Italian Press

Ilaria M. Linetti

1. You worked recently in India, and work with Brazil. What is really happening in these developing countries?

As part of the BRIC group, Brazil and India are countries with considerable similarities, although significantly different in the magnitude of their populations, and the manner and degree to which these gain from their countries' recent development. In particular, they differ in the amount of people excluded from the benefits of 'development' and 'urbanity', and the way in which they partake in their nation´s progress. Nevertheless, both countries are comparable in the role that dominant classes play (directly and indirectly) in the economical, cultural, and educational exclusion of the majority of the population; where only a small minority are active participants in the globalized sectors of capitalism.

What is occurring in Brazil and India is a product of rapid economic growth lacking quality and imposing high environmental costs. Urbanistically, these countries are experimenting unprecedented levels of both vertical and horizontal urban expansion, where low standards of quality are dictated by a booming construction industry, and development is conducted by a speculative real-estate market.

2. What are you doing, and what can be done for Slums and Favelas?

I have continued to work with the urbanization of slums (favelas) since 1995, when the Favela-Bairro program was established by the municipal government of Rio de Janeiro. The urbanization of favelas entails articulating its physical aspects (infrastructural-urbanistic-environmental),  social aspects (economical-cultural-conditions of life*), and ecological aspects (mental ecology-social ecology-existential ecology) with matters of public safety and the issues faced by the contemporary individual . The urbanization of all the existent favelas involves the necessary political determination, economical resources, and consistent projects designed by experienced, interdisciplinary teams.

3. What do these places need to become sustainable for people?

It is necessary to provide such places with projects that have a clear urban strategy, specifically tailored to solve the area's most pressing programmatic demands. The principal issues that arise when considering sustainable interventions in favelas relate to the reutilization (incorporation) of existent buildings, spaces and vegetation. It is necessary to re-equilibrate the relations between green mass and constructed mass in order to turn our cities into desirable places for living. However, sustainability is a concern that already arises in the initial stages of the intervention: The careful development of an adequate concept (projectual hypothesis), its subsequent cost-benefit analysis, and its sustainable implementation (including the allocation of public funding to procure a local workforce), are vital in maximizing the project's initial impact and securing it's lasting effect on the population.

4. Is architecture important in lifting people out of poverty?

Urbanism and architecture can be important instruments to re-qualify the existing territory, simultaneously  contributing by providing a means of employment and income to local dwellers. Better buildings and public spaces, specifically tailored to meet a neighborhood's unsatisfied demands, can significantly improve people´s quality of life, especially in the least favored areas of the city.

5. Do you have any help from authorities, how do you finance your projects?

The vast majority of projects in favelas are executed through biddings and public competitions, and occasionally by a direct invitation from public authorities. The urbanization of slums can only be done by means of public funding, due to the magnitude of the investments, which are not based on the capitalization of real estate, but rather conceived as necessary investments to answer social debt. What was not done in due course, needs to be done now -it's a question of ethics: "to do what must be done."

6. Is the environment paying too much in Brazil at the moment? Are certain projects (like the various dams) necessary in your opinion?

Brazilian cities are also undergoing dangerous transformations by the hand of unregulated development projects that lack architectonic and  urbanistic quality. Such projects compromise both the environment, and the quality of life of the entire city's dwellers. The inhabitants of favelas have already paid a high price after  decades of ecological and socio-spatial negligence resulting from irresponsible policies and interventions. Today, especially in megacities, it is imperative to recover the environment, and to provide the conditions for a decent quality of life in the favelas, introducing infrastructure, proper conditions of accessibility, qualified services and equipment.

7. How did you become attracted to this kind of work? Who or what inspired you?

I was attracted to these kinds of projects by my former political militance, to which I owe an ample understanding of popular needs and demands. This field demands such a sensibility: the need to think and to intervene, both with a clear conception of our urban future (devenir) and a strong will to turn it into a concrete realization: the desire of a more articulated city and society, connecting the formal and informal “parts” of the broken city.

My reference to these types of projects includes the social approach of some of the masters of modern architecture, from which prominent examples include LeCorbusier -as an 'agitator' of socio-spatial and cultural issues-, and the Russian Avant-Garde -with its marked social concerns-.

8. Why did you pick Rio to live?

Because Rio is a city in which it is still possible to live “in the middle of the nature”, with the big green heart between lagoons and the sea. The climate and the receptive inhabitants invite you to integrate this socio-spatial body, always confident that things can be changed in a positive sense. I imagine a species of “samba urbanism” as a type of open urban condition for evolution, together with an interactive architecture as mediator between nature and culture, forming spaces, establishing new relations, dimensions and materials, thinking about time and the people that dwell buildings and collective spaces, providing the conditions for a conviviality of differences--a lesson that Rio teaches us, despite its apparent chaos.