PART 3 São Paulo, Rotterdam and Beyond
Orhan Ayyüce - If the over riding theme in Istanbul is “transformation,” in São Paulo the IABR as proposed by MMBB heavily engages with “infrastructure.” São Paulo is also IABR's familiar site since the 3rd Biennale. How do you see differences IABR achieved there or issues it made transparent?
George Brugmans - A bit contrary to your observation I have to say that I think both transformation and infrastructure are very much part of the equation in Istanbul as well as in São Paulo.
Both cities are the main motors of important emerging economies. A key difference between them is that Istanbul is still growing rapidly while São Paulo’s population is stabilizing.
In terms of transformation Istanbul has to think about how to integrate smart thinking about its future infrastructure into the challenge of how to make ongoing urbanization sustainable, in ecological as well as social terms.
URBANbyNATURE will take account of the multi-dimensional complexities and cross-dependencies within urban infrastructures. We’ll be looking at water management, food production and waste processing, energy production and distribution, cargo and human flows, heat islands and data flows.
In São Paulo it’s about what we have called “picking up the pieces”. The city has reached its limits, administratively and geographically. Informal housing is encroaching on environmentally protected areas, on the rain forest and the indispensable water reservoirs. People spend three hours on a bus going to work. And so forth. So the city has to reconfigure its territory, literally pick up the pieces and stitch them back together again, and in a new way. MMBB’s Fernando de Mello Franco’s proposition is that while the old São Paulo’s urban growth has been steered by an infrastructural dynamic purely serving the productive interests of the old economy, the new São Paulo will have to redesign its infrastructure so that now it can truly become a city for its people. In terms of transformation, the expansion of the metropolitan infrastructural network will have to be interrelated with the challenges of economic growth, social development, the provision of housing, and the preservation of the environment.
Fernando suggested, and the Municipality agreed to focus on the area of Cabuçu de Cima, in the northeast of the city, as the Test Site for the 5th IABR. The reconfiguration issue is paramount here. Informal settlements have been invading the largest urban rain forest in the world, the Serra da Cantareira. The area straddles the border between the municipalities of São Paulo proper and Guarulhos, where the international airport is located. Cabuçu is going to be a very important hub in logistical terms, because of the airport, and because when the new beltways, the Rodoanel, the ring road, and the Ferroanel, the ring railway, will be finished, it’s from Cabuçu that the main conduits for people and cargo will connect South America’s biggest megacity with Rio de Janeiro, Belo Horizonte and other rapidly developing cities further north.
While the municipality’s social housing department SEHAB developed an Urban Plan for Cabuçu, the Atelier São Paulo that IABR and SEHAB set up together, tasked itself with producing a “map of opportunities”. By integrating research, consultancies, social work, design, and urban planning this map would “uncover” Cabuçu’s existing potentialities on several scale levels and would then be used as the basis for the complex negotiation process about possible forms of development and use of the territory.
The success of a “sabbatical detour” very much depends on the alliance supporting it. In São Paulo, the alliance must always include the inhabitants. It is their city and they very much consider it to be so, even though many of them were originally ‘invaders’ and still live in informal settlements. One of the first actions of the Atelier São Paulo was to organize meetings and workshops to give voice to Cabuçu’s residents’ concerns and ideas, and to create an awareness of the collective and environmental issues existing in their territory. Our research indicated that about 40 percent of the population is poor and 20 percent of all economically active respondents claimed their main place of work is either close to or in their own home. Therefore new housing concepts must incorporate productive spaces, areas that support income-generating activities as well as individual education and activities that organize the community. To everyone’s surprise, the Atelier’s research also showed that income generation was not the main demand even when the current processes of industrial decentralization will certainly result in significant job losses, especially in this part of the city. Unanimously, the environment was put forward as the community’s most invaluable asset. The residents were very outspoken about how they value the precarious ecological balance and how they want to connect their support for it to their right to outdoors activities.
So a “map of opportunities” that was to identify new productive processes as opportunities for alternative economic development, would have to be connected with an ecological agenda. One of the main targets of the Atelier thus became to explore ways of reconciling economic growth processes and the provision of housing with pressure on the ecological system and the desires of the population.
To return to your question about how we have made a contribution, the expertise in making city that SEHAB has consistently built up in recent years was enhanced by the opportunity the IABR Test Site offered to investigate issues in and for the metropolitan area that normally do not come under SEHAB’s responsibilities. The development of the Urban Plan and the input of the Atelier have been used as an effective means of establishing a productive cross-sectorial dialogue between the different departments involved in making São Paulo city. This is incredibly important, as São Paulo’s Municipal Housing Plan has been set for the next twelve years, with necessary investments totaling approximately 32 billion dollars. And exactly this constitutes the first real opportunity for Cabuçu: the realization that the construction of housing and urban infrastructure can offer a contribution to social, educational and income generating programs, based on the process of making city itself.
We have given this an extra impetus by the introduction of an additional layer of design, promoted by the IABR and the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment, and conducted by MMBB and the Dutch office .FABRIC. This design research developed programmatic and spatial strategies for the buffer zone located on the flanks of the Serra da Cantareira, between the forest and urban sprawl. It is proposed that the beltway does not just pass through the area, like the typical railroad that splits the town in two halves, but also acts as a gateway to the Serra. This urban forest is a heritage site that still remains largely unexplored in a city that itself is the main travel destiny in Brazil. MMBB and .FABRIC explored the potential of this buffer zone, considering it as an ideal site for services and attractions that qualify as leisure economy. The plan offers solid economic alternatives in a time of on-going deindustrialization. The proposed strategy is to build up a network of natural, thematic and business parks, health centers, and sports facility clusters. The buffer zone would also connect to Pirituba, the area chosen for the construction of what is to be the largest Park of Fairs and Shows in Latin America, to which the city wants to bring the World Expo 2020.
This strategy is expected to introduce a wide range of metropolitan activities to the area that will offer people social opportunities as well as jobs, so that they can build a life on protecting the forest instead of invading it.
Fernando de Mello Franco talked with the outgoing administration about incorporating our proposal for the buffer zone into São Paulo 2040, a strategic plan with which the city aims to provide a benchmark for government, citizens, businesses and organizations to collaborate towards 2040. There was a keen interest but because of the elections everything was put on hold. As the new Secretary of Urban Development it’s Fernando who’s now responsible for Mayor Haddad’s main election promise, the Arco do Futuro, the bridge to the future, so I’m confident the plan won’t be shelved.
To sum up, when the requirement is to find the right balance between people, planet and profit, transformational and infrastructural ambitions are to all intents and purposes to be seen as part of the same “making city” package. It worked like that on both Test Sites, in Istanbul and in São Paulo. It is important to note here that this provides a unique opportunity. Both cities, like pretty much all other megacities in the emerging economies, will need to spend billions on infrastructure over the coming decades. So the overriding issue is whether this will be done routinely, in a purely technological way, and as the result of the usual trade-off between political and commercial interests, or in a “smart way”. We propose that these colossal investments in infrastructure that are to be done anyway, should be integrated into a much broader agenda so that they will necessarily further social, ecological and economic interests. This is the issue that we’ll take up in the 6th IABR, URBANbyNATURE, in 2014, and in the 7th IABR in 2016.
URBANbyNATURE will take account of the multi-dimensional complexities and cross-dependencies within urban infrastructures. We’ll be looking at water management, food production and waste processing, energy production and distribution, cargo and human flows, heat islands and data flows. By developing a vision of the complex ecology that is the city, by looking at it as a metabolism through the lens of landscape architecture, we hope to find new instruments that make it possible to more effectively steer and manage the adaptation, both in terms of growth and shrinkage, of the urban regions and megacities that will soon house 80% of the world’s population. It’s a vital subject for the future of The Netherlands, most of which is in fact part of one huge urban landscape, an urban tapestry that also spreads out over parts of Belgium and the German Rhineland, and that is on the verge of yet another transformation.
OA - How do you feel about being in Netherlands with some of the world's leading architects namely OMA and Rem Koolhaas who is also based in Rotterdam? Has he shown any particular interest and commentary on your work at IABR? Any hints of participation? Would he engage in some kind of “sabbatical detour other than AMO?”
GB - I think one reason why Koolhaas is still based in Rotterdam is that he feels it’s a place where he doesn’t have to comment a lot on what’s happening around him whenever he’s in town. It’s not Shanghai nor New York, Dubai or Lagos.
I’m not an OMA-watcher so I wouldn’t know really if there’s currently any interest in what we do. We are mainly active in Latin America and places like Istanbul while OMA is active elsewhere. Paths just haven’t crossed while I was at the IABR. I did work briefly with Koolhaas when I was an editor-in-chief at the national broadcaster VPRO and commissioned the film he did on Lagos. This was also when he launched AMO, about ten years ago.
Would I be interested in a temporary overlap of the sabbatical detours of the IABR and AMO? Cautiously, it might swallow us up, but AMO is a first-rate think-tank, it’d be intellectually very exciting to see where it would take the IABR if it would curate. But as you note Holland, and especially Rotterdam, still is disproportionally blessed with many fine architects, urbanists and landscape architects, a lot of them with a keen interest in research. We’ve had Francine Houben, Adriaan Geuze, Kees Christiaanse and now Dirk Sijmons as individual curators, a roll call of great prominence and one we are extremely proud of. Note that two of them are landscape architects, and that Christiaanse holds the chair of Architecture and Urban Design at the ETH in Zurich. And what’s more, though Holland right now is definitely not creating conditions for another Golden Age of architecture, we still have the kind of openness that allows the IABR to do what we did for the fifth edition when we worked not with one prestigious curator but with an international curator team, an astonishing mix of wonderfully creative people: an architect from Brussels, a Professor on Cultural Policy from Istanbul, a design office from São Paulo, a landscape architecture office from Rotterdam and the Director of Spatial Planning of the Netherlands. A first-rate temporary think-tank if ever there was one.
OA - One last question, how about the survival of the IABR against the backdrop of crisis and ongoing budget cuts in the Netherlands?
GB - The crisis seems to have brought out the worst in the Dutch, and the Dutch seem to have brought the worst of the crisis on themselves. Holland is a triple A rated country, but appearances deceive. Let me explain to you why I think it’s not all fun and tulips here, and what that means for the IABR and the political and economic environment in which we have to work.
Holland at its best is a very open country, not because we have special DNA but because we have very sound reasons. Traditionally we’re not really producers, neither of stuff nor very much of ideas. Holland is a hub; it thrives on international trade, on import and export. For centuries the Dutch have sailed the seven seas and looked for deals all over the place. We didn’t take up the white man’s burden, “send forth the best ye breed” or presume responsibilities, that’s not the Dutch way. Basically we were only in it for the money. We still are, and we are all over the planet. The Dutch hold less than half their investments in the Netherlands. The country’s economic growth has always been driven by international trade in goods and services, and it is a major player in global trade. The Dutch, not even 0.25% of the world’s population, account for about 4% of world exports, and in 2011 the country ranked as the fifth largest exporter globally. It is the eighth-largest recipient of foreign direct investment in the world and its official websites will feed you lines like “the Dutch tax system has a number of features that may be very beneficial in international tax planning”. Consequently Holland has a relatively huge financial sector and its banks are as a matter of course extremely exposed to the ups and downs of the global financial system. These banks, including those considered too big to fail, have been hit hard by the crisis. Domestically these same banks are at the receiving end of another looming disaster because of what is one of the most serious housing bubbles in Europe, if not the world. All of this has to be propped up by the Dutch taxpayer.
There’s more. A large share of this sector is the ‘non-bank finance sector’, part of which are an estimated 14,000 letterbox companies, conduits in fact for an estimated annual through flow of about 8,000 billion euros of which only a meager 0.0125% stays in the country as tax revenue. Why are the Rolling Stones based in Amsterdam? Because the Dutch do not raise taxes on income out of royalties. Why is Starbucks not paying taxes in the UK? Because of a clever tax route via Holland. Holland is ‘home’ to 91 of the 100 biggest companies in the world and most of them have a presence here just to avoid paying taxes. As a tax haven or if you will legal money launderer, we rank up there with the Cayman Islands. But unlike the Cayman Islands, or more to the point Switzerland, we’re in the Eurozone so we can’t hide behind a firewall, not anymore, which means that because of exposure and contagion and guidance from Brussels and how all of this is interwoven and how that multiplies the downward spiraling by several factors, we’re suddenly very very vulnerable.
OK, you’re getting the picture: if a global financial crisis would be looking for a weak spot to hit really hard, Holland would be one very serious candidate. So that’s exactly what happened.
Have you read Michael Lewis’ book Boomerang, about the lunacy that spread across both sides of the Atlantic in the years before Lehman Brothers went under in 2008? It has an entertaining chapter about Iceland, how it turned itself into a hedge fund and lost all its money and more. If you ask me Holland turned itself into a kind of hedge fund as well. But this one’s still standing. Sixteen million Dutch taxpayers have deeper pockets than 300.000 Icelanders. No wonder middle class Dutch are feeling squeezed. Worse, they know they’re trapped and will have to foot the bill. The future does not look so bright when your government that fiscally stimulated you to overinvest in a house you can’t sell anymore subsequently causes your expendable income to collapse in a way you thought was only possible in Greece.
So the mother of all storms is hitting Holland. The typical Dutch reflex is to protect the house, wait out the storm and pray the dikes won’t break. Belt-tightening, no nonsense and do-whatever-it-takes become crowd-pullers for politicians. They have through the ages but it’s different now we’ve become a godless tribe. Praying takes you nowhere anymore so austerity has become a goal in itself. It’s no longer mortification of the flesh with the guarantee of redemption –nothing too bad if you’re into that sort of thing– now it’s self-inflicted pain sprouting anger, at us, at you, at them. Openness didn’t pay off? Abruptly there’s a bit of a wild swing to its opposite, literally and mentally: black out the windows, keep out the immigrants, turn away from the European project, and stop wasting good money on Greeks, third world aid, fundamental research, arts and sciences, innovation, culture and, of course, architecture policies.
In 2011 the government decided to cut its budget for arts and culture with about 25%. At times like these what people who are responsible for the arts and sciences are supposed to do is count their blessings. Not so the Dutch Ministry of Culture. In the process of making itself subservient to neo-liberal economic policies it promptly shelved its existing and very successful architecture policy, initiated in 1989 and the world’s envy. It now touts the creative industry and the international promotion of Dutch design. Exit the Netherlands Architecture Institute; as of 1 January 2013 it’s to be integrated in the New Institute for the Creative Industry. Same thing happened to the Fund for Architecture, it’s assimilated by the new Fund for the Creative Industry. The famous Berlage Institute, a post-doc research lab, lost its funding and has been swallowed up by the Technical University of Delft, a bit ironic when you realize that Hertzberger founded it with the explicit aim of it being the thorn in Delft’s side.
On the other hand the Creative Industry was made one of the Ministry of Economic Affairs’ so called ‘top sectors’, under the guidance of the Ministry of Culture and led by Victor van de Chijs, OMA’s Managing Partner. The government’s obviously keen on financing the likes of Koolhaas, not as architects, but as creative industrials, as “export products”. Yes, it’s all about money, it’s about facilitating business.
I make no bones about this per se. A creative industry policy would have been clever fifteen or even ten years ago, when the economy boomed and Dutch architects and designers were optimistically looking to conquer the world. Then it probably would have added the extra layer to an already successful architecture policy. But icing without cake doesn’t make sense. The timing is downright disastrous. While selling golden eggs abroad the Ministry’s new policies are likely to kill the goose that lays them. The buying and building of private and commercial real estate and thus the work of architects depend on the availability of money but the banks are building up reserves and have essentially stopped lending. Total turn over in the architecture sector in Holland has more than halved in a period of two years. Architecture firms can practically only survive when they find work abroad. Nearly all building has stopped. Construction companies are folding. Infrastructure is falling apart and as we speak the parliament is in tumult because we can’t even get a fast train between Amsterdam and Brussels up and running – we’ve been trying for almost ten years! Really, all of it is very ironic, if not totally sad, when you realize this policy change happens exactly at a moment when it can only add to the crisis.
As long as invention and imagination in the field drive cultural policies, they may succeed. But when the process is reversed and policies want to interfere with invention and imagination, they’re doomed to fail, and the likelier so when the timing is spectacularly wrong. The last thing we now need is to see the little funding left for research and development in architecture used for nation branding, promo stuff and the facilitation of business. Sure, help architects find work abroad, but not with money meant for the arts. In terms of cultural policy it makes no sense whatsoever to want to cash in on yesterday’s uptrend. We need pro-active policies that prepare the sector for the next upturn – whenever it will come, whatever it will be. What we need support for today is for architects, urban designers, companies and cities to experiment, without any strings attached and in an open international setting, in order to innovate their practices and approaches vis-à-vis the challenges our society is facing.
The IABR too lost all of its funding from the Ministry of Culture. We may be creative as well as industrious, but we’re not considered to be ‘creative industry’. Fair enough. The IABR is not into the facilitation of business but in the business of facilitating creativity.
The good news is that exactly because of that, of how we have been developing the “sabbatical detour” model, we’re now intensifying our partnership with the Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment. We have been made one of its lead partners and we have been commissioned to apply what we’ve developed in São Paulo, Istanbul and Rotterdam to local and regional urban challenges in the Netherlands. We are now in the process of setting up three Project Ateliers in Holland, one with a municipality, one with an island and one with a regional authority.
All that said the bottom line is that overall the IABR lost a considerable amount of funding; that it is part of an economically weak and politically vulnerable sector, and that is in a country that is in for a rough ride.
I’m confident though that the IABR can still make enough of a difference. But it will not be possible to escape completely from that worrying trend to hide behind the dikes. Because of strings attached to our funding in the next four years we’ll be operational in Holland more than in the rest of the world. It will be harder to continue to work in Istanbul and São Paulo, let alone find new partners.
So we are reinventing the IABR once more. I dislike permanence, but of course we need some continuity. The IABR has been surviving by an obstinate mix of cut-off and pop-up: continuity by way of discontinuity. Can we do it again? I look forward to talk with you again two years from now and let you be the judge of that.
OA - Thank you very much for this incredibly informative and inspiring interview.