Hwui Zhi Cheng
Diploma 17
Favelas have always been regarded as a threat to the urban way of life, a threat that has to be eradicated. The fact is, however, that favelas are now showing promising signs of economic progress and is presenting itself as an uncharted territory ripe for architectural intervention. Accumulation of wealth is evident in the material actualisation of these dwellings to ever more permanent settlements to the point that the Brazilian government has been forced to acknowledge and support the favelas through growth acceleration programs like PAC in 2007, and PAC 2 in 2011. This signals an important shift in strategy from one of slum eradication in the 1970s to that of upgrade and improvement.The project capitalises on the existing cable car network of Complexo do Alemao, Rio, as part of the PAC program to introduce infrastructure that offers an emancipating armature of education, employment, transport and public space across the favelas without disturbing the social ecology existing on the ground. Each cable car station and areas along its route are transformed into spaces of production while containing all other civic amenities such as schools, clinics and markets that are currently not formalised in the favela.The open plan space of each strip gives it maximum flexibility in accommodating various programs which allows the infrastructure to be resistant to the changing economic demands of the favela over time. While large floor plates allow for public gatherings and other forms of community-based activities, or even to protest, that was previously impossible with the narrow streets on the ground.At the larger scale, these strips provide three new degrees of circulation - first within each strip, also between strips, and finally between the strip and the city - that will relinquish the role of the narrow streets on the ground as the only means of circulating through the favela.At the same time, it is important to know that the project places strong emphasis on respecting and valuing what is existing. For that reason, these strips are made from components no larger than 4m wide so that they can  be transported easily and assembled without the need for a large construction site. These strips touch the ground lightly with columns placed only where land is available without destroying any of the existing dwellings on site.In addition, the columns themselves are designed specifically to facilitate the appropriation of the structure by different social groups with various degrees of permanence or temporality. The architecture therefore values and integrates the found socio-political conditions: from the state-scale of the top floor slabs with moment-resisting joints, to the intermediate community level with welded connections right down to an individual scale where the column diameter is that of scaffolding such that favela residents can easily purchase parts from the shop to add to the structure.In doing so the detailing and placement of the column provides the necessary constraints for the infrastructure to negotiate between the programmatic demands of the state and the local scale, and at the very bottom, touching the ground only very lightly which become points from which new economic and civic possibilities start affecting the existing settlements on the ground.Therefore, through its design, the project ultimately aims to serve as a mediator to bridge the divide between favela and the state as a new form of infrastructure.And as the architectural form negotiates between the cable car route and the favela through a gradation of various civic programs, it questions the conventional view of the slums and the city as two diametrically opposing halves and shows how these two oppositions can be brought together, over time, to form a cohesive whole through the considered design of a material-immaterial infrastructure.This is the potential of Architecture.