Smart Informal Territories lab

Client: City of São Paulo Year: 2009-2013
Project: Smart Informal Territories Lab Heliópolis (SITlab) works with the Prefeitura de Cidade de São Paulo, the local community and various ‘NGO’s’ on upgrading projects for the Favela Heliópolis where an estimated 190.000 people live without formally having an address. Inclusive planning instruments are essential for the upgrade of living standards and to solve underlying causes. The legalization of housing could help inhabitants to break out of a socio-economic spiral that is largely caused by having no legal address and by the extreme high costs of living in an ‘illegal city’. With SITlab Heliópolis the Universidade Presbiteriana MacKenzie São Paulo, Parsons the New School for Design and the Academy of Architecture in Amsterdam work on plans and co-creative planning tools for the Favela that could be applied in other similar conditions in Brazil.

Do It Together; Mutirão

Heliopolis is a favela within the city of São Paulo. Estimated is that within this favela 190.000 inhabitants live without having a legal address. In the seventies people invaded land and build this city themselves. Nowadays a share of the inhabitants rise into middle class. Part of the inhabitants still live in very poor conditions. Although the structures along the streets are actually quit good, the inside of the building blocks conceal a different quality, often with scarce space and daylight in a moist environment. Now that the city of São Paulo aims at the upgrade of favelas in the city the idea of mutirão becomes an alternative for the outplacing and verticalization of inhabitants.

“Rio established Operação mutirão which for the first time deemed resident participation necessary in community upgrades and relied on their own labor. The government provided engineering assistance and materials left over from other construction sites. Similarly, in 1968 governor Negrão de Lima gathered a group of architects, economists, and planners to form a program that offered design support and long term, low-interest loans on construction materials to residents: the Companhia de Desenvolvimento de Comunidades (Community Development Company, or CODESCO). CODESCO had residents vote on where within the community new streets would run and made sure to keep families together when moving people from one part of the neighborhood to another”. (

“In Portuguese, the word “mutirão” is used to describe “a meeting place, an opportunity to work together toward a common goal” (Harrison, Huchzemeyer & Mayekiso, 2004). “Mutirão, a word from Tupi Guarani, an indigenous language of Brazil, translates as a group of people who work together to create something that benefits all,” (Habitat for Humanity, 2010). In an urban context, it often means neighbors getting together to construct part or all of their homes together, people helping to build each others’ houses instead of doing it on their own, particularly during portions of building which require a great deal of work during a short period which one family, alone, cannot deliver. This kind of mutirão has been commonly used in past decades by international development agencies and governmental programmes for construction projects. It is also the basis for international volunteer programs like Habitat for Humanity.  It was a way to save money on the one hand, and give people the chance to be a part of such projects, on the other.” (