The number of slums, or favelas, in Brazil grew as a result of the poorest people in the country building their own, informal housing. These spontaneous ‘urban solutions’ fall outside normal government controls and regulations and can produce areas that are culturally rich and architecturally diverse. However, they generally lack the normal amenities, such as safety, accessibility, sanitation and waste collection, that would make them properly habitable.
The demand for technical assistance for popular housing in Brazil dates back to the 1970s. The approval, in 2001, of law 10.257, known as the City Statute, represented a significant step forward for the implementation of new urban development strategies. Likewise, the approval of the Free Technical Assistance Federal Law in 2008 was another favourable move for the production of social housing in the country.
Technical assistance through the development of methodologies
The Housing and Social Urbanization Project and Research Group (OPPHUS-PPGAU/UFF) which works together with the Federal Fluminense University, develops technical advisory actions for informal settlements. Our work aims to highlight the social commitment of the university. Specifically, architectural and urban projects are designed with different demands, which we then use to promote debate on the limits, difficulties and possibilities of technical assistance work in the favelas. In addition, the research group looks at the university’s potential role in developing methodologies that could facilitate better dialogue between residents, technical professionals and students that could then be used to improve building programs and technical assistance actions.
As part of its remit, OPPHUS-PPGAU/UFF investigates how participatory methodologies could be used as part of the design exercises that aim to make living conditions in the favelas better. This participatory approach also improves the social standing of favela dwellers by making them part of the decision-making process. Such practices improve the dialogue around these exercises, making it more likely that dialogue will be followed by concrete actions. Bringing together experts from different disciplines in this way, including architects, urban designers, social workers, psychologists, educators, lawyers, ensures that there is an exchange of knowledge from multiple social, economic and cultural groups.
Playing as a way of thinking about architecture and the city
Through playful workshops, we aim to familiarize the general public, in particular children and youths, with themes related to architecture and cities and how these affect all city dwellers. These playful workshops involve the use of drawings, plants, geometric shapes and models. From these interactions we can get ideas about specific environmental needs, such as sustainability, accessibility, health, and comfort, among others. We then work with the participants to find what actions could be used to solve or improve the issues they helped to identify. These actions are established using a multidisciplinary approach aimed at the development of architectural projects that correspond to the collectively-recognized demands.
Sustainability of informal settlements through technical advisory actions
We realize that the future of free technical advisory services in informal settlements is directly related to the consolidation of social technologies (ST). Such practices have proved to be important catalysts for solutions in inhabited environments, promoting positive changes in housing, sociocultural promotion, and economic conditions as well as the materialization of solidarity economy networks. Bringing together multidisciplinary professionals in the way described here is the best way to guarantee that living conditions in these informal housing areas can be improved and that these places prevail as unique cultural centres.