Former mayor of Curitiba Jaime Lerner may be the first name that pops up in the mind when thinking about Brazil and urbanism, but he's not the only architect to have had considerable impact in a major city in the country.
Joao Filgueiras Lima, known as Lele, has a remarkable portfolio which has begun to raise attention thanks to the exhibition A arquitetura de Lelé: fábrica e invenção (The architecture of Lelé: Factory and Invention), which I had the opportunity to see at the Niemeyer Museum and which is showing this October in Rotterdam.
One project of his which is particularly interesting for the treehugging urbanite is the pedestrian walkways system developed for Salvador de Bahia in the 1980s.
Now a symbol of the city's urban structure, the walkways were designed to solve a particular problem: the big speedways which connected the center of the city to the suburbs born from its expansion broke the communication between neighborhoods in the inhabited hills to its sides, easing the circulation of cars and buses but making pedestrian life hell. The system reestablished the undone links and gave people access to public transportation while also allowing large scale transit.
To be as adaptable as possible to the irregular needs of Salvador, they were made of a simple structural metallic framework whose extremes were posed on concrete mushroom-shaped joints, allowing variations in the direction and height of the paths. The arched coverage not only added shadow, but also made the structure more appealing to the population.
Light and easy to mount, the system influenced other cities like Lauro de Freitas and Florianópolis: they even ordered the parts from the local Community Equipment Factory (FAEC) that functioned in Salvador at the end of the 1980s.
"[The walkways] are not only flux distribution points, or a passage over an avenue, they are a consolidation of the neighborhoods' urban spaces. They allow a connection with the historical center, but also a union between one community and the other," says the blog Arquitetonico.
Their impact can be very much appreciated in the Google Earth image below (click to enlarge), which can make you imagine what the pedestrian life would be like if those connections weren't there.
A disciple of Oscar Niemeyer and Lucio Costa and part of the team that built Brasilia, Lele has been praised for his 'social' architecture: apart from the urban work in Salvador, he designed numerous factories and hospitals, the most prominent being the Rede Sarah rehabilitation centers.
One look at some images of the Rio de Janeiro and Fortaleza buildings below is enough to admire the architect, who brought light, green and modernity to healing venues.
"Lele's interventions are not punctual. They can arise as localized works, but are born from the thinking of the city as a whole. He never ceases to see the socio-anthropological dimension of the architectural praxis," says author Antonio Riserio in one of the exhibition texts. "It is that which makes every work by Joao Filgueiras Lima truly thought, planned and executed not only as a physical intervention in the social space, but also as a social intervention in the physical space."
It seems the appreciation and study of Lele's work is very much due. The exhibition A arquitetura de Lelé: fábrica e invenção was curated by architect and professor Max Risselada and co-curated by director of the Museu da Casa Brasileira and author of a book on Lele, Giancarlo Latorraca. For those in the Netherlands, the show in Rotterdam opens October 13.