Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Physical Graffiti

Rio does graffiti like no where else. The level of precision and craft that you see is exceptional. Brazilian's have legitimized some of these more sophisticated versions of writing that are differentiated as graffiti as opposed to pichação which is a monotone simple writing form involving unique letters and glyphs that is an attempt to make a public statement on high, hard to reach surfaces. Pichação generally seen as a nuisance.

What if more of the surfaces of our public urban spaces were seen as a communal canvas that we all could share? It could be a constantly evolving conversation to which anyone contributes. It reminds me of yesterday's New York Times article "Graffiti of New York's Past, Revived and Remade" A collective of local graffiti artists have remade and paid tribute to famous graffiti across NYC from the past. A project they call "Subway Art History", and they have the permission from the businesses and schools that own the surfaces that becomes their canvases.
Brazilian and New York streets are proof that if you legitimize graffiti, it can be elevated to beautiful community art.

Blurring Boundaries

Sao Paulo loves to blur interior and exterior. And with a climate like this who could blame them? Retail storefronts become truly semi-public with an inviting integration of soft and temporary enclosure. Sometimes it's hard to tell whether your in or out.
The Livraria de Vila bookstore in Sao Paulo's Jardin district blurs the boundary with operable steel and glass doors that display books that draw you in. One minute your in the sunshine, and before you know it, you are browsing the walls inside.

It's hard to stay on the sidewalk as my path meanders in out of these fuzzy edges of retail spaces in Via Madalena.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

A Place (Not) In The Sun

A sunny sunday in Sao Paulo's Parque do Ibirapuera is maybe the best crowd-watching experience in the whole world. These two images reveal Paulista's carving out their own comfortable environment in the shaded portions of a huge expanse of the park. I didn't see a single person hanging out in the sun. It's a very simple way that individuals can make a public space their own, in their own way.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Activating the Blank Slate

Among the many things that make Sao Paulo's Parque do Ibirapuera a sensational public space is Oscar Niemeyer's Grande Marquise. It's a meandering concrete promenade with a massive concrete roof shade structure that wanders between several modern buildings in the park. On a Sunday afternoon it is packed with strolling Paulistas eager to escape the vertical concrete jungle by enjoying a horizontal version surrounded by a lush, green landscape.

With its only valuable qualities being a flat, smooth, shaded surface and a constant stream of pedestrian audience members to check out your tricks, The Marquise could easily be a dark dreary dangerous void were it built in the cooler climates of London or New York. But in Sao Paulo it is THE place to show off, and their seems to be a de facto system for where each of the various groups engage in their arts. It is as if the rollerbladers, BMX bikers, skaters, and break dancers (sans music) have found the ideal conditions for their craft without getting in each other's way. The rollerbladers have a long run to get up speed out of the flow of pedestrians while the break dancers have a slower space at one end with a nearby wall where other teens can lounge while checking out their skills. Somehow it all flows together in perfect free-form harmony as this 60 year old blank slate still thrives as a masterpiece of public enjoyment.

Tire Shop = Night Club

The first in a series of posts from Brazil!

This tire repair shop doesn't look like much from the street late at night, but after hours it transforms into a night club known by the creative name Borracharia, tire repair shop.

It was featured in the NYTimes "36Hours in Salvador, Brazil"

It's a superb example of taking advantage of an underutilized space by combining two synchronous programs that can communally coexist. At 11:30pm we were obviously there a little on the early side by Brazilian standards as you can see from the small crowd. But what a great atmosphere to have a caipirinha while listening to Bahian DJs amidst stacks of vulcanized rubber. It's no grittier than a lot of clubs I've been to, has the same lighting. Mechanic shops all over Salvador are blasting Brazilian funk after dark as this unique spatial duality takes hold.

I'm reminded of an example of synchronous programming in San Francisco. A hookah bar on 16th St., Maroc, takes over the Pork Store, a brunch restaurant which occupies a double-wide storefront next door. By connecting through to the empty restaurant, Maroc makes a synchronous use of a space that would sit vacant for hours until dawn. All it takes is a little change in lighting and the casual breakfast joint becomes an overflow for the popular night spot. It's not as extreme as tire-shop-meets-night-club, but then San Francisco isn't Salvador either. If San Francisco had drinking hours until dawn, you could stay for a ceremonious conversion, putting away the booze and hookah to make way for a greasy hangover-avoidance breakfast.