a pictorial form of space and time - becomes a screen that “breaks our place in the city and prevents us from imagining a social order that we can reform” (Boyer, 1994). Hence, evaluating alternatives to the speculative city also includes new scenarios to rethink the conditions with which the city is ‘played.’ This will be done through an analysis of the most popular Chilean version of the Monopoly game: La Gran Capital.

Source: © Gonzalo Carrasco

Figure 3 Monopoly Chile. Hasbro Gaming. Game board. 

Games without borders. Monopoly in Latin America

Created in 1956 by Enrique Grau, owner of the Meyer Toy Factory (1937), La Gran Capital joined many other Latin American versions of the popular game Monopoly, where land purchase, building houses and apartments, and properties’ lease, sale or mortgage were its main operations. In these versions the winner is the one who manages to accomplish the monopoly of all properties in the city, leaving the rest of the players in bankruptcy. While these variants are largely governed by Charles Darrow’s rules, defined in 1935 and later massified by the Parker Brothers company through the Monopoly franchise, they underwent local transformations in both the selection of places as in some of the protocols that fixed negotiations.

Thus, in Brazil we find Banco Imobiliário, a game created in 1944 by Estrela Toy Company, exactly at the end of the Second World War, a time when national entrepreneurs began to worry about the development of the real estate market. This resulted in the replacement of the Building Prices Index (Índice del Costo de la Construcción, ICC), which until then only considered the city of Rio de Janeiro, by the National Building Prices Index (Índice Nacional de Costo de la Construcción, INCC) by the Getulio Vargas Foundation. On the other hand, the places in the Banco Imobiliário’s spaces correspond to a selection of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro’s main avenues and neighborhoods,8 in a kind of assembly or alternative city that already existed in Darrow’s Monopoly version: a very special way of characterizing the city that became one of the main features of the game.

The representation that mediates between the diagram, the map and the choreography bears some relation with the cartographic images of reconstruction of ancient cities, like the plan of Rome in the times of Augusto made by M. F. Calvo (1527), but it is related, especially, with some tourist games popular in the 19th century, like the Geographic Recreation or a Trip Around the Inhabited World by John Harris (1809).9 There is even a connection with the derivatives of the classic Game of the Goose that had as its central theme a route through the most famous monuments and buildings of a city, like the Jeu des monuments français de la Ville de Paris (1810). Through the disposition of evocative images of buildings and urban landscapes, these registers recalled an allusive city created from a fictitious whole, ordered by the route the dice allowed and following the strict regularity of its rectangular spaces.

However, the predisposition to build an analogous city present in the structure of the boards of these games, found differences in other Latin American versions of Monopoly. An example was El Estanciero argentino, where the scope of real estate speculation reached the entire national territory. Along the railway network that structures the occupation of the Argentinian territory - through its different railroads General Belgrano, General San Martín, General Bartolomé Mitre and General Urquiza - it negotiates with the farms and ranches located in the provinces of Formosa, Río Negro, Salta, Mendoza, Santa Fe, Tucumán, Córdoba and Buenos Aires, divided into a northern, central or southern zone. This space analogous to the Argentinian territory not only provides an economic base of agricultural nature to the land market suggested, but also assigns greater value to those provinces closer to the capital.

On the other hand, El Turista Mundial, the Mexican version, offers a broader speculative space where neither areas nor regions are negotiated, but entire countries.10 This global extension of the game speaks of a geopolitics of the financial system, similar to the features that the Cuban adaptation of Monopoly acquired in the game Deuda Eterna (Eternal Debt). Divided into two large areas - the southern hemisphere, place of raw materials, and the northern hemisphere, where manufacturing companies are located - the goal here is not building a monopoly based on the opponents’ bankruptcy, but to destroy the International Monetary Fund.11

Source: © Gonzalo Carrasco

Figure 4 La Gran Capital. Juguetes Meyer: Guau. The game’s ownership titles. Left to right: Alameda ($ 48.000), Paseo Ahumada ($ 50.000), Gran Avenida ($ 18.000), Américo Vespucio ($ 40.000), Av. Colón ($ 39.000), Irarrázaval ($ 30.000), Vitacura ($ 47.000), Pedro de Valdivia ($ 32.000), Bilbao ($ 37.000), Tobalaba ($ 35.000), Providencia ($ 45.000), Los Leones ($ 42.000), Recoleta ($ 15.000), Norte Sur ($ 12.000), Quilicura ($ 10.000), Apoquindo ($ 28.000), Los Dominicos ($ 26.000), Av. La Florida ($ 24.000), Vicuña Mackenna ($ 22.000), Av. Kennedy ($ 20.000). 

The city at stake. Santiago and the big capital

It is within this context that the Chilean versions of Monopoly, such as Metrópoli (Guau Enterprises), La Gran Ciudad (Meyer Toys) and Gran Santiago (Toledo Toys), stand out not for offering these expansions of capital’s territory nor for presenting a city built from fragments as in Banco Imobiliário, but for showing a simulated representation of Santiago that, being the first city, features as the main place for financial transactions in the country. Hence, in both games, Metrópoli and La Gran Ciudad, a fragmented route through the city was indicated by representations that alluded to identifiable buildings or monuments. A city built from chipped images, where near and distant were gathered through a journey in search of the spaces with the highest land value, therefore, places where it was possible to get the highest capital gains. In this sense, it is important to remember Caillois’ proposal on the game as a “pure space,” since it helps to understand the nature of the space exhibited in these games as a variant of heterotopia, as Foucault understood it. In his words, a trait of “the era of the simultaneous, (...) the era of juxtaposition, (...) the era of the near and the distant, of the contiguous, of the dispersed” that would have in heterotopia “the power to juxtapose in a single real place several spaces, several sites that are in themselves incompatible” (Foucault, 1999:431).

Source: © Gonzalo Carrasco

Figure 5 La Gran Capital. Juguetes Meyer: Guau. The game’s ownership cards. Left to right Entel, Estadio Nacional: Entel, Estadio Nacional, Alto Las Condes, Hotel Hyatt, Gasco, Mall Plaza Vespucio, CTC , Chilectra, Metro, Aeropuerto Arturo Merino Benítez. 

Source: © Gonzalo Carrasco

Figure 6 Monopoly Chile. Hasbro Gaming. The game’s ownership titles. Left to right: Moais de Rapa Nui ($ 22 m.), Cerros de Valparaíso ($ 22 m.), Palafito de Chiloé ($ 22 m.), Caleta Tortel ($ 26 m.), Desierto Florido ($ 26 m.), Reserva Huilo Huilo ($ 28 m.), Siete Tazas ($ 16 m.), Termas Geométricas ($ 14 m.), Volcán Villarrica ($ 14 m.), Río Calle Calle ($ 2 m.), Laguna Roja ($ 4 m.), Observatorio Alma ($ 20 m.), Iglesia de Chiloé ($ 18 m.), Torre Costanera ($ 18 m.), Punta de Lobos ($ 6 m.), Lago Llanquihue ($ 6 m), Playa Anakena ($ 8 m.), Torres del Paine ($ 50 m.), Catedral de Mármol ($ 35 m.), Nevados de Chillán ($ 10 m.), Volcán Osorno ($ 10 m.), Géiseres del Tatio ($ 12 m.). 

This is how this image of a spectral and alternative Santiago appears synthesized in Metrópoli through an alternation of spaces that referred to places grouped under the name of “neighborhoods” such as Alameda Bernardo O’Higgins-Ahumada, Vitacura, Providencia-Los Leones, Matucana-San Pablo, Américo Vespucio-Avenida Colón, Arturo Prat, Bilbao-Tobalaba, Recoleta, Irarrázaval-Pedro de Valdivia, Apoquindo-Villa El Dorado, Vicuña Mackenna-Diez de Julio and Gran Avenida. On the other hand, in La Gran Capital, a version that is still marketed in the country, there are some coincidences when selecting the ‘neighborhoods’ that make up the city landscape, including Alameda Bernardo O’Higgins-Ahumada, Vitacura, Providencia-Los Leones, Norte Sur-Quilicura, Américo Vespucio-Avenida Colón, Avenida La Florida, Bilbao-Tobalaba, Recoleta, Irarrázaval-Pedro de Valdivia, Apoquindo-Los Dominicos, Vicuña Mackenna-Avenida Kennedy and Gran Avenida.

In this way, and more precisely in the case of La Gran Capital, Santiago was defined within a board of ten by ten squares (one less than in Monopoly, that does it with eleven). These squares define a framework, a framework that accounts for a city that can still be circumscribed to a form, to a whole that can be controlled and, above all, visualized. This feature is opposed to a city that, since the fifties - the years of the game’s creation - was subject to forces that drove a rather uncontrolled growth following the directions set by the different gradients of urban land value. These fluctuations in the surplus value of land - that in La Gran Capital replicates Santiago’s traditional gradient, according to which land value increases along and to the east of the axis Alameda-Providencia-Apoquindo - show some differences that rather speak of an earlier Santiago. In such earlier image, Los Dominicos, Apoquindo and Avenida Kennedy were not yet consolidated neighborhoods, Vitacura was the last enclave of the Chilean elite, Quilicura remained practically rural and the city’s historic center was, by far, the epicenter of the highest capital gains.

In this description of Santiago as developed around an economically active center, its main role was reinforced by the images inside the ten-by-ten squares of the board, exhibiting: a photograph of San Francisco church and the Alameda taken from Santa Lucía hill; one of the monuments to Bernardo O’Higgins located at the beginning of Paseo Bulnes, opposite the Palacio de la Moneda; and a view of the Virgin at San Cristóbal hill, excluding a large number of peripheral neighborhoods that, from the economic point of view, did not have the best capital gains.

Source: © Gonzalo Carrasco

Figure 7 El Gran Santiago. Juegos Toledo: Impresos El Volcán. The game’s ownership titles. Left to right: Irarrázaval ($ 3.000), Arturo Prat ($ 1.500), Estado ($ 5.000), Lira ($ 3.000), Portugal ($ 2.500), Gran Avenida ($ 2.000), Ahumada ($ 5.000), Av. Grecia ($ 3.500), Franklin ($ 500), Exposición ($ 1.500), Diez de Julio ($ 2.000), Matucana ($ 2.500), Av. Matta ($ 4.000), Puente ($ 4.500), Recoleta ($ 3.500), Carmen ($ 3.000), El Salto ($ 3.500), Bandera ($ 4.500), San Diego ($ 4.000), Providencia ($ 5.000). 

Source: © Gonzalo Carrasco

Figure 8 El Gran Santiago. Juegos Toledo: Impresos El Volcán. The game’s ownership cards. Left to right: Mapocho ($ 1.000), Hotel Sheraton ($ 3.500), Aeropuerto ($ 1.500), Torres San Borja ($ 4.000), Compañía de Teléfonos ($ 3.000), Hipódromo Chile ($ 4.500), Compañía de Gas ($ 2.500), Estación Central ($ 3.000), Estadio Nacional ($ 5.000), Chilectra ($ 2.000). 

Still, although Monopoly and its local variations are commonly referred to as games representative of capitalism, a detailed analysis reveals that the capitalism they show offers anomalies or contradictions that are interesting to reflect on. For example, although the city offered is one where civic institutions and the State are withdrawn from the economic sphere, the Bank - the only mediator between negotiations taking place inside the board - never ceases to have liquidity. Likewise, in what seems to be the most explicit contradiction of the game, all players begin in the same conditions. A discrepancy regarding the real conditions for the functioning of capitalism, considering that precisely one of the mechanisms of wealth generation rests on the existence of asymmetries. Moreover, Michael Jessup exacerbated these aspects in Sociopoly, a critical version of Monopoly, reproducing the social inequality scenarios where contemporary capitalism operates by allocating an unequal distribution of the initial capital based on gender differences and ethnic groups, distinguishing among white non-Hispanic, Hispanic, African-American and single mother competitors (Jessup, 2001). Likewise, the very aim of the game - the creation of a large monopoly at the expense of the rest of the participants’ bankruptcy - is openly contradictory with the ideas that liberal capitalism has defended for years, conceiving the speculative city as an arena characterized by self-regulation and free competition. This contradiction was one of the reasons that in 1973 led Ralph Anspach, professor of economics at San Francisco State University and largely incited by opec’s newly created monopolist oil cartel, to create an Anti-Monopoly, a version whose objective was precisely to restore free market economy, destroying monopolistic practices through the exercise of complaints and letters to the Department of Justice’s antitrust division (Pilon, 2015).

But not only there were the particularities of the game regarding its special characterization of capitalism, as - at least in its Chilean versions - Monopoly still accounts for a city where capital expresses itself through modernist architectures, representative of a kind of Fordism that takes industry as the main engine of national development. This was the case of Metrópoli and its selection of companies key for development such as Chilectra, Gasco (and its gasometers), the Telephone Company (CTC) and architectures such as Torres de Tajamar, the old Pudahuel Airport, the National Stadium, the Equestrian Club, the Hotel Carrera, and the Mapocho Station. This panorama would change in the latest versions of La Gran Ciudad which, since the 1990s - coinciding with the return of democracy and the consolidation of a neoliberal model in the country (Moulian, 2002) - incorporated companies and architectures emblematic of the new economic system such as Entel, the Hyatt Hotel, or the malls Alto Las Condes and Plaza Vespucio.

Some of these contradictions already existed back in the origins of Monopoly that, prior to Charles B. Darrow’s patent in 1935, was based on Landlord’s Game created in 1903 by Lizzie J. Magie. In this first edition of the game, bearing forty spaces, the participants had to accumulate capital from the purchase and lease of properties. A mechanism that, however, considered payment of indirect taxes to basic items such as bread, coal, housing and clothing. Although the board had a distribution that followed an incremental gradient of land value as it moved away from the starting point, it contemplated two ways of obtaining land: one of a distributive nature, which considered a random handing over of land to participants; and another that stipulated a scenario where players started without any properties, acquiring them as the game moved forward. There were also: a public park; a House for the Poor, meant for those left without funds or properties; a space that paid wages under the slogan “Work on Mother Earth gives profit”; the possibility of obtaining inheritances; railways, public water and electricity companies.

On the other hand, in this first version of the game, the prospect of bankruptcy was not considered. Whoever was left without funds went to the space corresponding to the House of the Poor. These features are to a large extent explained by the adhesion of Magie herself to the economic theories of Henry George on the risks that land accumulation entailed for society - thus the game is a sort of critique and an economic lesson on the contradictions of capitalism (Pilon, 2015). In 1924, this objective was intensified by including operations that considered speculation, work and, for the first time, the possibility of constituting monopolies and falling into bankruptcy given the disappearance of the House of the Poor. Such reconfiguration of Landlord’s Game also replaced the original abstract condition of the land - which initially did not refer to any specific place - by images that alluded to the city of New York.

But it was in 1935, with Monopoly’s patent by Darrow, that the game’s fundamental feature was crystallized: to conceive the city like a scene for real estate speculation. Thus, the city is divided between who wins, that is, who dominates the entire urban land market, and a bank that at the end of the game wins anyway, acquiring property at half its value from those who were forced to declare bankrupt. And, on the other hand, there are those who lose, represented by real estate developers who could not fight against capital accumulation, being forced to mortgage or auction their assets and properties. But there is also the city that, based on the fiction that all players are on equal conditions, sees its environment transformed into a financial battlefield. Here there is no space for the public sphere and urban reality is limited exclusively to exchange value. Public institutions are relegated to mere actors who administer the rules of the economic game, mainly through audit and punitive tasks against those who cannot meet their economic obligations. At the same time, places, buildings and architectures are considered exclusively as variables at the service of capital gains escalation.

The latest version of Monopoly Chile - this time, the original franchise - redeployed this aspect to the scale of the country, making national territory, especially its landscape, a currency for playing with capital gains. Here tourism, the iconicity of monuments and natural environments, as well as the ‘country’s image,’ are translated into bids on places such as the Calle-Calle river, Punta Lobos, the Llanquihue lake, the Osorno volcano, the Tatio geysers, the Villarrica volcano, the Geometrical hot springs, the Chiloé churches, the Costanera tower, the Alma observatory, the Chiloé stilt houses, Valparaíso’s hills, the Tortel bay and Torres del Paine.12

Offside. La Gran Capital and the possibilities of heterotopia

A game is not only its board but also the set of rules that condition what is allowed and what is not. This is what Roger Caillois points out:

Every game is a system of rules. These define what the game is, namely, what is permitted or prohibited. At the same time, these conventions are arbitrary, imperative and unappealable. They cannot be violated under any pretext: the penalty being the game ending and being spoiled by this fact (Caillois, 1994:37-39).

In that sense, all games derived from Monopoly have also a disciplinary dimension, including a form of governance in the terms formulated by Foucault (2009). In other words, accounts teach not only how a citizen should behave and be guided spiritually, but how the sovereign should govern the state, what were his moral rules and obligations to the subjects and how the sovereign’s own behavior should be governed by rational forces (Boyer, 1994:29). Hence, the importance of these games not as mere illustrations of capitalism, but as something critical, as a condition for the creation of a collective imagination on the government and destiny of cities; an imagination that allows elucidating alternatives to what exists, a condition that is necessary when faced with a prospect dominated by an hegemonic vision of the city as a territory destined for speculation and surplus value. Reverting these scenarios, offering alternatives, seems to be an objective that requires the possibility of imagining new ways of ‘playing’ in the city. New ways to create new conventions, agreements, rules and protocols that not only return to its citizens the ability to imagine the city, but can also return to architecture a space of its own, that of utopia. Namely, to imagine what is not yet there, what is still on the horizon of possibilities.

Source: © Gonzalo Carrasco Purull

Figure 9 The three different Chilean Monopoly: La Gran Capital (Juguetes Meyer: Guau), El Gran Santiago (Juegos Toledo: Impresos El Volcán) y Monopoly Chile (Hasbro Gaming). Its correspondent discourses: “This entertaining game will make you a prosperous businessman”; “The best game that helps you develop a sense of business and finance”; “The exciting game of negotiating properties.” 

Foucault, in his lecture delivered at the Cercle d’études architecturales at Paris (March 14, 1967), pointed out that the contemporary world was characterized by the substitution of the space of extension by that of location, defined “by the relations of proximity between points or elements” (Foucault, 1999:432), and described through series, tree diagrams and grids. So, the squares are the space for classification and circulation, a space that is always an outside. A heterogeneous space built on relationships where “real sites, all the real sites that can be found within culture, are at the same time represented, challenged and inverted” (Foucault, 1999:434-435). Spaces that Foucault called heterotopies and that would act in the manner of a mirror offering an unreal vision that becomes real at least when contemplating oneself on its reflection. Spaces that deviate from normality and that have the ability to “juxtapose in a single real place several spaces, several sites that are by themselves incompatible” (Foucault, 1999:437-438).

But at the same time, Foucault warned that heterotopies fulfilled a double function: “Else, they create a different space, another real space, so perfect, so meticulous, as well distributed as messy, ill-disposed and embroiled is our own,” which would correspond precisely to that heterotopia of illusion that constitute the fragmented and totalizing urban scenarios of games like La Gran Capital or Monopoly. Furthermore, “they play the role of creating a space of illusion that condemns as even more illusory all real space, all those locations in which human life is compartmentalized” (Foucault, 2009: 431-441). Imagining the conditions for creating an alternative space between these two extremes is today one of the most important challenges facing architecture against the speculative city. Here, the possibility of change, which feeds on the dreams forged in that “floating piece of space, a place without a place, that lives by itself, that is closed in it” (Foucault, 1999:441) constitutes the heterotopia.


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* Gonzalo Carrasco

Architect, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, 2001. Doctorate in Architecture and Urban Studies UC, 2015. Adjunct Assistant Professor UC. Has taught courses on Theory, History and Criticism in various architecture schools in Chile. Together with the Uruguayan architect Pedro Livni runs the website With him also participated as curator of the Uruguayan pavilion for the 13th Venice Biennale (2012).

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