In the compact and crowded slums of Brazil, public space is a relative term. Children play in and out of front rooms and walkways, entrances to apartments often require trips through the homes of others, and parks are practically non-existent. Where there’s space to use, it’s used for housing, even in unsafe places. But when landslides wipe these homes out, or floods destroy them, an opportunity arises.
This is the inspiration behind the Grotao Community Center, under construction in the Paraisopolis favela in Sao Paulo. Designed by Urban-Think Tank, the project seeks to create a piece of flexible public space for this community.
“Public space is key because what they don’t have is, precisely, public space,” says U-TT co-founder Alfredo Brillembourg “It’s overbuilt, it’s very dense, so we have to find ways in which to recuperate whatever small spaces there are.”
In this neighborhood of 40,000, a steep hillside bottoms out in a bowl, where recent flooding severely damaged housing. The removal of the buildings opened up space, and Brillembourg and his multidisciplinary team of designers saw a chance to create some formal public space. The project includes a terracing of the hillside to create a series of plazas and playing fields, and seating for an amphitheater located at the bottom of the bowl, which is also used as the site of a community center, music school, and other public spaces.
“We imagined it immediately as perfect for an outdoor amphitheater, and also to retain the hill to stop the risk,” Brillembourg says.