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The aim of this project is to understand the influence of the spatial surroundings in the creation of a communal identity through the study of samba in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro. Some previous concepts: Favela Term used to refer to the unregulated neighborhoods in Brazil that have experienced historical governmental neglect. The first favela, Providência in the center of Rio de Janeiro, appeared in the late 19th century built by soldiers from the Canudos War and former enslaved africans bellow mount Favela, which eventualy became the Morro da Providência. These communities would be the scene of a significant part of Brazilian black culture. Samba Brazilian music genre and dance style with african roots, frecuently identified as a musical expression of urban Rio de Janeiro, where it developed during the first years of the 20th century. The Samba Carioca (term used to refer to those from Rio de Janeiro) was born in the favelas, in the houses of Tias Baianas, a term given to female descendants of Bahían slaves. At the end of the 1920s, the first samba carnival was born in the hills of Mangueira. Ginga The Ginga is the basic movement of the Capoeira martial art. It consists of the rhythmic movement of the whole body accompanying the touch of the berimbau, with the main purpose of maintaining the relaxed body and the center of gravity in permanent dislocation, ready for the dodge, attack, counterattack or leak. The term is used in the favelas to refer to the different rhythm of walking, imposed by the course of the narrow and sloped alleys.

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Rio de Janeiro Plan of the city of Rio de Janeiro showcasing the informal shettlements or favelas and the most important samba sites. According to the 2010 census, 6 percent of Brazil’s total population lives in favelas. In Rio de Janeiro these communities are most visible because they are located in the city center. They sprang up as a response to the cahotic expansion of the city and the rise in the properties prices, leaving the poor families no other choice but to build illegally in Rio’s steep hillsides. These areas are illegal and are not catered for by the Government, so there is no electricity, rubbish collection, schools or hospitals. The houses in these settlements have no basic amenities such as running water or toilets so diseases are common. Overcrowding is a major problem in Rio's favelas. On average, the population density is about 37,000 people per square kilometre. There are not enough jobs to go around, so unemployment rates are high. Most people who do have a job work in the informal sector for 'cash in hand' jobs. Crime rate in the favelas is extremely high as they are controlled by gangs who are involved in organised crime. In 2008 Rio’s mayor and governor started the pacification programme, introducing police offices in the favelas. Over the years, many of the favelados have improved their property. A lot of them today have electricity and running water, and despite the harsh living conditions, almost all houses have a large-screen television. The pacification has also seen the opening of bars and hostels looking to attract visitors, including foreigners. On the other hand, favelas have become the centre of Brazilian black culture, being the starting point of samba dance and music, and more recently phunk as well. Samba school’s located in the favelas provide youngsters with a healthy way to occupie their time and stay away from drugs traffic. Actually, Rio’s most important samba school is in Mangueira, a favela in Rio’s city center. Those places have become the centre of brazilian night live, and everybody is welcome to join.

Pacified Favela Not pacified Favela Samba spot

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Zoom-in to Vidi

Topography and othe

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In order to analyze the development of the favelas in correlation with music I chose Vidigal as my case-study to take a closer look at it and analize the differences between formal and informal settlements.

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The first and most evident threshold is the topography. The favelas are built climbing up the hills of Rio de Janeiro, occupying the free spaces that the formal city did not want to take. The Vidigal favela is located at the base of "Morro Dois Irmãos" (Two Brothers Hill). This mountain is also the location of the very frequented Two Brothers hike (Trilha Morro Dois Irmãos). Anyone wanting to complete this hike would have to cross the favela either by walking ot taking a moto-taxi to the top.


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The formal city is rectilinear, the favela curvilinear. This essential difference is a visual threshold between formal and informal settlements, which has happened to make out of the favelas one of the most iconic pictures of Rio de Janeiro, making them atractive to the public. Vidigal overlooks Ipanema Beach, and it contributes to create one of the most well-known images of the city.

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Niemeyer Avenue

gal: Thresholds

er physical thresholds

Sheraton Grand Rio Hotel & Resort


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Ipanema Beach

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Vidigal’s cultural live Plan of the Vidigal showcasing the live of the favela. In November 2011 Vidigal and its neighboring community, Rocinha, were pacified by the Pacifying Police Unit.[1] This so-called pacification has shown to be more cosmetic than real and criminals from the ADA gang (Amigos dos Amigos or Friends of Friends) that have kept the real power unabated by police, continued to sell drugs and extort the inhabitants. Anyway, Vidigal has suffered an amazing transformation, summoning lovers of art, culture, fun and good food, without forgetting the different types of accommodation that appeared in the last few years. In 1986 he was born in Vidigal Nós do Morro, a project whose purpose was to facilitate access to the culture of disadvantaged children and young people who lived in the Morro de Vidigal and which, today, has become a prestigious theater school and cinema where children, young people and adults from all parts of the city are trained. The cultural agenda of Nós do Morro is wide and includes theater presentations by school groups and film performances, all with free access or practically symbolic prices. But what Vidigal is becoming more famous for is its electronic parties that last until dawn. The Mirante do Arvrão Hotel has a large terrace where some of the most famous DJs in the city play electronic music and hip hop. It is becoming a fashionable place, which attracts foreigners not only to spend a few days, but as a place of residence, which is causing the value of the square meter in this hill of the South Zone to shoot up.

Cultural centre / School Comerce Live spot

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Progressive gro

Showcase of buil

First shaks built where the hill starts

First actual houses are built

The favela keeps on adapting itself t

owth of a favela

lding typologies

A storey is added to already existing construction as some new buildings apear.

Some new constructions generate different situations of dialogue and new typologies.

n growing with time, to the landscape

Building a house takes time and money, that’s why they’re normally built over several generations. While there are no official rules of construction there is a law of mutual respect: Though the limits between ownership are clear, there are always some spare spaces between the different shacks that make the thresholds between parcels difuse. It is not unusual to find shared staircases and doors, or even houses built on top of others. This situations lead to a process of dialogue that strengthens the sense of comunity between neighbours, who must come to peaceful agreements by themselces, without the protection of any laws.

A house in detail Plans and Sections

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The building materials must meet three major criteria: be low cost, light enough to be carried on men’s backs, and small enough to pass through the narrow streets of the favela. As a result, all the houses are built with bricks; concrete pillars are used for the structure; floors are made from filigree beams and slabs; and the roof is almost always corrugated iron. The length of the filigree beams limits the dimensions of the houses, making them modular, always inferior than 3m

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Construction Elements and axonometric

Blue Water Tank The Blue Water Tank is present in almost every rooftop in the favelas and used as a support to the existing water supply system, creating extra water presure. Its repetition and its descrete shape and colour create a distinctive pattern on the roofs.

Corrugated metalic sheet Corrugated metalic sheets are used to cover the roof and protect ir from the rain.

Filigree beams The Filigree beam is one of the most common building elements. Its advantages are its lightness and portability, which make it easy to handdle even in areas with difficult access. It is composed of a flat rectangular concrete slab assembled to a steel element (zig-zag shaped steel bars)

Ceramic Vaults / Bricks Ceramic Vaults cover the spaces between the filigree beams and conforming the floor, which will becovered after by a concrete layer.

Bricks Bricks are used to create the façade, closing the internal spaces, but their function is not structural. Concrete pillars are used for this means.

Public spaces: Arvrão Daily live and spatial configuration The spaces left over between the houses and also because of the topography are turned into public spaces full of live, where the favelados expend most of their daytime. The lack of space in the houses make of those spaces everybodies livingroom. All sort of daily activities happen in those places, people coming from grocery shopping, kids playing in the streets, yongsters fooling arround and old people spending the afternoon. These are also the scene for most of the drug-traffic happening in the favelas. It is very common to see kids flying their kites. What may seem like a perfect painted picture is actually a criminal operation, by which kids telldrug dealers if the cost is clear.

Public spaces: ArvrĂŁo Nightlive This particular square has become one of the most sounded night clubs in all Rio de Janeiro. Really close to the Mirante do ArvrĂŁo Hotel, people from the whole city comes here to party and enjoy an amazing sunset. It is very common to see people gathered arround a small band or dj dancing arround. This is one of the informal musical centers in the favela and also in the city. The curved and casual shape of the space is the perfect space for samba dance to happen, having enough space to spread the movements in every direction.

From the steps to samba through G inga A zoom-in to the stairs in Arvrão to see how their fragmentary nature imposes a specific kind of movement Some similarities between the movement of a person in the stairs of Arvrão and these basic samba movements can be appeciated,.

The Ginga is the basic movement of the Capoeira martial art. It consists of the rhythm movement of the whole body accompanying the touch of the berimbau, with the main purpose of maintaining the relaxed body and the centre of gravity in permanent dislocation, ready for the dodge, attack, counterattack or leak. Paola Berenstein Jacques, Estética da Ginga Page 60, lines 32-39

“A experiência de subir ou de descer uma favela reveste-se de uma percepção espacial única. À medida que se vai passando pelas primeiras quebradas, vai-se descobrindo um ritmo de caminhar diferente, imposto pelo próprio percurso das vielas. É o que chamam de Ginga. Perambulando pelos meandros das favelas, compreendemos como as crianças do morro sabem dançar o samba antes mesmo de saber andar direito. Ora, nunca andamos em linha reta numa favela de morro, onde, além dos meandros do caminho, sempre estamos num plano inclinado.” The experience of going up or down a favela has a unique spatial perception. As you pass through the first slopes, you will discover a different rhythm of walking, imposed by the course of the alleys. That's what they call Ginga. Wandering through the bends of the favelas, we understand how the children of the morro know how to dance the samba before even knowing how to walk straight. Because, we never walk straight in a morros' favela where, besides the bends of the road, we are always on a sloped plane.

While dancing samba, the body is suffering constant transformations with the rythm.

Samba has inherited some characteristics from the place were it is hosted, the favelas. Both of them are fragmentary, built up from different shacks in the case of the favelas, and from different body positions in the samba dance. It is the same idea of constant tranformation, constant movement. They have the same temporary nature. Samba would be, therefore, the expression of the labyrinthine spatial experience that infects the movements of the body while walking in the favelas.

Samba moves An introduction to samba dancing and some of its most basic moves. As this display shows, samba movements can spread in any direction, making a good use of the space they are given. Samba is in constant change, and it requires unlimited and amorphic space to achieve its highest level of expression. Even though all its movements require a displacement, its not directional nor linear. It spreads in every direction available.

Samba in formal spaces Plan of a Samba School showing how people gathers arround a central space where the dancing happens. The Samba School is the place where both dancers and musicians prepare for the carniva. In thtat way, it could be considered a semi-formal place where both casual and official occations take place. In this floor plan we can see how a semi-official actuation takes place. Chairs are spread randomly arroung the dancers’ arena and the movements conserve part of their freedom, though this time constraint within a limited space. Musicians are separated from the dancers and placed in a platform behind them, which











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Samba in formal spaces Plan of the Sambadrome designed by Oscar Niemeyer for the city Rio de Janeiro, showcasing the display of the carnival in Rio de Janeiro and the linear movement of the Samba Schools during the parade.


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Paola Berenstein Jacques, Estética da Ginga Page 61, lines 22-25

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“The samba dancing is in mimetic relation with the rhythm of the sloped streets in the favelas. Samba is developed in the favelas, in the hills; and danced al over the city during the carnival. During the school parade, the dancers, dressed up, cross the Sambadrome dancing in zig-zag, as in an imaginary labyrinth.”

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During the carnival, the thirteen most important samba schools come to the Sambadrome, where the school’s competition takes place. The competition is mostly a parade, where every samba school will be given 80 minutes to march across the Sambadrome’s catwalk. This imposition implyes a great change in the concept of samba itself, making the dancers move forward as they dance. But they will still find a way to reflect the favela character by mixing up the moves and advancing in zig-zag.

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Profile for Lucía Sáenz Mayoral

Space in Movement  

Space in Movement is an investigation project that aims to understand the influence of the spatial surroundings in the creation of communal...

Space in Movement  

Space in Movement is an investigation project that aims to understand the influence of the spatial surroundings in the creation of communal...