Learning from São Paulo and Copenhagen

At the beginning of the year, Allies and Morrison’s Alfredo Caraballo and Daniel Elsea joined the Van Alen Institute International Council – reflecting an interest of the practice in the urban work of the institute and its agenda to promote dialogue through architecture and design. Drawn from 15 countries, the International Council’s members meet twice a year to research and shape issues facing different cities, while also guiding the Institute’s overall public programming. At the heart of each meeting is a charrette with civic leaders and other key figures from the built environment community in each city. This year, the Council has been exploring the issue of densification.

Last month, Alfredo and Daniel travelled with the Council to São Paulo, the largest city in Brazil – and indeed one of the largest in the world. It is a city of contrasts. On the one hand, it is facing massive challenges, with an estimated five million residents alone in need of adequate housing, yet São Paulo is also a place with an excellent architectural pedigree with seminal works by Lina bo Bardi, Oscar Niemeyer, João Batistsa Vilanova Artigas and Paulo Mendes de Rocha. Progressive architecture thrives there.

While in Brazil, Alfredo spoke on a panel about urban formality/informality co-organised with the Instituto Lina Bo Bardi, which was held within the Paraisópolis favela, a large informal settlement with more than 100,000 residents. Drawing lessons from the grassroots urbanism on display there, the Council then participated in the day long Urban Apertures: a Design Charrette on Density and Civic Space with civic leaders and local design professionals to propose fresh new ideas for managing density and improving quality of the urban public realm.

Earlier in the year, in May, the Council met in an altogether very different setting – Copenhagen. Alfredo and Daniel joined Converging Grounds: A Design Charrette on Density in Denmark co-hosted by Realdania where they helped to create new design ideas for densifying parts of Copenhagen, especially its new town of Ørestad. The group paid studio visits to architectural practices BIG and 3xn as well as the Danish Architecture Centre and participated in a panel discussion as part of the Copenhagen Architecture Festival.

Founded in 1894 and based in New York, the Van Alen Institute promotes design that transforms cities, collaborating with communities, scholars, policymakers and professionals on local and global initiatives.