Towards a more Inclusive City? Architecture and Social Justice in São Paulo

Presented at the International Conference Cross-disciplinary Approaches to Urban Space, University of Florence, Italy, June 2016.

Towards a more Inclusive City? Architecture and Social Justice in São Paulo

Architects, municipal administrators, and residents are currently negotiating new urban interventions in the informal settlements at the periphery of São Paulo. To put their different perspectives in a relationship is fundamental to understand the makings of a more inclusive city and the contemporary role of architecture and architects as they intersect with trajectories of development and spatial justice.

In 2011 the Municipal Secretary of Housing (Sehab) launched the public competition RenovaSP to meet the expectations and demands of the families living in the informal settlements of São Paulo. If we juxtapose the images of the winning proposals of RenovaSP with the superquadra of Brasilia, it seems that Brazilian architects have never stopped to be modernist: their proposals envisaged the demolition of several existing dwellings to be substituted with mixed-use multi-story blocks.

Nevertheless, over the last two years these projects have considerably changed. Fundamental to this change has been the re-education of the architects, triggered by Sehab, to see the dwellings as family units, more than physical spaces. These new units of intervention have disjointed the totality of modernist visions into social, topographical, and tenure fragments. Any demolition of a dwelling unit implies the dislocation of a family and the disaggregation of local socio-economic networks.

This new way of seeing has been necessary to better tune the reading of the informal settlements—one that grasps them as relational entities, with their multiple spatial networks affecting social life—before any urban intervention can advance.

In search of new paradigms for a more inclusive city, in which architecture and architects are an integral part, the periphery emerges as a problem-space to unveil the ambiguities and contradictions of the architectural discipline in constructing and consuming new territories for urban intervention and to problematize modes of understanding of the urban space built by the poor, often labeled as informal, illegal, and unplanned.