Imprimir Republish

Nestor Reis Filho

Nestor Goulart Reis Filho: Interpreting Urban Evolution, from Buildings to Cities

Léo RamosWhen used to refer to the dense body of work by the elegant architect/sociologist Nestor Goulart Reis Filho, adjectives like “unique” and “original” don’t do him justice. The highly respected professor from the School of Architecture and Urban Studies at the University of São Paulo (FAU-USP), who at age 83 continues to enchant new generations of students, produces in his work a dialogue between architecture and urban studies in his work that is so astute that he is able to recapture them as one and the same process. Furthermore, he creates so many new theoretical pathways for the purpose that we obtain, in the bargain, new interpretations of the urban evolution that are anchored in other, broader and deeper, social processes in which we can see that evolution as a facet or revelation of those processes. And, as if that were not enough, Nestor Goulart also deals with initiatives in fields apparently as different from architecture and urban studies as the exhaustive mapping of historical areas of gold mining in Brazil’s South that has yielded, among other things, maps, a book, and beautiful albums.

In fact, at this very moment Goulart is working hard on no fewer than 20 albums that he hopes to see added to the 30 books he has published over the course of his career. About the first, he says: “I finished it about four years ago and now I want to supplement it. It’s a mapping of the dispersion of population that we produced in cooperation with the National Institute for Space Research (INPE).” The dense areas of the Paraíba River Valley, the Campinas region—all the major regions of the state of São Paulo were mapped as an overlay of the aerial surveys made by INPE. “It is a gigantic project and now I want to see it completed.” The second album features aerial photos of São Paulo taken between 1940 and 1960 that he purchased a long time ago. “You can see the Jardim da Luz, Anhangabaú, the airport, Ibirapuera Park, the Jockey Club and the Pinheiros River with the dam there at the end—you can see everything, and see how the city was growing.” It’s fascinating! That one is finished,” he says. The third album depicts the layout of streets in the city of São Paulo that enable whoever examines it to “understand the city of São Paulo visually, nothing needs to be explained.” Indeed, Goulart sums up his work as professor as “going out into the street and teaching people to see.”

Son of Nestor Goulart Reis, a physician well connected with the intellectual circles of Porto Alegre who, after moving to São Paulo, headed the state’s tuberculosis service, a position that even involved leading the process of building the hospitals needed to perform his work, Nestor Goulart attended middle and high school at the Colégio São Luiz. His brother Luiz Carlos Fernandes Reis, later a physician and professor of medicine at USP in Ribeirão Preto, was his classmate. His mother, Ruth Fernandes Reis, a housewife, was a pianist who had studied with Mário de Andrade. When Goulart’s father was appointed director of the Vicentina Aranha Tuberculosis Hospital in São José does Campos, Goulart recalls, they had to move, so they sold the piano. His mother stopped playing. Later, when both brothers were already in the university, they convinced their father to buy her a piano, “which she went back to playing, just for pleasure.” It was his mother, says the architect, who always pressured her sons to take a well-organized and methodical approach to studying.

The interview, the main excerpts of which we present here, involved almost three hours of stimulating conversation and took place a few months ago in Professor Nestor Goulart’s office at the FAU and in the school’s restaurant where, of course, we interrupted our recording in order to enjoy lunch.

Architecture and urban planning
USP School of Architecture and Urban Studies (undergraduate) USP Faculty of Philosophy, Languages and Literature, and Human Sciences (undergraduate) USP School of Architecture and Urban Studies(doctorate)
USP School of Architecture and Urban Studies
Scientific Production:
42 scientific articles, 30 books, and 79 technical papers

Let’s start with your most recent book, As minas de ouro e a formação das capitanias do sul (The Gold Mines and the Formation of Captaincies in the South). How would you describe the experience of writing it?
UNESCO suggested a way of thinking about cultural assets that involve landscapes. A concept of cultural landscape began to be discussed as the result of the destruction of certain sites and the ways that production has been organized: villages, tracts of land, and terraces were being destroyed in Southeast Asia and in Peru, and there was a concern that the meaning of the term “cultural production” be extended on the basis of that point of view.

Did this concern arise during this century?
No, it comes from the 1990s. After World War II, the notion of a society’s heritage, or patrimony, began to be expanded from isolated buildings to encompass urban complexes and historical cities, always expanding and including the urban component. To those of us who study urbanization as a social process, this expansion is vital, because we had been losing sight of the dimensions. Although in 1937 or 1938 when it was founded, the Historic and Artistic National Heritage Institute (Iphan) had officially designated certain cities in Minas Gerais such as Ouro Preto and other classical sites as Brazilian cultural heritage, that action was a mere formality. There was no established notion of the significance of such a decision in Brazil or anywhere else in the world. After 1950, when European cities were being remodeled, concern began to be expressed about whole sections of cities that had been considered part of a country’s cultural heritage. By the end of the 20th century, people realized that the historical towns and cities from which the population had drained away due to urbanization were still important—and Europeans have always had greater affection for areas that are home to important aspects of history. So there began a discussion of the concept of cultural landscape that Iphan is adopting now, at the turn of the century and beginning to apply in small cities that have very characteristic landscapes created by Italian, German, and Japanese immigrants, respectively in Rio Grande do Sul, Santa Catarina, and the Ribeira River Valley (SP). At a certain point, Dalmo Vieira, a native of Santa Catarina who headed the Material Heritage Department of Iphan and who in 1974 had been an enthusiastic pupil in our course on restoration of cultural patrimony, asked me whether I could study the formation of those cultural landscapes in São Paulo and the three southern states. It posed a huge challenge. We would have to start from the standpoint of economic cycles: the first sugar cycle during the early years of colonization in São Paulo; the gold cycle; the second sugar cycle; the coffee cycle, etc. Vieira asked me what gold cycle that was.

And that was how you became interested in mining in São Paulo.
Yes. I knew that veins of ore had been mined in Jaraguá, Cantareira, the region of Voturuna, and from Santana do Parnaíba southward, in the Ribeira River Valley, and that there had also been some mining in the South, but I didn’t know much about the subject. Actually that story had been completely forgotten. Iphan signed a contract with a company that, in turn, hired me to do the work. In terms of money, I earned next to nothing. Out of all that was spent, only R$16,000 was left to cover two years of study. Strictly speaking, it didn’t matter at all because I kept working after the project ended, and the fact was that we had assistants and could handle the incidental expenses. We began in 2009 and published the material in 2012. That was fast—a pace made possible by research methods that had matured during 60 years of experience. I had some idea about things, but we needed to take a methodical approach. I knew which regions needed to be studied. I knew their history, but I was surprised. The region of Paranaguá, toward the hills and on the plateau, and the region around Curitiba were areas where mining was done. And I knew that in Santa Catarina too, there had been mining near the city of São Francisco do Sul. I started looking, and I found it.

Did that mining take place at the same time as the prospecting and mining of gold in Minas Gerais?
No, it was much earlier. Back in 1586 there had already been reports of it. And even earlier, according to information from the Jesuits—they also had gold mines—the Portuguese Crown had begun to send experts to handle the exploration. The first survey was done by Brás Cubas who was accompanied by a technical expert sent from Portugal. They traveled toward Minas, found nothing, and on the return decided to check whether what had been said about the occurrence of gold in Jaraguá was true. That area became important around 1590, 1595.

In other words, these events predated the pioneering expeditions known as the Entradas and Bandeiras.
They were earlier, but coincident in part. In my paper I emphasized the fact that the Indians knew the environment very well. There could not have been any Bandeiras without the Indians taking the lead in the processions, with the Portuguese sometimes being carried in hammocks. The Indians knew the natural environment, the semiprecious stones, and had Tupi names for them. When the Portuguese explained what they wanted, the Indians knew that what they were looking for could be found in Jaraguá and in Cantareira, further to the south, and took them there. In 1599, Governor Dom Francisco de Souza arrived in Bahia and sought out Gabriel Soares de Souza, whose brother had gone into the São Francisco River and found gold after traveling up the Paraguaçu River. While trying to do the same thing at the governor’s request, Soares de Souza died. Only the Indians were familiar with that passage from the Paraguaçu to the São Francisco. The Portuguese Crown was then in the hands of Spain and Dom Francisco had come from Madrid bearing some contracts that ensured that he would do well if he found gold. Not finding it in the São Francisco River Valley, he came to São Paulo. And here he ordered that anyone who found gold would have to declare it.

And no one did that?
Of course not. But the problem is that tax evasion went on until the War of the Emboabas, the name given by locals to the Brazilian or Portuguese fortune-seekers. By the 18th century, the Crown’s objective in Minas Gerais was to fill the area with miners and get all the gold out of the region as quickly as possible. The residents of São Paulo were not used to that. They had been given plots of land, large holdings, and had armed their Indians to keep anyone from going on their property. When other miners arrived, war broke out. In 1604, when miners were required to declare the gold they had found, the only one who registered his findings was a fellow who said he was associated with Afonso Sardinha. He declared, speaking to a legislative body so that it was formally recorded, that in the 12 previous years he had taken gold from Cantareira, Jaraguá, and Voturuna. But he was the only one. Based on that record, we know that it is official that there was mining in Brazil. At the end of his term, Dom Francisco returned to Madrid and convinced the court that he should return as governor. He returned in 1608 and remained in office until 1611. In São Paulo, he organized the male residents into a militia and started the Bandeiras—incidentally, the term bandeira was used in Portugal to refer to a military company. First he recruited the Portuguese and their descendants, including half-breeds. Then those men organized the Indians, who were allies, bearers, and the actual miners. According to Sergio Buarque de Holanda and others, the Portuguese were incapable of feeding themselves in the forests. The story of the Bandeiras needs to be told. And then we must realize that the word paulista referred to a single category that included people from many towns. In 1700, from Porto Seguro (Bahia) northward there were two cities and 18 towns. South of there were two cities and 19 towns. And all the people of those settlements south of Porto Seguro were known as paulistas—people from Taubaté, Iguapé, Curitiba, etc.

Your book maps the mining sites in the city of São Paulo up to what year?
Mining went on for a very long time. In 1930, 1940, there was mining in Santo Amaro at mines known as Morro do Ouro and Estrada do Ouro; in Embu-Guaçu mining was taking place until recently. There was more intense mining in the south until the sites in Minas Gerais were discovered. It occurred in two very clear cycles: first in Cantareira, Jaraguá, and Voturuna; and later, when the discovery in Paranaguá was announced. But even when miners reported their findings, people evaded the requirement as much as possible so that only about 5% was reported.

And where did the gold go?
People in this region had no goods that could be exported to Europe. In the 17th century they sold salted meat, sweets, and a lot of wheat to the sugar mills. When ships arrived with European products, they had to be paid in gold. This was confirmed by Alice Canabrava, a professor at the USP School of Economics, Business Administration and Accounting (FEA-USP) who studied the census taken in 1766 and 1767, the first one taken in São Paulo. She proved that at the height of the gold mining, the merchants were the wealthiest people. Miners were in second place, and in third place were ranchers and small retailers. The fact is that the Portuguese Crown ended up winning, no matter what happened, from the taxes on mining, yes, but primarily from the taxes on trade.

How did you discover where the mines were?
One way was to consult historic maps, which are full of information. Miners panned for gold at first. But later, when all those people went to Minas Gerais, they took with them the method of removing the ore from the river bottoms. They mined one section, abandoned it, and went on to the next. There were a lot of rivers and they didn’t need to dig holes. It would have been hard for the Indians to actually excavate. Later the miners began to use African labor. Getting back to our methods of working, we just kept on inventing. Once I picked up a postcard from Ouro Preto and placed it under an LED lamp that cast the beam horizontally. What had seemed to be only a grassy hill appeared irregular, full of holes, incredible. From those references we went to Google Earth to find the configurations of those areas. Ultimately, we located 190 mining sites. Let me now go back to some information that got lost during our conversation: people were doing a great deal of work here in the direction of Santana do Parnaíba when, after 1640, reports came of easy gold in Paranaguá. Portugal had separated from Spain, Dom João IV had become king and he needed to coin money to pay the army, which was indispensable for waging war against Spain. The people in Paranaguá sent emissaries to Lisbon to report that they would try to find gold if given incentives. The king gave those incentives: paulistas and taubateanos or curitibanos no longer needed to share the mines with their neighbors. And so they started declaring a little of the gold that they found, now assured that it was theirs, otherwise they would have kept quiet.

Lets talk about another important one of your projects, an older one. Quadros da arquitetura no Brasil [Portraits of Architecture in Brazil] (published in Perspectiva, 1970). In it, there is a concern about connecting to connect the building to its lot, and the two units to the issue of slavery. Later you show how these connections are being restored during the post-slavery socioeconomic transformation of this country.
Right after I graduated, I found that there was very little theoretical foundation among architects. So I decided to study social sciences, and studied under Florestan Fernandes, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, and Egon Schaden. I earned a dual degree because I wanted to perfect my work in architectural history and urban studies. A second feature of my work is that I believe that the study of architecture and urban studies constitute a single process.

And so when you talk about buildings and their lots you have made that connection, in practice?
Yes. In developing my theoretical work I understood early on that an analysis of a city is static and does not account for the dynamics of urbanization that took place in the 20th century, just as the European concepts of city that existed when I wrote my dissertation in 1964 and 1965, didn’t take the Brazilian situation into account. If we had applied those concepts literally, Brazil would not have cities. When I started the dissertation, I thought that studies of urbanization as a social process were being done all over the world, but that was not true. The only work along those lines that I knew of was being done by my colleague Jorge Hardoy, from Argentina. At the time, I researched a lot of American authors who were studying urbanization, but they all approached it from a demographic standpoint. Only one member of that brilliant team of the fifties, Eric Lampard, was studying urbanization as it relates to the social process. But he didn’t have a clear historical view. The one who gives us that historical—or rather, archeological view is the Australian Gordon Childe, one of the greatest archeologists of the forties and fifties. His background was Marxist, and in his famous article “The Urban Revolution” he studied how urbanization had changed the history of humankind. Not long ago I came to understand the practical reason why Europeans had trouble understanding urban dispersion, which is a current phenomenon, an ultramodern one that people are only now taking note of. It is that to them, a city was an established fact, historically defined. While we—Brazilians, North Americans, Hispano-Americans, Australians—can open our windows and see urbanization in progress.

We see the city transforming itself every day.
Building itself, transforming daily and being transformed. Because each generation comes along and they [cities] don’t grow homogenously, They are permanently transformed. Nothing is pre-established. We can even understand why Gordon Childe used Marxist concepts. Urbanization is a form of permanent transformation. This is a concept that did not exist in Brazil and that we worked with from the beginning. Today we have young researchers, 25 to 40 years old, working along that same line, studying the history of urbanization in Ceará, in Pernambuco, in Alagoas, in the valley of the São Francisco. Because it can be seen only as a unit. You have to relate the part to the whole and the whole to the part.

That gives us a much more lively and vibrant view of our historical process.
I’m having to revisit all of that. We began to work with empirical material because we understand urban studies through architecture, which constitutes physical evidence that provides living proof of the historical process.

So you actually had to create a theoretical pathway?
Yes. In Quadros da arquitetura no Brasil I was still using a concept of the urban lot, i.e., it was the implantation of urban architecture, a term used by Luis Saia, who was director of the São Paulo office of Iphan for many years. The idea is that architecture, whether rural or urban, is implanted, it has a relationship with its environment. Frank Lloyd Wright, in the United States, always used to say that architecture has to be related to its location and to other objects. But those objects change, the process is extremely dynamic, and that gives us an extraordinary research tool for looking back at history.

I was impressed, in Quadros da arquitetura no Brasil, with how clearly you demonstrated the similarities, from the 16th to 19th centuries, between the layouts of the residences of the wealthy and those of the poorest, and tie this to the very limited technical skills of the available labor, slave labor. Also interesting is your report on the change in that matrix in the 19th century. Was that the topic of your first research?
I was getting started. First I published articles in O Estado de São Paulo, in 1962, 1963, and 1964, then I published the book. Before that, I had done research about houses on the northern coast of São Paulo for a few years, at the request of the FAU director. Jânio Quadros was governor [1955-59] and wanted to preserve the architecture of the municipalities of Ilhabela, São Sebastião Ubatuba and others. FAPESP was founded in 1962, and there I found interns who would survey everything they could. They camped up there and loved the work. About then I was living with those questions of rural and urban architecture and beginning to perceive the continuities and contrasts, without which things would get confused. We mustn’t start from closed concepts. When we study architecture and urbanization as processes, we must continually try to see the presence of human diversity. And that’s when we’re going to be able to understand how, within the traditional European scheme that we inherited, the urban lot, the way property is divided, determines how architecture is to be practiced. That is why in the 18th century, when there were slightly more resources and the population had grown, the wealthy went outside the city to build and live in chácaras (country houses). The urban two-story buildings were used mainly for work.

In order to make things clearer for the reader: during that initial occupation of urban lands, the structures covered the entire lot.
Along the front and the sides of the lot, yes, because that helped stabilize the building. But people left an open space at the back, because they needed to have light, a place to raise animals, and an outhouse—there were no indoor bathrooms. They had a sewer, a hole used only for household waste. And later they usually had a service area—the kitchen, with slaves preparing the food.

And so the chácara created another possible use for land, right? It came to have space along the sides and both in front and in back of the building. It was much later that the idea of an urban garden was imported from Europe
Yes, at the end of the 19th century, beginning of the 20th, we start to see two changes. First, among the wealthy, the chácara becomes a small palace, we see the beginnings of formal architecture. Our teachers at Iphan focused on baroque colonial architecture and modern architecture. Those were points of interest, especially under the leadership of Lúcio Costa. When we started to establish a little study center at the FAU, in 1948, we went out and photographed architecture, but we didn’t stop with what had been done in the 18th century, we photographed structures from the 19th century and the early 20th century up to the period of modernism, and we tried to understand what modernism was. Not that we wanted to copy that architecture; it didn’t serve as a model for us. But it was a lesson. We did not adopt the method of having two architectonic realities interrupted by a period of ignorance. We tried to study architecture over the course of the entire historic process.

And a fundamental discovery by your group was how that transition occurs?
I didn’t know how to resolve that. It was an assistant, who had to give classes to students in the street, along one side of Rua Maranhão. On Rua Major Sertório and Rua Marquês de Itu, there were still a lot of houses, which dated from the late 19th and early 20th centuries starting from Praça da República. How does one teach a class about that? I went into the street and photographed everything. I went to Santos (SP) and Rio de Janeiro, and went out photographing everything. Later, I got out some big tables and laid the photos one beside the other, because architects tend to study façades and decorative elements. It happens that in São Paulo, we had the Italian immigration at the end of the 19th century, and with it came the plasterers who made decorative elements in plaster in their shops and set them out in front to sell. I remember that when I was a child we would walk along Rua Santo Amaro and my mother would show us a pile of molds that people would purchase and put in their houses. In other words, that had nothing to do with architecture. The Italians lived in little houses near Brigadeiro Luís Antônio, and that was the neighborhood known as Bixiga. I wracked my brain, but couldn’t find anything around there. I started from the neoclassics of Rio during the Empire, very good, well done, Grandjean de Montigny and his disciples, the rectory on Praia Vermelho, the old hospice, the Santa Casa, extremely beautiful buildings. Despite the prejudice against that architecture, there were some very well-done designs. Here in São Paulo and in other places at the end of the 19th century, architecture was all of that. When examining the photos, I asked myself: what is the difference? And then I realized that it was the urbanistic relationship, the implantation of the house in relation to its external space. And I visualized the house where my grandmother lived. Her dream and that of my great-grandmother, who lived to be very old was, as my mother used to say, to live in a house with an iron veranda along the side so that they could sit there in the afternoons mending stockings and crocheting. I went looking to see where that idea came from. In Bixiga, a very poor area, the spaces along the sides were very narrow. But that’s when technical issues come in. The European model that came to us, houses side by side facing the street, did not disappear until technology came along and enabled us to solve certain problems, mainly with regard to water. Without new technology, we wouldn’t have been capable of solving them. And so we had the issue of the tile roof, how the rain falls, how it is captured in the gutters, the drain pipes, and carried away. The city also starts to have a storm drain, sewers, and a potable water system. That started in England, around 1840, at the height of the epidemics of contagious diseases that started with the poor but also afflicted the rich. All this has a lot to do with the concepts of sanitation at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries and the notion, starting with Pasteur, that diseases were not transmitted by air and that we needed to open up and air out our houses.

But then, in your work…
But then I needed to come up with a theory about those issues, and those articles in Quadros da arquitetura no Brasil show that in the context of the city. And then we get to the extreme, to plans that put an isolated building in the middle of the garden. It was not a random development, it was the last stage of a certain process. If you look at the thesis I wrote as full professor, you will see a later stage, from a generation of the fifties, a group of young architects who were responsible for organizing the 10th World Congress of Modern Architecture. They began to organize urban spaces differently, i.e., they set up a different urban fabric into which they integrated cars, streets, and elevated walkways connecting one building to the next, something that we see a lot of today. We have those complicated groups of buildings in São Paulo, where on a single large lot we find the residential part, the office space, and the services. Developments today sometimes integrate other things that didn’t exist before.

Beyond that view that put the residential function in one place and the workplace in another…
Yes, and that isolated one building from another. What happened here in São Paulo? When they isolated all the buildings, starting in 1940 and three of them caught fire, it was a monumental disaster. At the Andraus building on Avenida São João and at the Joelma, on Avenida 9 de Julho, people had to jump out of the windows, they had no way to escape. No one had thought of this because they said concrete wouldn’t catch fire, but the buildings caught fire anyway. And so then people began to build walkways, they went back to the idea of having streets that connect buildings to each other at a different level, which enabled people to escape in an emergency. That shows an evolution, architects thinking and rethinking all the relationships among spaces.

When you thought about the blank space between Brazilian colonial architecture and modern architecture in order to create those new theoretical pathways, did you rely more on your training as sociologist, or as architect?
I don’t know how to separate the two. Beatriz Bueno, an FAU colleague and research partner, said she never saw me visit a historical archive to read a document, she always saw me going to archives to get maps of cities, surveys done in the past to document history, and going out into the street. There’s an expression I used a day or so ago in a speech to younger colleagues. At the end of 1969, from the window of our department at the FAU, I was looking out at the spur of Rua Cerro Corá and saw only the woods. Today that area is all built up. On the other side of the Pinheiros River, beyond Alto de Pinheiros, you saw only woods. So now from my window I can see the city beginning to stir. I have to explain this, the theoretical work, more than the historical effort—which is the foundation of the theoretical—it’s to explain what is happening now and helping us think about the present. People think I’m devoted to studying the past, but I’m always studying the past in order to build a theory and understand the future, not just the present. What should we do? Where are we going? I would say to you that all the housing policies in Brazil are absolutely wrong.

What are those policies ignoring?
I don’t want to get into detail because we’ll lose our train of thought. But, to give you an example, people think that if we could raise the money to buy land and a house for every slum dweller, the problem would be solved. It would not be, because when the news gets around, slum dwellers from all Brazil’s cities will come here. The problem is not municipal; it’s national. Worse: it’s continental. Not long ago, Paraguayans, Bolivians, and Peruvians started coming here. Now it’s the Haitians. The Europeans are experiencing the same thing, painfully so. The housing problem has to be viewed from the social standpoint and you can’t harbor the illusion that we’re going to solve it directly. It will be solved indirectly through quality education, public health, improved conditions, improved income. Then people will achieve a different status and begin to solve their problems themselves.

In your first book, you were very clear about the process by which favelas were formed between 1940 and 1960, developing along with intense industrialization and its relationship with the capital city, internal migration, etc. And before that, the process of construction of worker housing in the twenties and thirties had already been clear.
When I was a student at the FAU, there were four important favelas in São Paulo. In my childhood and youth, there were houses on the outskirts, erected in an arduous process by the owners themselves, but practically no favelas; those were more often seen in Rio de Janeiro. There was Heliópolis, and a favela in Vila Mariana, which was removed. There was one in the area of the Klabins, and two more. When I began my career as professor, there must have been 4,000 or 5,000 slum dwellers in São Paulo. That was the beginning, and there was always the idea that if certain steps were taken, the problem would be solved. But it did not turn out that way, the housing problem is connected to the way the entire society functions, it has to be seen from a broader vantage point. Of course if the public could be mobilized to solve the problem, it would become simpler.

Let’s go back to kind of architecture that’s been rejected by other scholars and that helped you construct your theories. What would you say are its central elements?
It changes the implantation of architecture. That is true for the end of the 19th century, the first half of the 20th, and even later, because in the downtown areas the buildings were still built in pairs. Here in São Paulo, in 1954 and 1955, our professor and founder Luiz Inácio de Anhaia Melo, succeeded in getting the São Paulo City Council to approve a law requiring lateral and frontal setbacks on commercial buildings, which started to be built like the houses, isolated in the middle of the lot. This gave neighborhoods like Higienópolis a different look; our denser neighborhoods have green spaces. If you walk down Rua Haddock Lobo or up Rua Bela Cintra, you’ll see that the oldest buildings are on the corners because, since there was no setback, developers wanted to build on the corners in order to allow for windows and take full advantage of the entire lot. There were all built right up to the property line. There were no garages, or almost none, and the windows looked out on the street.

But you also note that during that phase there was an absorption of decorative and constructive elements influenced by the wave of European immigration into Brazil
Yes, in 1920, 1930. Then came reinforced concrete, modernism came onto the scene, and from 1930 onward that trend became more pronounced. We gained autonomy in design, and architects began to achieve importance in determining the directions that Brazilian architecture would take. Before then, the cost accountants, the builders, had all been Europeans and we depended heavily on them.

What was it like to study social sciences at USP in 1959, at the same time as you were teaching at the FAU?
I started with daytime classes, but Anhaia Melo returned as director of the FAU and he, a sort of difficult man, complained because I was the only full-time professor. He would say that I was studying instead of working, and so I asked to be transferred to night school. I spent a little more than a year attending evening classes. Anhaia Melo retired, and Lourival Gomes Machado came in. He’d been my art history professor at the university so I went back to daytime classes. I graduated with my original class.

And your family, how did they react to your decision to study social sciences?
At first they didn’t like it. My father asked why I would take on a second profession if I already had one. Arlete Pacheco, my mother’s goddaughter, who had studied pedagogy at the Faculty of Philosophy told me: “You’re doing the right thing!” I said I was still not sure and she introduced me to a new professor at the Faculty of Philosophy, a very nice fellow whose name she said was Fernando Henrique Cardoso. He suggested that I attend a few classes. I went, and liked it, so I studied for the entrance exam. At the time, I was living on Rua Itambé, near the FAU. I just needed to walk around the block and there I was on Rua Maria Antônia, where the social science courses were given. At the very beginning I took a class in Cultural Anthropology, taught by Gioconda Mussolini, about the scientific theory of culture. I heard that and thought: “That’s it!.” When I saw her systematic presentation of the theory of anthropology I realized that I needed something like that: systematization and an approach. I almost decided to major in anthropology.

What subjects were you teaching at the FAU?
I was an assistant to Eduardo Kneese de Melo, an older man who held the post of full professor of architecture in Brazil. It was the subject matter that brought us closer to Iphan, and the position had been created by the Pan-American Congress of Architects, in 1922, when it recommended that colonial architecture be studied in all Latin American countries and in the United States. I graduated on December 15, 1956. On January 4, I was called to work as an assistant. I was 25 years old. In 1961, 1962, we found out that Professor Anhaia Melo would be forced to retire at age 70 and therefore had to leave his posts as professor and director. We discussed the future of the FAU because it was always being headed up by some civil engineer. We wanted autonomy and our own director. How could we accomplish that? We studied the by-laws and discovered that the full professor who would be appointed to lead us did not have to come from the Polytechnic School. We went to talk to Lourival Gomes Machado, our former professor, head of the department of Political Science at the Faculty of Philosophy, where I was already studying. I told him about the problems, I said we didn’t have any departments, were not even recruiting young people, doing research, or publishing, etc. And he agreed to be a candidate. He had the support of a number of people from the governor’s palace, such as Hélio Bicudo, who was a public prosecutor and chief of staff. The university was not autonomous back then, which meant that the directors were appointed by the governor. Machado was appointed by Governor Carvalho Pinto, and that started the reform at the FAU.

What did the reform accomplish that was significant?
One of the things was that the History of Architecture courses ended at the beginning of the Renaissance, so Machado established the chair of Contemporary Architecture, ordered that the head of the department could be anyone at all, but that I would be the professor. I argued that History of Urbanization should be included in the subject matter, following the nomenclature of the courses given in Rio de Janeiro, which at the time were taught at the School of Fine Arts. As part of the graduate courses in urban studies, there was a subject called Urban Evolution, which was the study of the evolution in a single city. So then I asked them to insert a hyphen into the title of the course that I would be teaching and the new subject became: History of Contemporary Architecture-Urban Evolution. Then I set up the courses that had never before existed in Brazil, on both contemporary and urban architecture.

You were a pioneer.
I can’t say that, but I was very stubborn by doing those things.

Did you suffer persecution after the 1964 coup?
No, although I was in a delicate situation. My brother was persecuted, a cousin was arrested, I had difficult family problems and everyone knew which side I was on. But I was only a professor. I managed to get innovative people to work with me and things worked out. In 1968 we began to reorganize the subject matter, because the American model had been introduced, with departments, etc. The history of contemporary architecture was subdivided among several professors, as was urban evolution. It became history of urbanization and urban planning. The number of colleagues on staff was increased—these were people who had spent years attending seminars with us.

So they already were trained along those lines?
Yes. I had brought in three or four social science students to work on research. Previously, they had helped organize the texts for the seminars with the architects. So they knew how architects think. Beatriz Bueno, who in the first year of the History Department began to work and study at the FAU, took all the subjects offered by our department. Those people from social sciences made a very important contribution to the FAU.

What were your primary concerns when you headed the FAU from 1972 to 1976?
The FAU had the lowest budget of any school at USP, so that gives you an idea of its political fragility. I fought for more funds. The FAU had lost a lot of instructors, and we had very few assistants. We had originally numbered, I would say, 120 professors and were left with 70. When the persecution started in 1964, a lot of people left, either out of disgust or because of the persecution itself. So I worked hard to hire new people, qualified former students. We set up the graduate program, created specialization courses at the graduate level, and set up research units. I’ll give you an example that was successful: landscaping. I asked Professor Miranda Magnolli, who had been a classmate, to think about establishing a big group. She was all by herself as a landscaping professor. I needed to bring in new people, recruit students, translate texts from English into Portuguese, train personnel, and set up a specialized curriculum so we could offer a graduate studies program. We gave the course in restoration, and brought people from Portugal and France to teach the part on civil construction. FAU research as well as the graduate program began to get stronger.

Did you continue your research?
I couldn’t. I was involved in other activities. In the second year, Miguel Alves Pereira, a colleague who died not long ago, was director of the School of Architecture at the University of Brasília and working at the Ministry of Education. They had established a new school—there were 23 courses in architecture in Brazil and now there are 300—and we were concerned about quality. So he called in the 23 directors and we established the Brazilian Association of Schools of Architecture and I was elected president. We set up a committee to visit and inspect the schools and we were able to improve conditions at those schools in Brazil. The FAU took a leadership role because I had created the graphic arts laboratory, the LPG, and a graphic arts program. I was able to import a Heidelberg printer and bring in the first IBM photo compositor, which we used to do electronic composition. It was the most modern equipment available at the time, and even today that’s USP’s most advanced graphic arts unit.

When did you begin your relationship with Iphan?
Ever since I was a student, I had frequented the Iphan office in São Paulo but since Luis Saia was not an FAU professor and wanted to be, he got jealous, and we went through some bad times. When the Condephaat [Council for the Defense of Historic, Archeological, Artistic and Heritage Tourism] was founded, there was no representative from FAU on that council, but there was someone from the USP Faculty of Philosophy, Languages and Literature, and Human Sciences (FFLCH), Professor Eurípedes Simões de Paula. He was a principled man and said that I was the only one at USP who would understand that business. So I became the USP representative on the Condephaat. Saia and I worked very cordially in setting up that new council. After awhile, I become chairman of Condephaat, while Paulo Egydio was governor [1975-1979]. Then I left the chairmanship and never went back. I left the board of directors of the FAU and accepted the vice presidency of Emurb (Municipal Urbanization Company) and went on to practice urban planning for five years because it’s something I’m concerned about, and my focus is on contemporary problems. That’s what theories are for. I always kept up my interest, because I continued writing and publishing.

What kind of relationship did you have with architects like Oscar Niemeyer and Lúcio Costa?
I had no contact with them. I once went to visit Lúcio Costa in Rio. He was a very private man, born in France and educated in England. He sat on the edge of his chair, very prim and formal, with his hands on his knees. After 15 minutes, you realized you had to get up and leave. He was not cordial, at least not with someone he didn’t know well. Later, a Bahian colleague of mine, Maria José Feitosa, a much more informal person, rang the bell of the building where he lived, asked permission and went up, talked with him and became friends with him. She told me one day that he had followed my work closely and had read all my publications. Had I known that, I would have visited him on other occasions. Niemeyer—I saw him twice, very quickly. I never had a relationship with him. I was not a member of the Communist Party, so I had no contact with his group.

And João Filgueiras, aka Lelé, who died in 2014?
I would say that Filgueiras was the greatest Brazilian architect, an extraordinary man, impressive in his simplicity in dealing with people. A marvelous individual. Once he came to give a course here and wanted to talk to me. We went to the FAU bar. I was tired and thought that it must have been the others who had forced him to meet with me. And so it occurred to me: why did he come to talk to me? I think he wanted me to write a book about his work. When I thought of that, I got very sad, because I would really like to have written one. I’m a rationalist. I disagree with Le Corbusier’s nonsense, but my training is in organizing things according to reason, which involves understanding the emotions, the social relationships in their entirety. The idea that rationalization implies mechanization of human relationships is silly. But, in architecture, because of my political background, I am very strict. I really like the Mexican modernists and our early modernists who, in poor countries like ours, with a scarcity of resources, were trying to achieve total rationalization of resources, to think things through so as not to do stupid stuff. They didn’t want any exhibitionism, pomposity, or superfluity. And throughout the development of the modern movement, architecture became a game of forms played by people who had adopted the discourse of the left, but were actually wealthy. That happened frequently, all over the world. The social dimension that the Germans, Italians, and British proposed at the end of the 19th century got lost along the way, as did a lot of things in those days.

Are you also talking about the Bauhaus?
Bauhaus was something that was called New Objectivity, a very radical movement intended to produce very austere architecture. The first Mexican modernists, after the revolution, worked that way and said they were not going for aesthetics, that doing so was foolish. This is absurd, because a good architect, when he goes to work with the essential things, does so aesthetically. And their architecture was esthetically marvelous. A fellow by the name of Juan O’Gorman was the leader. Later, since he was associated with Rivera, he connected with Trotsky and was attacked by the Mexican communists, and sort of shunned. I had a collaborator, who was my assistant, Rodrigo Lefèvre, a very close friend of Sérgio Ferro and Flavio Império, who was an extraordinary individual. They practiced a kind of architecture during the dictatorship that featured that austerity and simplicity that I don’t like to call dry, because it gives the impression that it had no esthetic qualities, because it had a lot of them. It was clean, there was nothing superfluous. And Lina Bo Bardi did indeed produce an architecture that was modern, but with terrifically good taste. And Lelé did the same. It’s what we call constructive architecture. It designs on top of the construction and the shape results from the clarity, the orderliness, of the design.

Of all your intellectual production, which line of research do you believe is the main element that gives shape to your work?
The preparation of theoretical work to serve as foundation for studies, both in antiquity and in the present. And studying antiquity helps one think about present and future actions. To me, that is the concern. That’s why I want to talk about my new projects. I have just finished a project with the National Council for Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq), completing a survey of Brazilian cartography. I made a survey of all the colonial cartography. People think I’m interested only in the colonial period, but the project included the 19th and 20th centuries. I’ve already surveyed the 19th century. I have an album about the cartography and iconography of Brazilian cities of the 19th century, and this will be a sequel to that. I pick up at the beginning of the 20th century, until about 1930. Our group went to the Geological Institute and surveyed all the cartography done by the Geographic and Geological Commission at the end of the 19th century. We photographed all of it. We can see how the state of São Paulo grew along with growth in coffee production. At the time, Minas Gerais did something similar, as did Rio Grande do Sul, but not much more. In 1937, the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE) ordered a survey to be done. We found a few of those surveys in varying conditions and copied them. We surveyed everything in Rio, especially in the libraries, the historical archives of the Army, and the Army Geographical Service. Later, in 1974 and 1975, the Americans flew over Brazil and produced a new cartographic picture of Brazil from top to bottom. We have the plans that show the layouts of Brazilian cities from more or less the beginning of the 20th century up to the early 1970s. And now we’re working with Google Earth. So we can see that Brazil’s cities were very small at the beginning of the 20th century, while Brazil was predominately rural. After 1950 and 1960, certain cities grew at a very fast pace, and that is one of the articles I’m writing.

Does this convey the concept of urban dispersion?
No, population does not scatter. First it grows, then it concentrates in certain cities. In 1940, we had 42 million inhabitants, approximately 13 million of whom were urban and 29 million rural. The rural population kept growing until about 1970, when it reached 39 million. Today it’s fallen back to 29 million. And all of Brazil’s growth, up to the 201 million people we had as of 2013, has been urban. That urban population was not distributed homogenously. In the fifties, sixties and in 1970, nine metropolitan regions were created in addition to Brasília. Since then, the population has been concentrating in cities like Ribeirão Preto or Fortaleza, at high percentages. And the population is also settling in medium-sized cities, of 200,000 and more, the ones the IBGE calls “urban agglomerations” rather than metropolitan areas, which can be as large as one million. And they are settling into isolated cities like Manaus and Uberlândia that have no urban settlements around them, although Uberlândia has 500,000 inhabitants. And they are served by the market, trade, and services. The English language schools are the same, there are networks of colleges and they have industry. By my accounts, 63% of the Brazilian population lives in those areas. That’s what I want to publish now.

In other words, about 60% of Brazilians live in just a few localities?
More than 60% of the population lives in one of 200 towns or cities. There are about 30 million people in rural areas. Small cities with a population of less than 20,000 probably account for about 10 million people. I will also publish an article about the crisis of 2013, with the demonstrations in the streets, in the cities known as agglomerations. The entire political problem is that public institutions and services don’t function in those areas. The public is extremely dissatisfied because the infrastructure was designed for 5,000 or 10,000 residents and, what is worse, arranged by politicians whose ideas are based on populations of 5,000 or 10,000, as if it were still 1950. Here in Brazil we have urbanized 80 million people in the past 25 or 30 years. In a city like São Paulo, everyone wants to buy the same things, and so prices go up. A manufacturer is not going to buy land in that city. He’s going to sell his land in the city and buy a couple of hectares of land outside, along some highway, and build there. Workers will follow, and build towns to live in. The middle class too. In the 1970s, with the modernization of highways, a lot of people from São Paulo started working in the capital city and living nearby, in places like Vinhedo, Alphaville, and Granja Viana. That was part of disperse urbanization.

So it’s no coincidence that mobility was one of the features of the crisis of 2013?
Mobility has modernized technologically but our heads are not ready for it. People, mainly politicians, still believe they can handle this with methods from 40 or 50 years ago. We need a political plan. I’m interested in solving human problems. If we don’t have well-defined policies, we won’t get anywhere.