Dissent and Let Simmer

Publication Date
April 23, 2020

São Paulo wears its people’s dissent on its buildings. As a reflection of this, University of São Paulo’s Faculty for Architecture and Urbanism (FAU-USP), designed by Vilanova Artigas, carries generations of student graffiti on its bare concrete walls. The stark roof volume works like a blinder between the school and its surrounding context. And yet, the school’s central atrium feels closer to the rest of the city than its surroundings—the enclave formed by the university’s campus—thanks in part to its free-flowing plan but also to the candid contributions in ink, paint, and paste-
up decorating its halls. Several of the messages display the locally grown pixação style of tagging, a script developed specifically with the aims of confronting the ugliness in Brazil’s structural violence.1 The building pays this attitude in kind through its coarsely executed board-formed walls, laying bare the construction capabilities of São Paulo’s undertrained and underpaid work force.2 Artigas brandishes the coarseness of the building’s architecture as a frank admission of the heights of wealth accumulated only for Brazil’s elite and not for its popular workforce.

The building’s formal layout stages a democratic organization for the institution’s activities. Despite the severity of the building’s floating facade, its entryway slips into the building free of any bounded enclosure, leading into a plaza-like atrium around which the rest of the spaces gather. Even within the building, the interior programming largely remains open to one another, delineated only by distances, elevational changes, or partial height walls; the few exceptions being the glazed library and administrative spaces that face directly onto the atrium. Artigas notes that the gentle ramps circulating up through the building were designed so as to make the building feel as if it were one continuous floor, emphasizing the unity of the
spaces within.3 The resulting breezeway carries currents of political baggage in with the wind, depositing the grounded realities students live through along with the work accumulating at their desks. Artigas’ stance expressed through the building is one of sheltered engagement, responding
to the very real threats of violence from a repressive regime. The frankness of the building’s walls invite a similar frankness in the various scrawlings, political or otherwise, deposited by the students. The exposition of generations of restless slogans construct a long memory of dissent, simmering until boiling over during boisterous political demonstrations that fill the open atrium.4

The FAU makes no illusions about the conditions which grant its existence. The democratic social arrangement formed by its huddled programming necessarily relies on a thick shell. It is a democracy culled from its context and cultivated in secret. Rather than a Modernity achieved, the building’s structural poetics evoke an immanent precarity for the building’s destiny. Its gruff enshrouding details remind the building’s users that its subversive and emancipatory potential remains provisional, conditional to the active cultivation of such a dreamed future. The building embodies Artigas’ own politics. Shortly after the military coup in 1964, Artigas was arrested
for communist affiliations. He would be cleared of charges but would pursue a practice in building institutions for the military regime, the building for FAU-USP being one of them. Such contradictions lie at the heart of questions he asked of himself and the discipline. In response to his students’ growing militancy, he asked, “how can we make a revolution, without the… artistic vision needed of the world?”5 Despite its contradictions, the school, with its collected writings on the walls, stands to make its case.

[1] The recent Paprika! Vol. 5, Issue 14 featured Pixação type, stating, “while graffiti writers in the United States ‘paint’ or ‘tag’, Pichadores ‘crush’ and ‘destroy.’”
[2] Williams, Richard. “Brazil’s Brutalism: Past and Future Decay at the FAU-USP” in Neo-avant-garde and Postmodern: Postwar Architecture in Britain and Beyond (New Haven, Yale University Press, 2011), 103–122.
[3] Ibid. 112.
[4] See José Moscardi’s 1969 photograph of a student demonstration inside
FAU-USP’s central hall. https://buellcenter.columbia.edu/drupal/web/sites/default/files/inline-images/tumblr\_or32bzxZEo1s4dtcjo1\_540.jpg
[5] León, Ana María. “Designing Dissent” in Architecture and the
Paradox of Dissidence
(London, Routledge, 2014), 83.

Publication Date
April 23, 2020
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