Diploma 2014: "Informal living" by Julia Lacombe Franco

expanding/strengthening the social andspatial structure of Heliopolis

This project proposal is an urban strategy for Heliópolis, a slum in São Paulo, Brazil. It is a complementary plan that reacts to the municipal scheme and responds to formalize the main axis and its courtyards aiming to strengthen the integrity of the neighbourhood and to integrate this isolated urban fabric.

I am taking on the challenge of improving the living conditions in an informal neighbourhood in São Paulo without losing its distinctive qualities. This is relevant to contemporary societal and architectural discourse in the city, because the lack of infrastructure and poor living conditions in the favelas undermines the aim of equal access to housing, employment, technology, services and education; resources that should be available to all city dwellers.

Based on the characteristics of Heliopolis, the largest favela in the city, the proposal has been developed as a site-specific intervention aiming to intensify the existing qualities of informal living.

The word informal has been understood as another type of development based on a different logic of planning. It is about self-construction, built by necessity and opportunities that has resulted in a very clear urban pattern, rich in its labyrinthine formation and great potential as a city for people to meet.

Since the 1980’s the municipality recognized Heliopolis as part of the growing city and social housing blocks were constructed within its borders. Gradually the older northern part was replaced with block units. There were many consequences from the change, such as better sanitation and safety. However the opportunities for spontaneous social relations that the original organization facilitated were lost or diminished. Today the municipality has an urban plan for Heliopolis that regards housing, mobility, better environment and aims to stimulate the local economy. This is done by major demolitions to create open spaces.

I propose to work with the municipality’s plan in a complementary way. The proposal aims to contribute with additional programs that create a productive zone and improve public spaces. The municipality’s main approach to releasing the pressure from the high density is to demolish the self-built houses. The demolitions are considered in a general way as a response to the unhealthy conditions and to the violence that exist in the narrow pathways.

My reaction to the plan is to propose a strategy that takes into account all the parties involved: the residents in particular, the community of Heliopolis and the São Paulo municipality. The goal is to develop and intensify the most active existing areas concentrated along ‘the spine’ of the neighbourhood in contrast to the municipal scheme that demolishes block interiors to replace them with condominiums (which challenges the social, programmatic and scalar integrity of the existing informal fabric).

By focusing on the 1500 meters of the spine specific surgical interventions are proposed in order to strengthen the community and its identity in order to integrate the isolated urban fabric into its context. The area was mapped and 26 potential sites were identified for possible interventions. The interventions are outlined in three categories:

A _ mixed program (housing, commerce, community working rooms, and leisure)

B _ common room (a refuge with facilities: shower, toilet, kitchen, laundry, a common table, ground and roof)

C _ public buildings (library, sport hall, and garden area)

They are all linked to the major axis, ‘the spine’, that runs through the favela. The challenge of the project is to keep the balance between the formalization of the spaces and its informal way of living. This has been solved in several specific ways, with a selection of one site from each category and an accompanying design proposal.

This project was awarded a Distinction for outstanding quality by the assessors. 

All photos: Julia Lacombe Franco 

exhibition overview

building category A


building category B

building category C