demolition and composition

originally published in Audi Urban Future Initiative Blog (Award 2012)

São Paulo, 1969. Italian-Brazilian architect Lina Bo Bardi (1914–1992) began her collaboration with Teatro Oficina on the production of Bertold Brecht's 1924 play In the Jungle of Cities. Originally set in Chicago, the play was relocated to São Paulo, problematizing the city and Brazil's severe crisis at the time. Those days, at the end of the 1960s, were deeply affected by the authoritarianism and repression of the military dictatorship, as well as the massive urbanization of roadwork.

The Teatro Oficina, directed by José Celso Martinez Corrêa, has been in operation since 1967. Located in the historic downtown of São Paulo, the theater was close to the ongoing construction works of the Elevado Costa e Silva, an elevated expressway known as "Minhocão," or "big earthworm." A major symbol of the car-based city (influenced by Robert Moses and municipal officials trained as engineers), the expressway tore apart several miles of the urban fabric, demolishing entire blocks of houses and accumulating loads of rubble resulting from the demolition of buildings and lives.

For the production of In the Jungle of Cities, Bo Bardi removed the chairs and the revolving stage of the theater, opening up the space for a boxing ring, which comprised elements, objects, and furniture she collected from the neighborhood debris. According to the director, known as Zé Celso, who spoke about his collaboration with Bo Bardi for a recent article in Domus by Roberto Zancan, "Lina would bring in all the garbage she found outside, put it on stage and we'd use it for a scene... Each act was like a round in a boxing match.” For the Brecht play, says Zé Celso, "Lina began at the theater with the boxing ring and the demolition. The play has eleven rounds. In each round, it breaks down one institution, up to destroying the very boxing ring. In the end, the actors finally remove the theater’s pavement, reaching the soil." [1] On one occasion, at that time, as Zé Celso recalls it, he told Bo Bardi about an episode that occurred in the area surrounding the theater that ended with a police chase at a nearby dead-end street. Her response: "’I'm an architect! I can't go through walls! I'm not a witch! All I can do with walls is break them down.’ And that's how Lina [and Ze Celso] came up with the idea of turning the Teatro Oficina into a kind of street,” [2] which defines her design (1980–1984; realized 1990s) of the theater’s current physical space (its third

From the violent demolition of lives and houses in the neighborhood—carried out for the construction of the elevated expressway—Bo Bardi instilled new meanings in the rubble that resulted. In the production of the stage play, she reused materials considered "despicable," garbage and debris, to criticize consumer society. From that rubble, the architect composed a boxing ring as the stage, which was successively destroyed at each round-act, thus reenacting and materializing the conflicts and disputes in São Paulo in the late 1960s. In Teatro Oficina’s In the Jungle of Cities, the city consumes itself in a transformational process of rupture and composition, reaching total destruction and returning to the soil.

São Paulo, 2012. Country and city, guided by a consolidated democracy and a recent economic boom, have been through rapid social and urban transformations. In the metropolis, whole blocks of houses have been demolished and replaced by condominiums and huge commercial developments with businesses, hotels, and shopping malls—all part of a privatization process of public spaces. The overlapping of highway and public means of transportation network projects, all of them only partially implemented, foster and reveal the conflicts between infrastructure roads and existing urban fabric. In this saturated city, the land-use and mobility policies are disconnected, lacking synchronization in terms of planning, legislation, and regulation; they repeat the 1960s developmentalist model and perpetuate negative environmental impact and socioterritorial segregation. We live in another historic situation, with both new and old forces at play, and the work of Lina Bo Bardi offers a powerful toolbox for the present.

[1] José Celso Martinez Correa interviewed by Augusto Valente. Quoted in “Modernidade e tradição na obra cenográfica de Lina Bo Bardi”, Evelyn Furquim Werneck Lima, in XXIV Simpósio Nacional de História/ANPUH, 2007

[2] José Celso Martinez Correa in The street is a theatre – An architecture report by Roberto Zancan (accessed on 25
October 2012)

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*In the late 1960s, the construction of the Elevado Costa e Silva, an elevated expressway known as
"Minhocão," or "big earthworm," devastated a swath of São Paulo's historic urban fabric.