I was fortunate enough to see a very insightful exhibition called Favela-City Exchange on the future of the favelas (squatter settlements) in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, prepared by the architecture and urban planning group, Urban Think Tank (UTT), based in ETH Zurich. A little background on UTT: UTT, led by the architects Alfredo Brillembourg and Hubert Klumpner, works extensively on the living and housing conditions of the urban poor, mainly in Latin America; countries such as Venezuela, Brazil and Colombia. The exhibition was the product of a Master/Bachelor studio taught by Brillembourg and Klumpner at ETH, and it consists of two major projects:
- Research and evaluation of the architectural solutions present in the favelas, and how they can be utilized through formal architectural design to improve the quality of life in the favela;
- An urban transformation project that deals with the neighborhood in which the famous Maracana Stadium is located, an important landmark that will have a key role in the upcoming World Cup in 2014 and Summer Olympics in 2016.
I want to focus on the first part of the exhibition as it points to some contemporary problems related to the situation of the poor in the cities. The subject of that part was the favela Cidade de Deus (City of God) which became famous throughout world thanks to the 2002 film of the same name. After having made field research in the favela, the studio has come up with 26 solutions that not only deal with architecture, but some which also directly aim to augment the quality of life by providing additional economic income for the community. This is something I particularly admired because one of the strongest dichotomies related to the improvement of the squatter settlements all over the world, as well as Istanbul, is that when you bring services and upgrade the physical environment, the living expenses in that settlement increase inevitably, and since the income of the residents mostly stay intact, it becomes harder for them to afford living there - so they must move.
The UTT exhibition displays understanding of this problem and proposes to use the informal economy to people’s advantage. An interesting example from their solutions is the local production and sale of kites, which is a characteristic part of everyday life in the favelas of Rio, one that has a potential to become a tourist attraction. The exhibition in Rio has ended in mid-July unfortunately, but the practical and theoretical work of UTT can be found on their website: www.u-tt.com
Do you agree that the cities can benefit from the solutions evident in the squatter settlements, and how connected are a city’s informal and formal parts?
Credits: Data linked to sources, both images by author.