AR Awards for Emerging Architecture

Honourable mention



Belo Horizonte, Brazil

December 2006
Brazilian cities add a great deal to the diversity of the world’s urban landscape. The favelas of Rio are well known as self-governing communities, randomly assembled and built without permission or in accordance with any building regulations. Their tumble-down, multi-layered buildings are a sight, a sound and a smell to behold, and are truly phenomenal. The city of Belo Horizonte, 280 miles north of Rio, has equally unique characteristics. However, ironically in this instance these exist because of its adherence to strict building codes. Since the mid 1990s, the Buritis neighbourhood (a middle-class borough) has developed with a bland uniformity that pays no regard to the unique topography of its land. With developments limited to a maximum of four storeys, no building is permitted to optimise the irregularity of the landscape. Instead in order to achieve efficient interrelationships on a notional ground plane, the topography has been flattened by a series of elevated concrete platforms. These structures form an eerie underworld between natural and manmade topographies, with the so-called palafittes creating spaces that are taller than the buildings they support. Unsurprisingly, they have inspired architects and artists to consider how such huge and varied volumes could be more effectively utilised.
When presented to the jury, the unique qualities of this urban landscape quickly caught its attention. In many respects, beyond recognition given to the manner in which the architects adapted the spaces to their new uses, the project was considered to provide an exemplary model of how apparently unworkable and wretched sites can be transformed. In varying degrees most cities have sites that could more effectively be intensified, and as such this work should inspire others to make similar propositions.
Recognising the dramatic nature of these regularised caverns, a group of actors and architects collaborated with two projects which started in 2001 when a street theatre company were considering the location of their next play. The first, Topographical Amnesias I, integrated timber walkways, ramps, stairs and platforms, which combined to make space for the performance of the play. The second more ambitious project, Topographical Amnesias II, extended the interventions to incorporate suspended gardens that included formal arrangements of unruly weeds that commonly invade and overtake empty urban plots. In their regularised planters, these plants helped bring a new meaning to the notion of a neglected urban landscape. R. G.

Vazio S/A Arquitetura e Urbanismo, Belo Horizonte
Project team
Carlos M. Teixeira, Louise Marie Ganz
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