09 junho, 2011

World´s slums

Graphics credits: João Amaral 


Mega-cities of 10.000.000 or more are on the rise across Asia, while cities like Dhaka, Jakarta, Lagos and Delhi will cross the 20.000.000 threshold by 2020. Planning and building ins not keeping pace. The world ignores the slums at its own peril.¹
1. E. Eaves, ‘Two Billion Slum Dwellers’, Forbes.com, 2007.
In the 1950’s, poverty was a condition for post-war European architects to work on. In the 1970’s, when favelas hit the architectural media, poverty became a source of social and architectural inspiration as it contained models alternative to the existing order. In the 1980´s, poverty was overshadowed by postmodern musings, but in the late 1990’s and early 2000´s, it began forging its architectural comeback – this time in full colour and high resolution. We have now entered an era where poverty tourism (poorism) has become a popular holiday; Favela Chic is a hot nightclub in London, and the words ‘slum dog’ and ‘jai ho’ were among the 15 finalists in contention to become the 1 millionth English word. How long will poverty be in fashion this time? If ´all press is good press´, how can we take advantage of the latest wave of slum popularity?
In: Visionary Cities.

Graphics credits: João Amaral

08 junho, 2011

Project S

It used to be that the best architects did the biggest work, while the smaller work was left to all the other ones. Now, it is the opposite. While Pritzker Prize-winning architects are designing clean-sharp tap’s and cutlery, unknown developer-architects are building entire cities from the ground-up in the Middle East and China. In the age of the “scratch-built metropolis”¹, the call for (good) architects to return to big design is more critical than ever. Where have all the “big-design” architects gone? Can large-scale design ever be glamourous again? Will we ever see a master plan in Wallpaper magazine?

As China plans to set up 20 new cities annually in the coming 20 years², there will be millions more. Historically, tasks of this scale and magnitude would have been awarded to the world’s leading architects. Le Corbusier´s masterplan for Chandigarh, Lúcio Costa’s vision for Brasilia, or Haussamann´s rebuilding of Paris – these were the big visions on a large scale, each plan looking at the city as an integrated whole.

Now almost 15 years after the “death of urbanism”, there is a generation of architects whose scepticism of the “macro” has led them to steer clear of any large-scale work. Instead they are focused in smaller scale projects they can control. Interiors, furniture, a specific material, a fabrication technique... over time, everyone becomes a specialist in one tiny, digestible facet of the field. These projects are easy to understand and they are easy to digest. If a project can´t be explained by a sound bite and a image, if it can´t fit on a spread in MARK Magazine, it is clumsy and uncool. And why not? Architects are enjoying the benefits of being in fashion. More media coverage means more attention, more money, and more freedom to pursue small, glamorous projects. Wallpaper architects get invited to lot more parties than city planners.
1. D. Mcgray. ‘Pop-Up Cities: China Builds a Bright Green Metropolis’, Wired Magazine, Issue 15.05
2. ‘Twenty New Cities to Be Set Up in China Every Year’, People´s Daily, 2000.

In: Visionary Cities.

Graphics credits: João Amaral

Death and birth of the iconic architecture

The demands of the new globalized world have elevated cities to new levels of direct competition. While Shanghai and Hong Kong fight for who will be the financial capital of China, Dubai continues to challenge New York, Paris and London as the world’s leading global cities. The defence mechanism in any battle for supremacy comes naturally to almost all creatures in the animal kingdom – make yourself look bigger than your opponent. Puff up your chest, stand up on your hind legs, or raise your tail feathers. In the urban world, you built an icon. Proof of your position as a global city. Build the biggest and – most importantly – the newest icon on the market. But in an age when 15 minutes of (urban) fame has been reduced to five minutes, how can we overcome the inevitable? What will happen when another city builds something bigger, newer, by an even more famous architect? If something is created just to be an icon, can it ever really last?

In: Visionary Cities.

Graphics credits: João Amaral

07 junho, 2011

Social Contradictions - A housing issue

Graphics credits: João Amaral

Skysckraper ON HOLD!

As if on an assembly line driven by market protocols, city after city around the world has stamped out the same inevitable pattern of urban development: Industry out (port, factory, mill), developer in (condo, housing, boardwalk, marina complex). We have relied on the predictable fluctuations of the market to tell us what to do, where to build, and what to design, but we have suddenly lost our beacon.
Without emerging markets, without money, without incentives, architects around the world are now without prospects. Is it hopeless, or can we imagine new models of development in the wake of near economic collapse?
Can we use this crisis as an opportunity to break away from our current tendencies, to escape from urbanism autopilot? This could be just the thing our cities needed.

Right now, the projected five tallest buildings on each of the five continents are on hold.

In: Visionary Cities.

Graphics credits: João Amaral

Oscar Niemeyer Footbridge - Rocinha, Brazil

The FIFA World Cup is heading to Brazil in 2014 and the Olympics to Rio de Janeiro in 2016. Curving into Rocinha, Rio's largest favela, is a new concrete footbridge designed by Oscar Niemeyer, now 103 years old. The bridge is the product of an ambitious and ongoing attempt to improve Rio’s notorious favelas in time for the global sporting events.

The government initiative – Morar Carioca (Living Rio) – involves hundred of Brazilians designers who are instigating radical and diverse urban interventions in city’s slums. Rocinha is extremely volatile: larger areas are run by drug lords, whose ongoing battles with the police frequently result in disturbingly violent shoot-outs. The favelas have a colourful and rich environment but a highly unsafe one.

Only in the past 20 years have the favelas begun to be recognized as a legitimate part of the city. Rio has moved away from the idea of uprooting them and displacing their residents to poorly executed social housing. The economic stimulus of the upcoming events is enabling the successful integration of the favelas into the city by creating community buildings and new public space, improving infrastructure and taking back control from the drug traffickers.

The bridge is a dynamic example of such integration. It establishes a pedestrian path over a busy main road and connects a major favela to a new sports facility, while further contributing to Rocinha’s strong identity. Niemeyer’s design, which he gave free to the city in which he grew up, is a typically grand concept but one that has been executed humbly, constructed on a human scale from locally prevalent concrete, it is a simple and absent of detail.

The bridge is a gesture, emblematic of Rio’s changing attitudes towards the favelas.

Text: Peter Dykes in Mark Magazine

04 junho, 2011

Sol LeWitt, Master of Conceptualism

LeWitt helped establish Conceptualism and Minimalism as dominant movements of the postwar era. A patron and friend of colleagues young and old, he was the opposite of the artist as celebrity. He tried to suppress all interest in him as opposed to his work; he turned down awards and was camera-shy and reluctant to grant interviews. He particularly disliked the prospect of having his photograph in the newspaper.

His work — sculptures of white cubes, or drawings of geometric patterns, or splashes of paint like Rorschach patterns — tested a viewer’s psychological and visual flexibility. See a line. See that it can be straight, thin, broken, curved, soft, angled or thick. Enjoy the differences. The test was not hard to pass if your eyes and mind were open, which was the message of Mr. LeWitt’s art.

He reduced art to a few of the most basic shapes (quadrilaterals, spheres, triangles), colors (red, yellow, blue, black) and types of lines, and organized them by guidelines he felt in the end free to bend. Much of what he devised came down to specific ideas or instructions: a thought you were meant to contemplate, or plans for drawings or actions that could be carried out by you, or not.

Sometimes these plans derived from a logical system, like a game; sometimes they defied logic so that the results could not be foreseen, with instructions intentionally vague to allow for interpretation. Characteristically, he would then credit assistants or others with the results. With his wall drawing, mural-sized works that sometimes took teams of people weeks to execute, he might decide whether a line for which he had given the instruction “not straight” was sufficiently irregular without becoming wavy (and like many more traditional artists, he became more concerned in later years that his works look just the way he wished). But he always gave his team wiggle room, believing that the input of others — their joy, boredom, frustration or whatever — remained part of the art.

In so doing, Mr. LeWitt gently reminded everybody that architects are called artists — good architects, anyway — even though they don’t lay their own bricks, just as composers write music that other people play but are still musical artists. Mr. LeWitt, by his methods, permitted other people to participate in the creative process, to become artists themselves.

Eye-candy opulence emerged from the same seemingly prosaic instructions he had come up with years before. A retrospective in 2000, organized by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, which traveled to the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, concluded with some of these newly colorful wall drawings. (Mr. LeWitt always called them drawings, even when the medium became acrylic paint.)

Some people who had presumed that Mr. LeWitt’s Conceptualism was arcane and inert were taken aback. He began making colored flagstone patterns, spiky sculptural blobs and ribbons of color, like streamers on New Year’s Eve, often as enormous decorations for buildings around the world. It was as if he had devised a latter-day kind of Abstract Expressionism, to which, looking back, his early Conceptualism had in fact been his response.

He decided to reduce art to its essentials, “to recreate art, to start from square one,” he said, beginning literally with squares and cubes. But unlike some strict Minimalists, Mr. LeWitt was not interested in industrial materials. He was focused on systems and concepts — volume, transparency, sequences, variations, stasis, irregularity and so on — which he expressed in words that might or might not be translated into actual sculptures or photographs or drawings. To him, ideas were what counted.

At the time, linguistic theorists were talking about words and mental concepts as signs and signifiers. Mr. LeWitt was devising what you might call his own grammar and syntax of cubes and spheres, a personal theory of visual signs. It was theoretical, but not strictly mathematical. Partly it was poetic. He began with propositions for images, which became something else if they were translated into physical form by him or other people.


He also liked the inherent impermanence of Conceptual art, maybe because it dovetailed with his lack of pretense: having started to make wall drawings for exhibitions in the 1960s, he embraced the fact that these could be painted over after the shows. (Walls, unlike canvases or pieces of paper, kept the drawings two-dimensional, he also thought.) He wasn’t making precious one-of-a-kind objects for posterity, he said. Objects are perishable. But ideas need not be.

“Conceptual art is not necessarily logical,” he wrote in an article in Artforum magazine in 1967. “The ideas need not be complex. Most ideas that are successful are ludicrously simple. Successful ideas generally have the appearance of simplicity because they seem inevitable.”

To the sculptor Eva Hesse, he once wrote a letter while she was living in Germany and at a point when her work was at an impasse. “Stop it and just DO,” he advised her. “Try and tickle something inside you, your ‘weird humor.’ You belong in the most secret part of you. Don’t worry about cool, make your own uncool.” He added: “You are not responsible for the world — you are only responsible for your work, so do it. And don’t think that your work has to conform to any idea or flavor. It can be anything you want it to be.”

Gary Garrels, a curator who organized Mr. LeWitt’s retrospective for San Francisco in 2000, said: “He didn’t dictate. He accepted contradiction and paradox, the inconclusiveness of logic.”

He took an idea as far as he thought it could go, then tried to find a way to proceed, so that he was never satisfied with a particular result but saw each work as a proposition opening onto a fresh question. Asked about the switch he made in the 1980’s — adding ink washes, which permitted him new colors, along with curves and free forms — Mr. LeWitt responded, “Why not?”

He added, “A life in art is an unimaginable and unpredictable experience.”

In: The New York Times

02 junho, 2011

Can Informalization be a revitalization factor of the city?

In our understanding of the City we must acknowledge it as a place of contradictions and conflicts¹, and so Formal Urbanism and informal actions are two extreme modes of creating and appropriate urban space, and so Housing dwellings.

As strange this must sound informal business and transactions are fundamental for major cities global economies which result in a phenomenon where two different classes (low and high-income workers) have to fight for their right for stay and use the City, a right for Housing and Social Facilities.

In Brazil 6.6 millions of individuals don’t have a place they can call Home, 30 millions live in precarious housing conditions, while in the 2010 Census was proven that the number of vacant dwellings is larger than the housing deficit in Brazil².

This created a guerrilla phenomenon where homeless people started to occupied abandoned buildings right in the center of cities as São Paulo or Rio de Janeiro. Nevertheless, the huge speculation that controls the real-estate markets in these cities compel that others classes also have to enter into this process in order to have access to low-cost spaces for ateliers, products shops, art galleries, boutiques.

This informal actions might be a way of fighting gentrification, a process of downgrading “low-cost equivalent of gentrification”³ that will generate a social and economic dynamic and will create a more democratic and transversal cities for the future, avoiding the dying process of cities central areas.

Also the Federal Republic of Brazil Constitution specifically states that each Brazilian as the right to have a house and property should reflect a social function. These gives somehow legal basis for an informalization process that is happening in the city centers, which might be a solution for the death of cities.

São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro city centre are references concerning urban polis in South America. Equipped with a vast and complex infrastructure and services network, with an important architectural patrimony, is nevertheless under-use, pierced by numerous empty plots and abandoned buildings resulting in the decrease of inhabitants in the city centre. This situation as helped to create a fake lack of housing offer, increasing exponentially the price for square meter, banishing the lower-income classes to the outskirts slams, reducing the economy vitality and social variety and dynamic in the centre³.

In the present situation the underprivileged social classes occupy the ruins of these abandoned buildings, operating for the recapture of urban space which are constantly excluded from, building a process of reclaiming the city.

It’s my belief that the entrepreneurism of the low-income social groups, and their understanding of public space make them use the city as a resource to create opportunities to improve their lives, economically and socially, and trough that the urban and private space is somehow altered, redesigned, new uses are re-invented. An informalization process takes place with the qualities recognized in it. I believe that it would be reasonable to acknowledged that the dynamic and enthusiastic urban life characterizing Brazil slums might contaminate the city with a more cultural and diverse social environment, that it once had.

The recognition of the actors involved in this fight for the urban voids in the city centre, the understanding of how the central residual urban spaces are generated, who occupies them, how they are occupied, and how happens their subsequent dismemberment, or revitalization will define my route through this investigation, assuming that in the end I might be able to respond affirmably to my first question: Can Informalization be a revitalization factor of the city?

For the research, was defined two case studies occupations of abandoned buildings, one located in the neighbourhood of Luz, at the centre of São Paulo: Ocupação Prestes Maia, and the other in Rio de Janeiro, the former Instituto Nacional de Colonização e Reforma Agrária (INCRA): Ocupação Chiquinha Gonzaga.

1. RAMOS, Diana. (2009). “A Guerra dos Lugares – nas ocupações de edifícios abandonados do centro de São Paulo”.

2. DANTAS, D., ALBUQUERQUE, E., STREIT, P., Souza, R. (2007). “Direito à moradia – Famílias ocupam prédios abandonados para sobreviver”.

3. SASSEN, Saskia. (1997). “Ethnicity and Space in the Global City: A New Frontier?”

Images and text credits: João Amaral