The Favela Typology: Architecture in the Self-Built City

Carly De La Hoz, The Favela Typology: Architecture in the Self-Built City

Faculty Advisor: Prof. Mario Gandelsonas

In this thesis I present the favela as a housing solution for Rio de Janeiro. Previously favelas were thought to be a housing "problem" from an architectural and infrastructural viewpoint. By evaluating the social and structural improvements that have been implemented over the past ten years in three favelas—Rocinha, Vidigal, and Santa Marta, I will show that favelas have evolved from makeshift settlements to stable communities. In studying how homeowners have constructed and improved their own homes, I will examine how this raw, hand-crafted urbanism leads to the longevity and vitality of the favela as an architectural typology.

Chapter I addresses the question, “What is architectural about the owner-built dwelling?” By evaluating the vernacular’s merit in architectural discourse, defining asfalto and morro, and discussing what constitutes an architectural “problem” versus a “solution,” this Chapter sets the study of the favela typology within an architectural context, emphasizing that the hillside favela is unique because it developed in section, rather than in plan.

Chapter II sets up the history and background of the favela in Rio de Janeiro and focuses primarily upon recent improvements in the three favelas, substantiating the claim that favelas should no longer be viewed as “problems” or “diseases” within the city. Chapter III looks at specific government-led and designer-initiated interventions that have helped to upgrade slum settlements within the past twenty years. This Chapter also analyzes “favela hype” projects and sets this thesis up as a project itself – a theoretical project through which to reconsider the self-built city.

Chapter IV addresses permeability and flexibility in boundaries – within real estate transactions, in public versus private space, and in the concept of the informal versus the formal. This Chapter also examines the issue of mapping an urban fabric that resists representation, and assesses theories of the oblique and sensory design within the context of the topographically dynamic hillside favela.

Finally, Chapter V studies self-construction and informal building techniques. This Chapter includes case studies from multiple visits to the favelas, in addition to drawings and diagrams of the building process. By incorporating theories of the owner-built dwelling with the author’s own drawings and formal analysis, this Chapter posits that the “self-built” element in favela construction contributes to the vitality and the longevity of the favela as a sustainable development.

The final section makes conclusions about how architecture can continue to make a lasting impact in favela communities, and makes projections about the future of these settlements. This thesis posits that the hillside favela in Rio de Janeiro is a vital, thriving architectural typology that will maintain its vernacular roots as it continues to evolve as an urban environment in years to come.