Metropoliz in São Francisco:
The visible and the invisible necessary city
by: Azzurra Muzzonigro
Q: Who are you and what did you bring to the São Paulo Calling exhibition?
A: I am an architect and part of the Laboratorio Arti Civiche (LAC), (http://www.articiviche.net),
an interdisciplinary group of researchers, within the University of Roma Tre, investigating
territories by creatively interacting with its citizens towards a common and collective
transformation of the built environment.
When Stefano Boeri invited us to participate to São Paulo Calling, we decided to present the
work that LAC has carried out in Metropoliz, in particular in response to a point of the
Manifesto that says: "informal settlements are fast, sometimes faster than the ability of the
public administration to plan its development". Metropoliz is presented in the exhibition as an
occupation of the Blocchi Precari Metropolitani (Metropolitan Precarious Blocks), within the
framework of the struggle of the housing movement, born in the total vacuum of public
policies on housing and in response to speculation in real estate and land use.
The central question that we wanted to highlight about Metropoliz is the idea that a space
created to give immediate solution to the social housing issue, can became an opportunity to
experiment, through the transformation of industrial buildings for residential purposes, new
social mestizo forms of cohabitation and of construction of a vital part of the city.
Metropoliz, in this sense, is a laboratory of Mestizo City.
Q: Why do you speak of Metropoliz as a Laboratory of Mestizo City?
A: Metropoliz, while fighting for housing rights, also created a space for cohabitation. It 's an
interesting place where different cultures (there are Eritreans, Moroccans, Peruvians,
Ukrainians, Italians and Roma Romanians) daily experience forms of intercultural
I speak of a laboratory also because it is a complex reality in which different actors and
different approaches interweave: from BPM coordinating the occupation, to Popica dealing
with Roma groups, to the LAC itself organizing workshops with students of Architecture, to
the fanta-scientific experiment of surreal cinema Space Metropoliz that paves the way for
imagination and dreams, all interlaces to form a complex web that can produce a strong
alternative vision of the city.
Q: It seems to me that you speak of Metropoliz as a case born from the scarcity and
inadequacy of Italian public housing policy, while São Paulo is celebrating a strong public
intervention in this sense. How does Metropoliz dialogue with the favelas of São Paulo?
A: First of all, as you know, the exhibition is structured around the connection of each of the
six different international cases with six favelas in São Paulo. In our case, Metropoliz is
associated with the favela of São Francisco. What these two realities have in common is the
strong political organization of their inhabitants. In São Francisco, like in Metropoliz, residents
organized themselves to claim their ‘right to the city’ in front of the public administration.
Based on this, a dialogue between the two was constructed in the field.
What Metropoliz brought to São Paulo is the strength and the tenacity of a population that,
while fighting for a decent house and for their rights, finds itself experimenting forms of
mestizo dwelling that are capable to stimulate a strong imaginary of cohabitation and of vivid
cultural production. Through art and dialogue, Metropoliz has been capable to create unusual
forms of encounter and hybridization. It is an example of how the ‘right to the city’ is also a
practice of resistance and auto-determination.
What São Paulo returned to Metropoliz is the realization that it is possible for a public
administration to dialogue with informal settlements by firstly understanding their necessity,
therefore recognizing their legitimacy, then starting to transform them into neighborhoods
through a public investment in urban development, in the first place through infrastructures.
However, many and deep differences remain: first of all Italy and Brazil are facing two very
different, if not opposed, historical moments. The one is on the brink of recession while the
other is facing a moment of economic explosion. Secondly, the difference in scale of the
comparison is not negligible: Rome is certainly not São Paulo, which has a number of
residents living in informal settlements comparable to the totality of the residents of Rome! It
automatically follows that economic policies, including also the ones related to housing, need
to be looked at by taking this gap into account.
Q: If there are so many differences what is the value of comparing two such different
A: São Francisco has a thirty-year history of struggle for housing and for the ‘right to the city’,
a struggle that is now beginning to be fructuous, in the sense that for the first time a public
administration established an open dialogue with the population, by listening to their needs
and trying to give effective and farsighted responses. A story that in some ways Italy has lived
in the seventies and eighties with the big plans for affordable social housing, which were
developed to give response to the high demand for social housing, as an alternative to
informal settlements. However, due to the dramatic lack of urban services, these big scale
public interventions became ghettos of marginalization, then finally failed, leaving room for
speculation estate. From São Paulo we can learn a lot especially at the institutional level:
Renova SP, the slum upgrading program of the Secretaria de Habitação, has the potentiality
of setting a clear precedent on how effective public housing policies are also able to build
What a reality like Metropoliz can return to the residents of São Francisco is the testimony
that unceasing struggle for rights, strengthens and gives cohesion to the community: though
in this historical moment, the informal settlements of São Paulo breathe a strong wind of
change and collaboration with the institution, only the cohesion and the active organization of
the residents would create the premises to cope with any changing political and economic
Q: Can you describe what your intervention in São Paulo Calling consisted of?
A: Our work in São Paulo consisted of two parts. The first part, available on the site of the
exhibition (http://www.Sãopaulocalling.org/city/rome), is where we presented the case study
through a series of images and videos by which each actor interacting with Metropoliz choose
to self-represent himself, in the terms I've talked about so far.
The second part of the intervention consisted of two weeks of fieldwork in the favela of São
Francisco, together with the local community, to be presented to the international audience
during the two days of Jornada de Habitação, on the 28th and 29th of January. The workshop
for LAC was organized by myself, an architect interested in understanding informal dwelling
phenomenas and their spatial and social transformation, along with Laura Cionci, roman artist
sensitive to social issues, and Daniele Zacchi, video artist and artist. A complete team that
proved able, thanks to the multidisciplinary approach, to read the context and direct the
fieldwork in an effective and fun way. Day by day an ever-stronger relationship with the local
community was being built, based on the reciprocal will of meeting and knowing each other.
Like in Metropoliz, we tried to give voice, through the transformation of space and the artistic
action, to the actual desire of spatial transformation of the residents. In São Francisco, this
aspiration is clearly about health: “Saude”. The local population is now fighting for services,
first of all for a hospital, since the housing issue is now in the process of being resolved. After
several proposals, meetings and visits, we decided to use a red heart as a symbol of public
health. As we were looking for a spatial visualization of this concept that was expression of its
collective and individual dimension, we found the answer in the people. Together with the
women and children of the community, we painted 300 shirts, which turned out in many
designs according the taste and the imagination of their authors, to be worn during the public
performance. From our frequent meetings with the community and with the Secretaria, and
thanks to the presence during the last days of Francesco Careri (LAC) and Irene di Noto
(BPM), we elaborated the idea of a public walk ‘wearing the red hearts’ through the favela
during the Jornada de Habitação.
The walk has been a very intense moment, culminating with the Rite of the First Cure in the
place where the community wishes the hospital to be built: a traditional medicine made from
herbs prepared by women from the community has been offered to all participants and to the
authorities as an auspice for the realization of their desires. All this process has been
captured ‘on-the-run’ in a blog where were collecting and communicating our impressions and
experiences as we were living them (http://saopaulolivefromfavela.wordpress.com/).
Q: I understand that this is quite a big intervention, but in the end, what kind of return would a
reality like Metropoliz, get from its participation to such a far reaching exhibition, yet
seemingly so far from the daily life of the local context?
A: To answer this question I think you shouldn’t forget the big picture of the exhibition-
machine and context in which it is placed.
When Stefano Boeri has opened the exhibition, he spoke of the inauguration of a new phase
in intervening in the informal city: after indifference and condemnation, it is now time to start
taking care of this fundamental part of our city. The public to whom he has directed this
message is vast and varied and ranges from public administrators to non-governmental
organizations, researchers and activists and so on: in other words he addressed the message
to all of that slice of actors that in different ways may shape the spatial transformations of
contemporary cities. To give voice and body to such a vision means to act at different levels,
to understand what it means to take care of a necessary, dynamic, vital part for our cities and
start to implement it.
Q: After São Paulo Calling what do you see as possible ways forward?
A: This exhibition has planted a seed: the six cities participating in this first round of São
Paulo Calling are now starting a discussion on approaches, programs, goals and visions by
sharing their experiences around informal settlements. The next step I see is the opportunity
to bring the exhibition, first of all, back in the six cities involved, with the same idea that is at
the basis of São Paulo Calling: stimulating a transformation through the event itself. In Rome,
Mumbai, Nairobi, Baghdad, Moscow and Medellin, I see the exhibition connected to active
workshops in the territory where to create a real exchange of visions and practices between
communities. In a third phase, I would involve more and more cities in the debate in order to
incrementally include different approaches in different parts of the world. There is a great
challenge in this exhibition: to start ‘taking care of the informal city’ means to create the space
for new inedited approaches at different levels towards the inclusion of the informal
settlements in the transformation of our contemporary cities.