From the roof of the Centro Cultural Sao Paulo the visitors see the city from a different perspective. The mobile kitchen is part of the Austrian Biennale contribution "Rurban City: Design your free local menu."
Photo © Rurban City
São Paulo: Using city, making city
by Isabel Martinez Abascal
Nov 29, 2013

On a sunny morning at Centro Cultural São Paulo, “base station” of the “X São Paulo Architecture Biennial”. A visitor is wandering along the ramps that connect free-flowing spaces. These spaces together provide an overview of several exhibitions of the Biennale under a common motto: “Ways of acting.” The tour eventually reaches a sunny grass rooftop that offers a quite breath-taking view of the vibrant Brazilian metropolis. A few metro stops away the visitor is welcomed to a show at “Museo de Arte de São Paulo”. Lina Bo Bardi’s distinctive concrete-and-glass building contains transparent photos printed on vinyl of emblematic works by Brazilian architect Vilanova Artigas that mingle with installations by Brazilian artist Hélio Oitica. Once downtown, visitors can sneak into an apartment with a window that gives a view out over the highway popularly called “Minhocão”, or the “big worm”. A catalogue of 140 dividing walls by graphic artist Andrés Sandoval really grabs your attention. The next metro trip takes you to “SESC Pompeia”, where you can attend a speech by American artist Chip Lord. At night there’s also a chat-music show between architect Paulo Mendes da Rocha and musician and author Zé Miguel Wisnik…

How to “city”?

All these events permeating the life of Brazil's biggest city are part of a major program: the “X Bienal de Arquitetura de São Paulo”. The radical proposal of this 10th edition immediately strikes the eye: It spreads throughout the city, occupies eight main venues connected by the metro system, plus an expanded network of satellites, and in this way incorporates the very object of discussion in its own spatial structure. “City: Ways of making, ways of using” focuses attention on cities, not just on architecture or architects. The quality of the public sphere in Brazil is in fact the leitmotiv for the whole Biennale, which also debates the issues of public transportation and the role of citizenship in contemporary cities. The main title hinges on subtitles for each venue. “Ways of collaborating”, at SESC Pompeia, brings together the work of collectives all around the world. “Ways of flowing”, at Praça Vitor Civita, charts projects that discuss the issue of water.“Ways of being modern” displays Brasília under construction in historical photos, together with Michael Wesely’s recent long-exposure images at “Centro Universitário Maria Antônia”. And there is much more besides.

Embedded exhibition landscape

A total of 50 kilometers in urban walking tours constitute a remarkable part of the program. Thus, the show operates not just as a presentation of ready-to-hand examples but fosters new ideas for evolution during and with the conceptual support of the X Biennale. If the selection of venues succeeds in physically embedding the city into the visitor’s path, the “Open Call” takes the Biennale out of the exhibition spaces to unlikely, stunning places. It discards the traditional panorama of architecture projects and chooses material from urban installations, documentaries, performances, publications and projects in progress. “Araça cemetery” hosts “Penetrável Genet”. For this experience each visitor receives a headset and listens to a sound piece while walking around the cemetery until reaching the ossuary where the remains of people who disappeared during the dictatorship are kept. There, the audio interfaces with a video-and-light installation focusing on the marble pieces; the overall impression is one of metaphorical denunciation. Once a week, the cozy café-cum-theater “Casa de Francisca” hosts informal conversations on the city – between musicians and architects. The talking and songs blend with the rhythm of a jam session.

Trivial towns and rendered cities

Actually, the idea of involving all kinds of citizens in this Architecture Biennial is intended to persuade society as a whole to more consciously engage with the urban dynamics. And for citizens to contribute to the construction and preservation of a public dimension in which urbanity can be discussed, designed, used and transformed by everyone.
Although there are no strictly regional or national presentations, the Biennale does feature various international exhibitions such as “Actions: What You can Do with the City” by the “Canadian Centre for Architecture” (CCA) and “The Banality of Good: Six Decades of New Towns, Architects, Money and Politics”, curated by “Crimson Architectural Historians” from the Netherlands. The venue for both: the “Centro Cultural São Paulo”, which houses exhibitions on contemporary cities. “Rio Now” confronts the visionary projects created in 1965 by architect Sergio Bernardes for the year 2000 and the major efforts that Rio de Janeiro is making to prepare itself for the World Cup (2014) and the Olympics (2016). “Detroit: deadlock?” tells of the decline of the emblematic city of the automobile industry and recent initiatives such as community gardens, as acts of both experimentation and survival. “China: the renderized world”, bring together the almost empty ghost city of Ordos Kangbashi in Inner Mongolia, and rapidly growing Shenzhen, where soon the Shenzhen Bi-city Biennale of Urbanism/Architecture will open. The host city itself is the subject of several exhibitions: “São Paulo: Open Project”, an official show that charts the urban development policies of the municipality, interacts with “With which laws the verticalization is made in São Paulo?”, which questions the neutrality of planning regulations.

The art of an architecture biennial

The range of works on display at MASP that corroborates the importance of expanding the architecture discussion into the art field and vice versa is immense. The ideas extend from conceiving houses as urban spaces and buildings as transport infrastructure or squares, to creating art installations for the hedonistic collective experience of domesticity in public, or reproducing the experience of going-up-into-the-favela. And it even includes finding ready-mades while drifting around the city, using the consumption cycle instead of the urban space as a platform for artworks, building glass models for domestic insects and theater sets from the rubble of demolished blocks through to proposals for turning plazas into public swimming-pools.

The “base station” of the 10th Architecture Biennale: The exhibition “Ways of Acting” in the Centro Cultural Sao Paulo gives an overview of all exhibitions and events. Photo © Isabel Martínez Abascal
Centro Cultural Sao Paulo. Photo © Thomas Locke Hobbs
Installation by Héctor Zamora at the Centro Cultural Sao Paulo. Photo @ Isabel Martínez Abascal
Brasilia under construction. Michael Wesely’s image at Centro Universitário Maria Antônia. Photo © Michael Wesely
Converstions between musicians and architects at Casa de Francisca. Photo © Pablo Saborido
Hidden Places of the Biennale: Casa de Francisca. Photo © X Bienal de São Paulo
A residential area in Ordos. Valentina Tong works in the exhibition “China: the renderized world”. Photo © Valentina Tong
Public space in Ordos. Photo © Valentina Tong
The Highway “Minhocão”. Foto @ Flickr / gaf.arq
Mostra de Cinema: Screening underneath Lina Bo Bardi’s iconic building “Museo de Arte de São Paulo”. MASP Photo © Claudio Pedroso Agência FOTO
Photo © Leandro Moraes
In Downtown Sao Paulo the visitor can sneak into an apartment next to the popular Highway called “Minhocão”, where a catalogue of 140 dividing walls by graphic artist Andrés Sandoval is shown. Photo © Leandro Moraes 
The exhibition “The asphalt and the sand” at the MASP. Photo @ Isabel Martínez Abascal
Works of Lina Bo Bardi in the exhibition “The asphalt and the sand” at the MASP. Photo @ Isabel Martínez Abascal