Saturday, October 20, 2007

rio de janeiro, pedregulho housing

Designed by Affonso Eduardo Reidy and built between 1949 and 1951, the Pedregulho housing development was intended as a model for subsidized lower-class housing. The 850 foot-long building, with its 272 apartments, met with effluent critical approval from such international figures as Max Bill, Walter Gropius, and Siegfried Giedion. It takes center stage in a broader development scheme consisting of four apartment blocks, an elementary school, a gymnasium, a swimming pool, a health center, playgrounds, a laundry, and a daycare center.

Pedregulho’s third floor open corridor—the building’s main entry via bridges—provides communal space while allowing the building’s full seven stories to function without the aid of elevators. The building shares an intimate and sophisticated relationship with its sloping site. Perched on sturdy pillars, the building approximates a contour line with its floorplate and allows the ground to flow fluidly beneath it.

The project’s sinuous curve resembles Le Corbusier’s unrealized urban proposals for Rio de Janeiro while its proportions and monumentality mimic the Aqueduto da Carioca as described in the blog entry above.

Conceived as a white bastion of working class sanitation, Pedregulho is now more of a rotted hulk than Chandigarh’s Secretariat. It reminds me of that crashed spaceship in the first Ewok movie. The ground has accrued a healthy patina of rubbish and rats and its fragile parts—the terra cotta block screens in particular—have largely been broken, filled, or replaced with utmost pragmatism. But the legs still stand, the floors still span, and the folks living there still looked pretty happy (except for the ones yelling at me for taking pictures, of course). To the building’s right in the top image sprawls a typical informal settlement, which sports all the same colors and dimensions without conforming to Pedregulho’s tight, clean curve. Top-down asthetics relinquished, what was once a monolithic expression of the designer’s hand has congealed as a coordinated composite of messy families and private lives.