Friday, November 26, 2010

favelas’ genetic codes: identification, interpretation and application

Contrast between rich buildings and poor houses in São Paulo - Brazil
The interest about favelas' spatial and social organization became more intense after the evidence of the urban planners’ failure in managing these immense areas, which proliferate, specially along the two last decades, around and inside the biggest cities, resulting in around 22%  of the Brazilian population living below minimum indexes of comfort and hygienic conditions. This phenomenon is particularly serious in the major cities of the South of the country, stage of the industrial boom (São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Belo Horizonte e Porto Alegre), quickly propagating itself also in towns of the North and North East regions (Salvador, Recife, Brasilia, Manaus e Belem), due to the intense migration of population towards these centers, hoping to therein find job opportunities, and, therefore, better living conditions. Despite of the precarious state of these slums, which arise at the edge of the so called "legal city" [1], it is interesting to verify how, in spite of drugs and violence  being a constant presence, these quarters are considered by their inhabitants good places to live in, embedded of traditions, cultural activities, intense social life and vitality.
Many are the studies performed by urban planners and sociologists in order to understand the favelas’ [2] phenomenon. Some of them focus socio-cultural issues, and others, mainly privilege the spatial perspective, but rare are those who linger to analyse the interdependence between these different aspects, their mutual correlation, and consequently, the resulting complexity that arises from these spaces. Assuming that the city is not an accomplished system, but is a living body in constant development, Paola Berenstein Jacques's essay entitled “Aesthetics of Ginga” [3], analyses the favelas’ social and architectural environment, managing to capture the deep meaning of these changeable spaces, the driving forces that move inside them, aiming to define the dynamics of these continuous transformations. Jacques therefore believes that architects and urban planners must become the catalysts of the inhabitants aspirations, the interprets and the promoters of the development of those spontaneous fluxes, so characteristic and so present in the favelas’ mutable spaces, without crystallizing them into formal models, but looking for new ideas, as starting points of possible future researches.
Staircase climbing up a favela in Rio de Janeiro – Brazil

At this point, it becomes necessary to introduce the favelas’ spatial concept so that, even those who do not have ever had the chance of experiencing it personally, will be able to identify its main generative forces, understand the processes, either individual or collective which, starting from a spontaneous occupation of a specific space, will transform it gradually, until fullfilling and reaching its complete and total saturation.

To accomplish this objective, the reference framework will come from the analogies proposed by Jacques in her “Aesthetics of Ginga " where she, starting from the fragment (used to demonstrate the transition from the physical body to architecture), develops the concept of labyrinth (to explain the transition from architecture to the urban scale), to finally describe the Rhizome (to interpret the change from urban to territorial scale). By the other hand, another possible approach would be to percour the path in the opposite  direction, which means, starting from the comparision between the favelas’ territorial occupation process and the growing logic of a Rhizome, trying to understand the intricate labyrinth of its circulation system, and then, in a second moment, study the fragments, the heterogeneous parts which gathered toghether in a very ingenious way, form the individual/collective shelter.
A favela following the rhizome growing logic – Rio de Janeiro - Brazil 
The philosophical concept of Rhizome, as introduced by Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, in “Rhizome”, 1976, comes from Botany, and refers to the underground stem of herbaceous, which, unlike tree structures, where each part (root, trunk, branches, leaves) occupies a special position in space, which in turn, according to a very precise hierarchy, determines its growth from bottom to top, the development of a Rhizome should be totally unforeseeable, assuming a multidirectional form, only subjected to internal flows, immediately taking advance of the opportunity to fill a space, when ever it occurs along the time. This concept, according to Jacques, must not be "interpreted as a formal model, it is not a true system; it is rather a process", which follows the principles formulated by Deleuze and Guattari, which can be thus summarized:
·   Connection and Heterogenity principle: which establishes a common characteristic to the rhizomes after which, every part can be connected to any other part, forming a continuous single, although heterogeneous.
·   Multiplicity principle: which replaces the concept of unicity (static), with that one of multiplicity, inherent the skill that a Rhizome has to continuously tranform itself (dynamic), changing nature, multiplying its connections, being in a perpetual motion.
·   Not significant rupture principle: which determines that a Rhizome can be  broken in any part, being soon after able to regenerate spontaneously this connection, although not precisely the same, but a similar one which can replace the previous, to keep intact the continuity of the system.
·   Cartography principle: the rhizome can only be represented by an open charte, editable, adaptable, connectable, on which it would be possible to inscribe the changes, making explicit its evolution process.

The intricate growing pattern of a rhizome plant

To live in a decent house is a dream for millions people around the world and, after the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it must be considered a right for all human beings, at the same level of health, education and justice. Also the Brazilian Constitution recognizes housing as an undeniable and essential social right, necessary to achieve better life conditions and to aspire an higher position in the society pyramid. According to the Ministry of Cities, the housing deficit in Brazil was, in 2007, around 7,223 million units, which represents around 35 million people, 22% of the total population, living in precarious conditions.
This large amount of people, mostly concentrated in the largest Brazilian metropolis, like São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Recife, Belo Horizonte and Salvador, even starting to have access to consume, still lives in precarious houses distributed in substandard settlements, which forms the indistinct endless suburb that surrounds the metropolitan areas. Following Maricato and Rolnik point of view, the extremely hierarchical economy context, marked by deep inequalities of income, defines forms of appropriation and use of space, either allowed or forbidden, which separate the "legal city" - occupied by the middle classes and high income groups, from the "illegal city" - only inhabited by popular sectors, the low income classes majority. 

An intricate set of electrical wires - Brazil
Most of these quarters, are nowadays consolidated areas, with brick constructions and multi floors buildings, but still lacking of infrastructure (streets paving, sewage, security, electricity and water supply). Even becoming evident, in the last decade, the emergence of an incipient well fare, which is testified by the presence of most electro electronic facilities, like refrigerators, televisions, sound equipments and computers, many differences still persist among the houses, specially in what concerns their healthy conditions, finishing materials, interior spaces and furniture.
The main problem still is the location where these neighborhoods are edified, mainly consisting in illegal occupancy areas, exposed to tide, flood and landslides risks. This low spatial quality, heavily depreciate the social conditions of the poorest - both in the economic and symbolic aspects – representing areas not covered by the law, in which "…illegality becomes certainly one criteria to apply the concepts of exclusion, segregation or even ecological apartheid" (Maricato, 1996). In this scenario, where not only the state capitals, but virtually all urban areas show unacceptable numbers in terms of housing shortage and urbanization process growth, many actions have been taken by the government in the last years (either at federal, state and municipal levels), in order to improve the living conditions of people of these suburbs, understanding that they represent the emerging class of the Brazilian society, on which relay the responsibility,  of the Brazilian expected economic development in the next decades.

A favelas’ road after a flood – São Paulo – Brazil 
The present research on the Favelas’ genetic code identification interpretation, and application, aims to outline a possible procedure method for architects and urban planners to participate to this upgrading process, as the poor quality of the habitat, still represent a major constrain for the progress of a nation and of its population.

This research will collect different authors’ contributions, focusing the urban space dynamics and the complexity of the favelas’ phenomenon, based on a wide range of theoretical tools used to interpret these spaces transformations. The method will report and then connect the obtained results, comparing different methodologies and individual researches, each one oriented toward its own specific approach. Only after having checked these hypotheses and experimental data, and having analyzed variety of solutions found to solve problems, it will be possible to establish operational guidelines to be applied in real future intervention.
It is important to outline that this research will not adopt a linear process, for instance, first reading the texts, performing their interpretation and only then, the study of the inter relationship, but rather, the inquiry will follow a spiral path, starting from an initial approach, and then, at each turn of the spiral, will study in depth each topics, in order to identify new ideas for future surveys, and so, gradually, being able to reach what Jacques and Soddu define an “open system”, without beginning and without an end, where the motion takes precedence over the form, the process becomes more important than the result.
The second part of the research will focus some study cases, to be chosen among the different realities which can be found in Brazil: the first of them being the favelas-morro (slope slums), typical from Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, Belo Horizonte, Niteroi, but also present in many other Brazilian cities, depending on the morphological features of the soil; the second one, are the alagados (flooded slums), mainly present in cities like Salvador, Recife, Belem, Manaus, where water is a constant presence in the environment; the third  being the invasões (invaded areas), referring to those settlements that arise after the invasion of areas situated in risky conditions, or belonging to environmental reserves and, precisely for this reason, upon which rests the threat of natural disasters such as flooding and terrain landslides. The choice of which among these realities to elect as study cases, should take place along the development of the work, also depending on the degree of the involvement of local partners in Brazil.

For this purpose, interlocutors belonging to some International universities and institutions have been invited to manifest their opinion about the favelas’ phenomenon, based on their own experience and specific approach.  This group, originally formed by seven members with different expertise, which maintain between them specific connections, that will be below detailed, can be enlarged in the future, by the adhesion of some other researchers, interested to intervene in the debate. The group members, once in contact with each other, will be free to establish appropriate collaboration forms, and so define the future development direction of this research, being my task to be the mediator of these interchanges of opinions and to register them on the blog SUBURB IN MOTION, specifically created for this purpose.

[1] Rolnik describes the division between "Legal City "- occupied by the middle classes, high income groups and only partly by the popular sectors - and the "Illegal City" mainly occupied by low income classes, so configuring opposing territories "inside and outside the law", regions where the population take advantages from a full "citizenship", in contrast to regions of limited "citizenship" (ROLNIK, 1997).

[2] The term favela derives from a shrub, being its scientific name Jathopha Phylacantha, which also gives the name to a hill of Rio de Janeiro, the Favela Hill, portrayed by Tarcila do Amaral, in 1920 in a famous modernist framework. Henceforth favela became a name to represent all similar spontaneous settlements scattered around the city. (BERENSTEIN, 2003)

[3] Ginga is the contortion of the inhabitants’ bodies, through the favelas’ narrow roads and staircases, as they move along its intricate circulation system. It also refers to the dancers’ movements following the samba rhythm.


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