by Hugo Hinsley, Director, AA Housing & Urbanism Programme
4 July 2014 Recife, Brazil   The Housing & Urbanism programme in the AA Graduate School has published a book, Housing as Urbanism, based on the first stage of design research in Recife, Brazil. 2   This book is a result of an intensive international design workshop on ‘Housing and Urban Intervention’ in Recife in June 2013. This was organised by the AA Housing and Urbanism Programme and the postgraduate Urban Development Programme (MDU) of the Department of Architecture and Urbanism of the Federal University of Pernambuco. The Workshop was supported by the Ministry of Cities, the Federal Bank CAIXA and the City of Recife, along with other professional experts and local representatives. This intensive collaborative workshop focused on urban concepts and housing design questions for the development of part of central Recife. The ambition was to investigate alternative approaches to the challenges of improving urban quality for social housing and informal urban settlements.  We focused on the place of design and spatial reasoning in addressing the opportunity provided by the Brazilian national housing programme, entitled “Minha Casa, Minha Vida” (My House, My Life), which finances housing for the lowest income groups.  The work investigated appropriate spatial approaches to the articulation of the fundamental link between housing and the production of the city that is found in the provision of affordable housing for the poorest members of society.
Our study area (134 hectares) is in a central location in Recife, and has been for some time identified for redevelopment and the introduction of new social housing. The area is designated as a ‘zone of social interest’ (ZEIS), mainly in response to the presence of a large and historical squatter settlement – Favela Coque. The combination of location and conditions of irregularity, that both protected the area as well as making it possible to attract additional public programmes for slum upgrading, made this an ideal place to reflect on experimental approaches to an urban project in which housing, through the MC/MV programme, could play a central role. This was a challenging site to test the meaning of housing as urbanism.   1.Coque   More than 60 students from the AA and the MDU were mixed and divided into four groups, with three or four tutors per group. Rather than a detailed brief, each group was asked to identify potential drivers of an urban spatial strategy, and a project in which housing would act as the structuring and anchoring component of such a strategy. This produced four quite distinct spatial approaches, with different urban drivers, different combinations of programmes and mixes of use, and with different ways of articulating questions of density, typology and urban intensification. The work was presented back to local citizens, experts from the University, officials from the city government and representatives of the Federal Ministry of Cities.
The model of the intensive design workshop is one that the H&U programme has developed over many years, working in many different cities worldwide. We collaborate with local academic institutions to address challenging urban conditions, in the context of real plans and projects, always engaging all the relevant stakeholders, private and public. We usually commit to a cycle of three years work with a particular university and city – so that the work can engage deeply with the spatial potential related to the development of policy and practice.  These workshops are a central part of a pedagogy that attempts both to expose the students to the pressures, complexities and politics of real projects and plans, and also to expose them to other pedagogic approaches to the urban project, and to other understandings of urbanism itself.   5   The aim is to provide a valuable educational experience for the students while also offering an opportunity for debate and opening-up of alternative ideas for the host city. The fact that our workshop in Recife last year acted as a catalyst for a real plan for the site, which is now being developed, is something we value greatly. We have just completed the second Recife workshop, and will soon be publishing the results.   For more information: Housing & Urbanism Programme Brief Housing & Urbanism Design Workshop 3 students in the H&U programme developed their work from the Recife Workshop to enter the UN Habitat competition and won First Prize Housing as Urbanism, the book