The trends say it all: about 40% of the millionaires in Latin America are in Brazil, and in a country that is seeing increasingly extreme polarization of wealth, real estate will be a fundamental driver of growth in the next few years.

If we add the World Cup of soccer in 2014 and the Olympic Games in 2016, the context becomes clear: Brazilian cities are preparing to host these international events, building important architectural works. But at the same time, they cannot avoid attempting to bring some dignity to the poor, decayed areas of the cities, the ones you never see on postcards. We’re talking about the favelas, the huge contemporary slums that are now gradually being renewed and reborn. Because “the price of living in Brazil”, as some put it, summing up issues of security that demand constant attention and limit personal freedom (including the use of public transport that could put an end to paralyzing traffic jams), comes precisely from these zones, which have to be repaired and brought back into the normal life of the city. There are different takes on the matter. Some recommend soccer fields, those powerful magnets of social contact and playful activity. A recent study estimates that there are over 700 favelas in Rio. After years of being complete no-man’s-lands, over the last few decades renewal and improvement programs have had some positive impact. Andrés Otero, the Brazilian photographer who has been studying and documenting their transformations for many years, says “the pioneers of the pacification were foreigners, like the well-known English reporter Bob Nadkarni, who driven by personal motivations moved to the hills of Rio and began to renovate buildings, opening new activities, guesthouses, restaurants, bars. Nadkarni, for example, opened the pousada The Maze at the favela Tavares Bastos. This happened at the start of the 1990s. Then the State woke up, and the government started to move in a significant way thanks to the new public administration. Dona Marta was the first favela to be improved, in a structured program, four years ago: it gained a funicular railway and a chromatic project to brighten up the facades. The young people of the Associaçao Morrinho Oriundi of a rare favela (Pereira da Silva) that had already been quite pacific for years have even managed to display their models of architectural interpretation at the Venice Biennale, and in European galleries and museums”. The historic Conjunto do Pedregulho, in the barrio of São Cristovão, Rio de Janeiro, a building of great importance for modern architecture, designed by Affonso Eduardo Reidy (1947), was recently restructured, renovating its apartments and collective spaces (laundry, medical center, swimming pool, school). Still in Rio, an internationally acclaimed architect, Ruy Rezende, the head of the RRA studio that has done projects of architecture, urban planning and design throughout Brazil, has been active for some time now on the front lines of complex projects of renewal and social development. The first began in 2002 with the Favela Bairro, with a skillful compositional program of integration of residential projects, education and recreation services inserted in the urban fabric. São Paulo is also on the move in this area. The city has 22 million inhabitants, 3 million of them living in favelas. The Housing Estate project promoted by the Housing Secretariat’s Social Housing Program is focusing on Heliópolis, the largest slum, near Ipiranga, the region to the southeast of the city. Everything began in 2009 (though the area has been receiving public aid for over 20 years). Today a number of international studios are at work here, including Ruy Ohtake and Hector Vigliecca, Piratininga Arquitetos Associados and Mario Biselli & Arthur Katchborian. Based on the masterplan launched in August 2010, they are concentrating on how to remedy the housing deficit for 70,000 persons clustered in 18,080 makeshift dwellings in an area of one million square meters, also severely lacking in infrastructures and community services. The first lot was finished in October, when 288 families entered the brand new circular buildings in concrete and masonry, with white stucco and color fields, designed by Ruy Ohtake and built by Construbase. “The circular volume ensures less rigid, more open spaces, also with respect to the outside, for a healthy public-private spatial relationship”, says Ruy Ohtake, son of the famous sculptor Tomie, who has been working on the theme of the community for many years. “Architecture can integrate the favelas and the rest of the city”, he continues. “I can bring dignity and improve the quality of life of everyone. I was born, raised and educated in São Paulo. It is my city, but all of São Paulo is my city, the wealthy part and all the rest. Already in 2004 I worked together with the comunidades on the painting of houses. I did not shut myself up in my studio. Dialogue is fundamental. The chromatic painting was an initial form of solidarity. I chose 30% of the colors, and the people of the place chose the other 70% – this is important, to understand that we were both part of a ‘construction together’. After this experience I worked on the design of a library. It was in 2008. Antonio Candido, a leading Brazilian architecture critic, compiled a book list, and got donations of many volumes from different publishers. Then five 15-year-old students from the place took a course in library science. This is not just an architectural project, it is a whole concept. When the city programmed the renewal of the Heliópolis area, the community asked that I be involved, and their wish was granted. Every circular building is for 18 families, on five levels (four apartments per floor plus a ground level with two housing units and a shared patio). The program calls for a first phase (16 buildings for 18 families each) with a deadline in October 2011; the second phase covers 21 buildings for 18 families each, in April 2012; then there is a third phase, 40 buildings (for 30 families) in a year and a half. The latter includes 7-storey buildings with lifts. Overall, the project creates housing for 1866 families (7000 persons). There are houses, but also shopping areas, schools, green spaces, sports facilities. At the center of the settlement a low volume contains a community center, a place for gatherings, events, weddings, anniversaries, exhibitions. Cars are kept outside the complex. For 70 Brazilian people acquire the right to live in 50 m2, organized with a circular layout in two bedrooms, a bath, a living room and a small kitchen, with spaces for a washing machine and a refrigerator. The floors are in ceramic tile, while the water and current systems are individualized, with gas heating units. In the living room a large continuous window, 6.6 meters, offers lots of light. The existing surroundings will be demolished and rebuilt, for primary facilities and community services. All of this, however, happens in a landscape that is already familiar, without uprootings or alterations to the social fabric”.