2.1 Favela do Pilar Canopy, 2006

Favela do Pilar, Recife – Omid Kamvari, Asif Khan, Pavlos Sideris – Morpho-Ecologies @ Dip4 Architectural Association, & André Moraes, Cynthia Pereira and Adryana Rozendo – University of Recife, 2006

In equatorial Recife, protection from the direct sun is a physical necessity. While boulevards and squares are uninhabitable during the day, where there is shadow in the city, there is conversation, life and opportunity. Usable shaded public spaces are entirely lacking in the shantytown of Pilar, which nestles between large factories in the historic port area of the city. Surrounded by industry, the shantytown is locked behind high walls, with very few entry points or places for social exchange between the 500 families that inhabit it. At the main entry point where the shantytown had its origin some 40 to 50 years ago, there are a number of small makeshift bars and food stalls. They were set up for the dockhands in the harbour, but now that increased landfill has caused the harbour to move further away, they serve nearby factory workers. Along a 30-metre stretch of unpaved road, these makeshift operations establish the only direct point of exchange and micro-economy within the perimeter of the shantytown. It was in this location that the team chose to intervene.
It is generally accepted, in this region, that one of the primary responsibilities of architects is the provision of shade. Without shade activities outside of buildings are not really possible, given the harsh impact of the sun over the entire year. The team set itself a threefold task: [i] to make the entry point of the shantytown more visible and attractive through the insertion of a small make-shift landmark; [ii] to provide shade, so that a broader scope of activities within the location becomes possible; [iii] to establish a sense of collective ownership over the landmark, so that it is desirable not only from a utilitarian point of view, but as a signature feature that belongs to the community.
While the design of membranes usually commences by establishing control points from which the membrane is spanned, this was not possible in this instance. Here the task was to form-find on site, establishing control points wherever available in and around the typical makeshift structures of the shantytown.
After careful negotiations with the inhabitants regarding the intentions of the project and the exact choice of location, a 12-metre-long and 1.5-metre-wide elastic, bright yellow nylon membrane was purchased, together with 100 meters of steel cable and cable ties. The membrane was laid out on the site then a first set of control points was established at the entrance to the shantytown and the membrane spanned between these points. In the meantime the inhabitants of the shantytown began to help out, providing a ladder, giving access to their homes in order to reach suitable spots from which to span the membrane, disentangling the steel cable and helping to install the membrane.
After the first two points were fully tensioned, the membrane was set up in stages, with one pair of control points being attached to the next one until the entire membrane was spanned.
The result was remarkable in terms of its consequences for the local community, the workers in the adjacent factory and the material effects it produced. For the inhabitants of the shantytown, who don’t have any communal areas or meeting points except the pathways fully exposed to the sun, the membrane provided an attraction as a shaded, common area that does not directly ‘belong’ to someone’s individual territory. Thus the locals used the shaded areas right away as a new centre of activities attracting children, families and elderly people from different parts of the favela. Similarly, the workers of the adjacent factories ventured into the shantytown to investigate the membrane and to rest in the newly created shaded area. In this way the provision of the membrane transformed the edge of the shantytown from a distinct boundary condition marked by the unpaved access road and provisional structures into a point of connection between the local inhabitants and the surrounding industries.
One assumption was that the membrane would not survive the first night. The team half expected the membrane to be gone by the next day, re-appropriated for other purposes by the inhabitants. This did not happen. What is more, one of the cables that had snapped over night (due to too much tension) was repaired the next day. Some sense of shared opportunity, responsibility and ownership must have been instilled right from the beginning, perhaps as a result of the locals being involved in the project’s preparation and construction. At the end of the workshop the team handed the tools and remaining materials over to the inhabitants of Favela do Pilar for future maintenance work.
This raises an interesting question: what chance would there be to undertake this kind of project in a regular neighbourhood? Would house-owners permit a membrane to be attached to their houses for an unspecified amount of time, in order to create a shared, communal area? Probably not. This project was feasible because of its specific context and the careful conversations with the locals with regard to the intentions of the intervention and their involvement in the making of it.

Tutors: Michael Hensel and Achim Menges, OCEAN
Students: Omid Kamvari, Asif Khan, Pavlos Sideris, André Moraes, Cynthia Pereira and Adryana Rozendo


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  • March 2009
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