A Fresh View of Asa Branca

Residents walk on Rua Asa Branca

The favela of Asa Branca is one of the communities in the Barra da Tijuca Olympic zone which, like many poor communities across Rio, is under threat, in this case by civil works which are set to cut a swathe through the neighbourhood.

Asa is a rambling low-rise neighbourhood, nestled in among a creek bursting with bulrushes. It is a stable community with no drugs and no armed command. It has high levels of employment and the majority of children are in school. There is a pizza shop, dress store and community post office among others on the main street. There is also a bakery, confectioners and some bars scattered around the village. This is not to say the community is not poor or in need. Life is marginal and spartan in places, the streets are generally earth and rubble and the drainage is not ideal. Housing construction though stable is pretty rough externally but a look into the interiors reveals clean, tiled, furnished rooms, tight but homely. The favela is not poverty stricken as many would imagine and it would be very easy to bring the essential services and infrastructure of the community up to basic first world standards.

More importantly life flourishes here, neighbours face each other across the street, shops are 3 sided and open so that the street becomes forum, square, plaza, the extension of the living room. The second stories are not out of sight or earshot of the street either, they are within the human scale of the place.

The windows and balconies allow for connection both across the way and in the vertical dimension but still within range of the principal social plane, which is the ground plane. The children are watched over by friends, neighbours and the community at large, free to roam and play and just be.

Community requires horizontality to maintain social connection and cohesion, break with this model and the community is broken.

Overshadowing Asa Branca stands a horrific new forest of spectral high-rise developments. It is a frightening herald of the road Rio is traveling down and speaks of a schism in the fundamental nature of the marvelous city. On the one hand is a dense collection of stratified and differentiated neighbourhoods that flow into one another supporting place, diversity, richness and intimacy. On the other is isolating, inefficient, transport heavy, scale-less suburban developments.

“Garden Grove,” is the wonderfully ironic name for this particular wreck of a development. Cheap construction, thin walls, a balcony is a luxury extra. Double layered security perimeter, guards and gates and cameras and the spiked fences that Rio loves so much. Welcome to Garden Grove Residential Prison Block A.

Sam Faigen, B.Arch, M.Arch (Australia)