From India to Brazil, how my perception about slums changed.

When I thought about slums before this travel I imagined slums made of metal and plastic like those of New Delhi in India I could see 2 years ago. Then I went to Colombia. There, thanks to the Professor Andres Sanchez Arias I could see different types of slums and understand more about this world I didn’t know. I also discovered of a new approach to research in this field far from mine that is architecture. But research, as many other jobs, is also about being open minded and adapting techniques used in other fields to innovate.

Far from the little idea, I made following y travel in India and across television coverage, the slums, more properly called informal settlements, can also be made of raw materials and some of them can have access to plumbing and transportation. It is not only about violence and extreme poverty, far from it. These places are always made of the stories of each inhabitant, they underline the history of the country and they are shaped by the languages, religions, and origins of the inhabitants.

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Many projects are developed in the slums to improve the life of the inhabitants. The network Urbz, for example, participates in the project development in slums like the ones in Mumbai in India, Johannesburg in South Africa or Sao Paulo in Brazil. The members of this multidisciplinary network come from diverse fields like anthropology, architecture, information technology or economy. What particularly interested me was the support of bottom-up development. The experts do not impose their view on the inhabitant of the slums, but on the opposite, they try to learn from them. This approach requires a certain humility, an open mind and the love of knowledge. It is particularly useful for research purposes because it gives another point of view to solve problems and test hypothesis.

Slums in Brazil, between fantasies and reality

After the informal settlements in Colombia, it would have been a pity not to see what is done in the Brazilian favelas. Because slums are not identical, they have their own characteristics, languages, activities, and aspirations. 3 million people live in the favelas of Sao Paulo. The team leader of Urbz Brazil, Fernando Botton, showed me Paraisópolis, one of the largest informal settlements of Sao Paulo. He showed me some projects made there.

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When we hear about Brazilian favelas in the media it is about violence, weapons, drugs. Some “touristic excursions” are even organized in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro. There you can get a bit of “Grand Theft Auto” feeling and see some weapons, drug dealers, and misery. I do not believe these excursions help the locals. I think just showing the bad things does not help to improve the situation. People living here need something else, consideration,  inspiration, hope, recognition.The slums are too often seen as kind of alien apart from the city. A strange area that must be pushed away or if possible obliterated.

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In reality, slums are small towns. They have their own system, distinct and autonomous with their own legal and illegal activities. They are necessary for many countries because they are the primary form of access to urban life to many migrants and farm workers.

Interview with Fernando

I am simply a traveler, Fernando on the opposite comes several times every week here. He kindly accepted to answer my questions and to present his work here.


Fernando, you founded and lead urbz Brazil, São Paulo, could you tell us about your background?

I got my diploma in Architecture in 2002 in Sao Paulo, from the University Mackenzie – “Universidade Presbiteriana Mackenzie”.  Then I studied in Spain at the Escola Tècnica Superior d’Arquitectura de Barcelona (etsab-UPC) for the Master’s (MA-arch) in Architecture more specifically in the historical and social environment. I practiced architecture in Spain, Lebanon, and Brazil and focused mostly on social projects. I founded Urbz Brazil in Sao Paulo in 2012. with URBZ Internation support, after the participation in the  event SP Calling – Jornada da Habitação, promoted by the municipality (Sehab)


You led and participated in several projects here in Paraisópolis. Has one of them left its mark on you?

The most relevant project of my career as an architect and inside Paraisópolis was a workshop we made in 2013 to build a house to Ataide Caetite, a local inhabitant, and member of the team, himself mason, and builder of over 100 homes in this area. On the top of Ataide the work involved locals, students in architecture and of course all the urbz team. Ataide has a heavy reliance on his own individual labor, he works with the people, it was a real collaborative experience. To me, each home Ataide made is a testimony to his dedication to the craft of construction. To help him build his own house was a very collaborative project. We had to think of solutions to local problems. It brought together residents, professionals, and students. Everybody could observe, understand, debate, teach and learn with each other.


What are the particularities of your work in Sao Paulo and your perception of architecture?

Architecture is human and social. This view is the same from the day that I got my diploma in 2002 until today. But as a student, when you step out of the world of drawing boards and seek knowledge and improvement on a site often unknown, you often end up finding problems and solutions that they would have never imagined. I think that residents are experts of their neighborhoods. Consequently, I believe that the bottom-up movement will bring many solutions to our cities to improve the life of people. Modern architecture is increasingly multidisciplinary and concerned with social issues. To bring together local and global knowledge in everyday experiences is essential. It allows the development of innovative models in architecture, planning, urban development and policy-making.

Concerning Paraisópolis, I think the local residents should be treated with intelligence and on equal footing. Things are different from the 60s. Then it was the beginning of occupations, areas were poorly designed and made by people with no technical knowledge. Today the approach is different.  It is essential to encourage local residents to participate in the process. Collaborative architecture, participatory urbanism, call it as you wish.


There are deep wounds in the hearts of the inhabitants of the slums mostly due to the ostracism they endure.  Thanks to people like Andres, like Fernando, like many trying to help in a kind way, without violence, by teaching, making art, talking, learning from the people, some problems are finding solutions. Yet there is a place for help.



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