São Paulo Model of Urban Development

Among the guests who travelled to São Paulo to sign for the new project space was the president of the Goethe-Institut, Klaus-Dieter Lehmann (on the right).
Among the guests who travelled to São Paulo to sign for the new project space was the president of the Goethe-Institut, Klaus-Dieter Lehmann (on the right). | Photo: Goethe-Institut e.V.

“Ruins rarely leave us cold. They tell stories, sometimes very sad ones and sometimes very mysterious, fascinating ones,” said Klaus-Dieter Lehmann, the president of the Goethe-Institut, at the opening of the new project space Goethe na Vila on 8 December. The opening was held in the dilapidated building complex Vila Itororó in the central district of Bela Vista in São Paulo, where the new project space is located.

Lehmann said that the Goethe-Institut wants to become part of the local arts scene here and create a “space for encounters.” Artists will be given the opportunity to apply to use the space for one to two months and for project grants.

The Goethe na Vila ruin is situated in a dilapidated building complex called Vila Itororó in Bela Vista. It is a neighbourhood that is already very in demand among investors in the centre of the city between the Avenida Paulista and São Paulo’s Japanese quarter, Liberdade. Vila Itororó, originally the mansion of a Portuguese industrialist, fell into disrepair in the second half of the 20th century and hundreds of homeless people sought refuge here. Recently, the city purchased the complex and resettled the former residents for whom new living spaces will be created.

Dialogue with the neighbourhood and with the former residents is a key element of the project. A new approach was taken to enable reconstruction in cooperation with partners such as the Goethe-Institut, people in the neighbourhood or sponsors. The cultural centre will not be put in place by planners, but designed by the inhabitants, thereby making the arts an intentional part of social life and making the public space community property.

Ideas rising from ruins: The direct vicinity of the new project space Goethe na Vila is an exciting urban development area. Ideas rising from ruins: The direct vicinity of the new project space Goethe na Vila is an exciting urban development area. | Photo: Goethe-Institut e.V.

The project space with its “deliberately unfinished infrastructure” will become an “open laboratory” offering the ideal environment for encouraging “initiatives related to the city, space, neighbourhood and culture.” Lehmann went on the say that the plan is for “a participatory, gentle approach in further development that takes social, cultural as well as economic aspects in dialogue with the neighbourhood into consideration.” In addition to other stakeholders, the Goethe-Institut will therefore become a key ally in the conversion of the area.

According to Lehmann, the Goethe-Institut is making the urban space and its many problems, such as gentrification, an important object of artistic debate in this place. “It is, however, not about romanticizing a ruin as part of history, but about the future.”

Besides Lehmann, cultural professionals present at the opening of the new cultural space included the cultural affairs commissioner of the city of São Paulo, Nabil Bonduki, as well as persons widely known in Goethe circles such as theatre board member Florian Malzacher, curator Hannah Hurtzig and the Berlin artist Christoph Keller.

As of 2016, Goethe na Vila will be available to Brazilian and international art initiatives, which can apply for the space after January 1. The monthly projects will be chosen by a jury, thus giving Goethe na Vila its final shape over the course of 2016 and in constant dialogue with the location and its neighbours. The director of the Goethe-Institut São Paulo, Dr Katharina von Ruckteschell-Katte, said of the opportunities opening up in the special place, “Goethe na Vila will not simply be a project space; it will have the potential to serve as a model for participatory urban development as well as a platform for international discourse.”

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