Dencity 2015: Special Mention

The Self-Regenerated City

Entry by: Riccardo Maroso, Federica Natalia Rosati


The complex and contradictory nature of Brazilian society finds its expression in the city of Curitiba. The capital of Paranà State was pioneer in urban politics and practices during the ‘70s and ‘80s and is worldwide known for its sustainability. However, the general approach of its urban planning reinforced a spatial segregation that reflects the wide economic and cultural gap among the population.

From the beginning of the ’60s the city experienced a significant population growth, without reconsidering its expansion strategy. Its boundaries were widened until the limit of the municipal territory with the creation of new housing developments, only later connected to the city centre.

Nowadays, while the infrastructure network is reinforced to establish a connection with the marginal neighbourhoods, 80.000 people are still waiting to receive a house from the government through COHAB intervention.

The most dramatic effects of this tendency toward an extensive city growth, often accompanied by the lack of an adequate planning, emerge on a social scale in the ghettoisation of the less wealthy classes, outside the city borders. A research conducted in 2009 on urban disparity and segregation in Curitiba showed the unequal distribution of wealth and of access to services using verticalization as an indicator of areas with higher real estate activity. The state action concentrates in these areas, where the upper class lives, the best urban infrastructure and most of the activities, while, in the less privileged neighbourhoods, the public actor is less active and sometimes absent.

The Concept

This project focuses on Vila Nossa Senhora da Luz, the first housing development in the Paranà State, built in 1964, under the military government, to accommodate low income families removed from favelas.

It is a marginal district where the failure of land management policies is made visible by the degradation of the public space, the increasing houses’ introspection and the poor social cohesion.

The lack of public control represented a chance for the majority of families to initiate an unauthorized development that resulted in a widespread private property speculation. This made of the neighbourhood a paradigmatic case of defeat of public purposes over the management of a social housing plan and an eloquent case of social exclusion where spatial segregation is caused by its own structure.

At the macro scale this division is defined by an imaginary perimetric wall that marks a discontinuity with the closest neighbourhoods and, at the micro scale, by the obsessive iteration of private walls which reveal a lack of dialogue between the private and the public space.

The choice to focus the research on this specific area derives from its hybrid condition: the neighbourhood is a mediation between a collective and planned process and the result of individual and spontaneous actions. This informal densification left traces in the relationship between built space and urban voids.

The 1964 figure ground plan shows an urban fabric and a parcelling plan clearly inspired by the American suburbs, where the urban sprawl was associated to an individualistic way of living. nowadays, Vila NSDL presents a very different appearance due to the layering of time and the constant work of its inhabitants that adapted their plots according to their instant needs and the growth of their families. Time after time, despite the area became better equipped with infrastructure and community services, the private space started to take a physical distance to the public one. Sometimes this detachment is expressed through hedges, fences or small walls while in many other cases the introspection is emphasized by the plot saturation. The alterations leaded the majority of the plots in an illegal condition.

The result was a switch from a single-family to a multi-family dwelling typology and several plots currently host up to 4 family units.

If the private transformations provided immediate and pragmatic solutions for the individual necessities, without any evaluation mistake produced by a top-down planning strategy, this dynamic contributed to lower the quality of the urban environment and to induce a strong introspection.

The closure of the private plots is cause and effect of the public realm malfunctioning: the poor quality of space design, the lack of public utilities and of an adequate structure cause in Vila NSDL’s inhabitants the refusal of these areas. Open public spaces are frequently left without a function and a character, causing a strong environmental and perceptive decay and hosting phenomenas of criminality.

This analysis results from a reflection on the theme of urban renewal, which is already well established in the European context: the increasing land consumption and the urban sprawl are unsustainable, neither in the dense urban fabric, nor in emerging cities as the Brazilian ones. For this reason it is necessary to reconsider the urgent dwelling issue according to sustainability standards through a rationalization process of the built environment, allowing the public space to regain its social function.

Considering the increase in life expectancy, the decrease in birth rate, the strong urbanization and the global environmental crisis, good urban design and architecture should think over the sustainability of the current models of city planning as well as over the potential of urban regeneration’s tools.

The program of urban regeneration presented here, considers the review of the Director Plan the necessary turning point for a more sustainable development of the area as well as of similar contexts.

Compact cities, through the densification of the built urban fabric, activate dynamics of optimization and sharing of spaces and infrastructures, giving the less wealthy neighbourhoods a good prospects of growth. The desired effects are to offer a way out from the segregation that affects today’s popular areas and to trigger a process of social mixing. Considering the socio-economic difficulties of the inhabitants, the municipality is regarded as the main catalysing agent of this transformation program, which acts through the reform of the urban fabric using a multiple-scale approach.

It attributes the public realm the role of transformation agent or catalyst by promoting participation and the switch from formal (urban policies) to informal (handmade urbanism) strategies.

Public action acts primarily through a process of negotiation between the public offices and the residents from a minimum of four plots, promoting the creation of cooperatives by offering incentives such as the change of the building index, the possibility to open commercial or professional activities on the ground floor or the management of new public space (urban gardens, workshop. etc.) The funds gained from the sale or the concession of the rest of these new properties are used to improve new streets paving, trees planting and urban furniture.

Cooperatives become the operative tools that better express the above described strategy. They are proposed both for promoting collective housing and subverting the actual urban tissue with the aim to regenerate it, whether it shows a high state of degeneration, through the opening of new public spaces for the community.

The planner plays the role of the mediator who’s given carte blanche by the municipality for adapting the intervention’s to the needs expressed by the cooperatives through the use of several building typologies.

The types here proposed result from a preliminary study on informal housing solutions produced by the neighbourhood over the years and propose a reinterpretation through the development of a five themes catalogue.

The guiding principle of their definition resides in the duality between the “formal” structure, represented by the building’s ground floor, and the “informal” configuration expressed by the variety of typological solutions that can arise above .

They are given the opportunity to increase volume and number of plans, granted in accordance with the current rules for the area, in exchange for a desaturation of the macro-plot, its permeability and accessibility for the entire community.

Of the types described above, the typology of “top-on-top houses” I investigated, because of its complex spatial articulation, especially on the ground floor, and as it tackles the issue of incremental housing.

Considering the permeability of the soil an important condition for the well-being of the area, the proposed model organizes the spaces of the cooperative around a public square, directly accessible by road, and 3 semi-private patios which lead to the accesses to houses.

On the first floor four houses of 60 m2 each articulate along a large element of distribution, designed to be appropriated and personalized over time by the families . The homes are served by an independent staircase that permits to parcel the house for tenancy.

Finally the project provides the opportunity of a vertical expansion over time by using wooden roof structure, that can be easily disassembled and reassembled.


In conclusion, the transformative potential of Vila NSDL does not have to be searched elsewhere but in its own dynamic structure and in its inhabitants’ ability to adapt the environment, as they demonstrated on a private scale, to the constant change of conditions. In their informal practice and through an adequate formal motivation lies the self-regenerative capacity of the city, the input for the creation of an additional degree of complexity that characterizes most of the European historical cities.

About the entrants

Riccardo Maroso graduated in 2015 at Ferrara University in architecture and urban planning. He also attended Granada University in Spain where he focused his research on social housing interventions and self-assisted construction. In 2014 he was a visiting student at the Pontificia Universidade Catolica do Paranà in Curitiba, where he developed his master thesis on urban regeneration of a popular informal neighborhood in Curitiba. Nowadays he works in an international architectural office in London, where he is involved in a series of international projects and competitions.

Federica Natalia Rosati graduated in 2015 from Ferrara University in architecture. She has also been educated in Germany and Brazil where she studied informal practice and adaptive urbanism. During her studies she has done research and tutored workshops about small urban interventions and revitalization of public spaces. Her works spans from architecture to involvement with stage design theatre and media. In 2014 she was a visiting student at the Pontificia Universidade Catolica do Paranà in Curitiba to prepare for her graduation project on urban regeneration, with a focus on community participation, co-production of public space and incremental housing. She is now a research trainee at Hannover University, at the Faculty of Landscape Architecture.