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transition and sustainability in the Verdes Mares community project: new paradigms in social housing

*article selected for oral presentation at a roundtable at the 19th Brazilian Congress of Architects, which took place in June this year in Recife and Olinda.

Transition means moving from one state of affairs to another. Thus, “Architecture in Transition” admits that its state, that is, architectural facts are changing. The problems and challenges faced by architects are not the same, it is necessary to identify and understand what the new questions are.


It seemed, therefore, appropriate to deal with an architectural project that intends to answer these questions. The requalification project of Favela Verdes Mares, in Fortaleza, winner of the Caixa/IAB Award 2008–2009, based on intense theoretical reflection, allows, through a critical analysis of its design process, to contribute to the design theory.


This analysis considers from external factors that come to formulate the problem to be solved – non-specific knowledge of the discipline – to the final result of the architectural project – synthesis of specific knowledge of architecture[1]. This is not intended to propose a normative and closed model in itself, but a posture in the face of new problems, open to specificities and applicable to each situation. Thus, through the relationship and coherence between form and word, project and discourse, it is possible to narrow the abyss currently existing between theory and practice.


One of the biggest challenges in the current architectural panorama is the relationship between new technologies, construction processes and the environment. Understanding the latter only as a natural environment is not enough to discuss the issue of sustainability, as the project is an inseparable and contradictory set, where other multiple aspects are presented, such as social and economic ones. The project can end with the construction, but the architecture does not, since this is not just construction, but a way to intensify it and charge it with meaning[2]. In fact, the interaction between users, natural environment and architecture generates new ways and ways of thinking about the project.


Regarding the housing issue, focusing too much on isolated aspects, such as the number of units, the exclusive search for formal issues or the search for new technologies called sustainable, distances the project from a coherent solution. Certain excesses and lack of commitment to aspects such as economy, constructive rationality and real social development can no longer be committed. Sustainability, a term as widely used as it is misrepresented today, is an important concept and deserves special attention in this discussion. Being sustainable is not just being ecologically correct, but also socially fair, economically viable and culturally accepted, characteristics that have always marked rigorous and relevant architectural works.


In the project in question, before proposing a solution, an attempt was made to better understand the problem, reformulating the questions to be answered. More than how many houses to propose, it seemed more appropriate to think about where and how to propose them.


The intervention area is characterized as an informal settlement, occupying residual areas of the subdivision made in the region, where the residences took up all possible spaces, in a disorderly manner and in unsatisfactory housing conditions. It also presents a large amount of equipment, services and, consequently, opportunities, generating strong real estate speculation. This entails a great density in the areas of informal occupation and the presence of empty land, which does not fulfill its social function, as in the case of the land in question, thus composing a contradictory and disjointed space.


The project had two initial premises: to integrate this informal fabric with the city and to facilitate the social development of the residents. Maintaining the community in place makes it possible to turn their new homes into an investment[3], also allowing the population to rise socially with them and maintain existing social networks, avoiding the creation of another suburban housing complex and infrastructure costs -unnecessary structure.


An attempt was also made to preserve the particularities of the community without turning it into an isolated ghetto in the city. The design adopted sought to integrate the new set into the pre-existing urban fabric, providing, however, specificities, with patterns of differentiated internal streets interconnected by mini-squares inside the blocks, providing spaces for socialization, an example of the proposed social center.


Having identified a strong presence of commercial activity in the area, it was not interesting to have one family living on top of the other. An attempt was then made to obtain the narrowest possible two-story unit, giving greater flexibility to families, including in possible future expansions.


The scarcity of resources was seen as an incentive to creativity and a filter for the superfluous. Thus, the sustainability of the proposal does not appear as an objective in itself, but as a consequence of the synthesis of the factors found and of a rigorous process. When choosing the location, its economic and social feasibility is considered. The techniques and materials chosen were the most suitable for this specific problem: low cost and serial reproduction. In that case, any waste is multiplied and should be reduced as much as possible. For this purpose, modulation and prefabricated structures were used, but seeking traditional solutions in relation to the climate and available labor. As an answer to this equation, the soil-cement brick was used for the construction of houses.


In Fortaleza, the best place to be is in the shade and where the wind blows. These concerns are noticeable both in the recesses in the facades and window frames with shutters and glass, as in the high windows on the walls of the rooms and in the space between the roof and the ceiling, for better air circulation.


Economic growth is often linked to spatial growth. Subsequent interventions by the residents are a reality, and should not be denied, but worked on. Instead of trying to avoid self-construction, the proposal tried to provide conditions for this to happen without further harm to the collective. That is, not controlling it, but predicting it in an orderly way.


Understanding the project as the main activity of the architect, this work seeks to carry out a theoretical reflection on the design process and the rigor required today in understanding the problems faced, with an emphasis on the relationship between architecture and the environment. The new sustainability paradigms should not be seen as restrictive, but as a guide, as they offer limitations, they also open up new project opportunities. The choice of a project to exemplify the above aims to show how there should be no dissociation between architectural theory and practice, but a coexistence between them[4]. In architecture, there is no theory or practice, but theory and practice.


[1] Interdisciplinarity cannot overlap with the development of proposals aimed at architecture as a discipline in itself. See: “(In)Discipline: considerations on the autonomy of design teaching” in: LARA, Fernando and MARQUES, Sônia (Org.). Challenges and achievements of research and design teaching.

[2] OYARZUN, Fernando Pérez, MORI, Alejandro Aravena, CHALA, José Quintanilla. Los hechos de La architecture.

[3] The design of the house enables the investment of families, making the house appreciate over time. Concept developed by the Chilean office Elemental, led by Alejandro Aravena. See: MORI, Alejandro Aravena. Interview with the architect.

[4] MAHFUZ, Edson da Cunha. Theory, history and criticism, and design practice.




Bruno Braga / Bruno Perdigão / Epifanio Almeida / Igor Ribeiro / Marcelo Bacelar

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