Permeable Borders – Archiprix 2020 first prize

Permeable Borders provides a palette of strategic actions for exploring spatial, functional and institutional opportunities in Rio de Janeiro. The project seeks to initiate a dialogue in the city so that local communities, organizations and stakeholders can plan and implement developments there.

Transformation of a wasteland into a civic centre

Transformation of a wasteland into a civic centre that empowers and integrates two favelas, Antiga Creche and Entre Rios.

Can you explain your choice of subject?
‘Permeable Borders’ originated from the will to use the knowledge gathered throughout my studies, and adapt it to address pressing societal challenges in the context of my home city, Rio de Janeiro.
Specifically, I am interested in the underlying impacts of the development processes that urbanized the city; particularly regarding spatial justice and social integration.
One of the main structural issues in the growth of Rio de Janeiro comes from the inability (or neglect) of the public sector to address the housing deficit and to promote an integrated development of the city. Reinforced by socio-economic inequalities, market-oriented development and political exclusion, segregative development processes have created a fragmented territory – one that is divided between privileged groups that are integrated in the city, and neglected groups that are excluded in the built environment. Due to the exclusionary approach of the government and the lack of integrated affordable housing policies, communities started to occupy the areas rejected by the ‘formal market’, seeking to be close to the opportunities in the urban realm. This process of self-organization and community action has been labeled as ‘informal urbanization’.
Despite having had successful housing policies and public programs in the past, progressive initiatives have gone into oblivion, much due to power interests between private and public sectors, compounded by the lack of political stability.
The choice for the subject of the research follows the urgent need to regain attention towards alternative approaches that can advocate for egalitarian and diversified growth, through the integration and empowerment of the neglected contexts in the city.

Socio-ecological strategic plan for Planning Area 4. Axonometric view

Socio-ecological strategic plan for Planning Area 4. Axonometric view

What or who are your sources of inspiration and can explain this?
The inspiration for the project was derived from multiple sources, from theoretical and practical knowledge, to interviews and site observations.
The theory of the ‘right to the city’, elaborated by Henri Lefevre (1968) and later on by David Harvey (2003), was an important framework that influenced the approach of the research. It fomented a critical reflection over the dominant structures that steer the development of cities, putting forward the conflict between needs of the capital and the society.
Later, the theoretical investigation was contextualized in Rio de Janeiro, when a thorough analysis of former public policies and slum-upgrading programs was conducted to understand what measures succeeded and what failed in the city. Progressive initiatives, such as Favela-Bairro and Projeto Mutirão, have been particularly important to understand the practical knowledge of such processes, in order to identify positive actions and procedural limitations.
Finally, the insights of field work influenced the research immensely. Even though some limitations arose through the process, the insights derived from the interviews and site observations were essential components for the local recognition and definition of the project. The resilience capacity and collective identity of those groups are inspiring characteristics that should be reinforced on the design.

Strategic actions.

Strategic actions.

1a activate new uses in monofunctional buildings 1b, generate civic centres, 1c establish health centres, 1d stimulate the exchange of collaborative services, 1e promote networks of commercial and service-related activities, 1f promote connections through aquatic transportation

2a create ecological corridors, 2b expand the green network, 2c rehabilitate the mangroves and the Restinga, 2d grow retention forestry and agroforestry, 2e stimulate green envelopes 3a activeer, activate neglected areas in iconic community spaces

3b generate new public spaces, 3c prime existing public spaces for mixed use, 3d improve the network between public spaces, 3e expand the public domain to include household roofs

4a develop Community Land Trusts in non-regularized settlements, 4b densify thinly populated areas, 4c build affordable multifunctional housing complexes, 4d reinforce the development of flat roofs in new apartment complexes

State the key moment in your graduation project
The most important period of my graduation was during the field trip. At that moment, the initial idea was to organize interviews and workshops with local residents and institutions, in order to co-produce strategies and actions with the community. However, throughout the three weeks of field work, reality struck me. I experienced multiple limitations, that forced me to change my strategy: arrangements were cancelled, my movement was restrained due to armed conflicts in some areas and lastly, a torrential storm hit the city causing critical damage to the infrastructure and specially to the vulnerable communities of the city. Therefore, my field trip was limited to site observations and interviews with specialists, university researches and a few families on site. Such an unfortunate moment, however, crucially highlighted some of the daily uncertainties experienced by those communities.
Finally, it had a positive effect over my research and design decisions, making me realize that the project had to be conceived as an open process – one that should be adaptive to different contexts and conditions, considering the temporal uncertainties present in such environments, whether economic, institutional or ecological.

Urban acupuncture in Praça Seca - before
Urban acupuncture in Praça Seca - after

Urban acupuncture in Praça Seca. Transformation of an idle terrain into a public park that facilitates local connections and social encounters.

Project text
Rio de Janeiro is a ‘broken city’ (Ventura, 1994). Rapid urbanization, a concentration of wealth, a market-oriented development and a lack of governmental guidance have brought about a sharp increase in socio-spatial segregation in the city. These processes have drawn clear-cut ideological, spatial, economic, ecological and institutional borders through the city, defining the fragmentation in Rio. On one hand, enclaves and elitist neighbourhoods were built in privileged areas along a corridor of services on the coast. On the other hand, diverse neighbourhoods with social housing projects and self-organized communities were pushed towards the least attractive locations, away from both sea and infrastructure. As the main case study of the project, Planning Area 4 is illustrative of this division in Rio.
The project brings to light the consequences of the fragmentation, which as a rule negatively impacts on groups that are already vulnerable. These are increasingly cut off from the basic infrastructure, faced with poor housing quality and uncertain employment opportunities and exposed to ecological risks. The process of fragmentation generates a degree of permeability at the edges relating to three distinct spatial conditions, namely the nature of the fragment in question, the borders and the in-between zones.

Exploration of Gardenia Azul as an important node in the socio-ecological network.

Exploration of Gardenia Azul as an important node in the socio-ecological network.

The research seeks to advance an alternative development model for the city, one that must increase the adaptive capacity of the site and improve integration of the community of vulnerable inhabitants with the region. The model initiates a process that is to support the inhabitants in increasing their ecologial skills and stimulate their self-development. In the strategy guiding this process, the co-production of spaces is a means to create potentialities for activating the fragments, making the borders permeable and connecting the in-between zones. The process is triggered by reinforcing the relevant local institutions and by designing ecological corridors and public spaces that stimulate social interaction. All this is informed by the population’s right to land and to a place to live.
Permeable Borders is an open project that presents transformative opportunities defined by socio-ecological strategies. The design provides a palette of strategic actions that can be implemented and managed through multiple institutional iterations. These can include self-organization and/or collaboration between civil society and the private and public sectors. The project’s flexibility strengthens the resilience of actions to withstand temporary uncertainties, whether these are ecological, political or socioeconomic.

Adaptation of undeveloped plots into public spaces that increase social interaction and attract commercial activities.
Adaptation of undeveloped plots into public spaces that increase social interaction and attract commercial activities.

Felipe Chaves Gonzalez


Technische Universiteit Delft / Faculteit Bouwkunde

Start graduation
September 2017

Finished graduation

June 2019

What are you doing now
At this moment I am living in Brussels, working as an Urban designer / Strategic planner for BUUR (Bureau voor Urbanisme) – a multidisciplinary office that works on the urban realm through multiple scales, from the design of public spaces to regional strategies.
At the same time I am continuing to work on the topic of my thesis, alongside external collaborators, looking for ways to put forward the content into practice.

Links to graduation project:
Before After Images Spatial impact of strategic actions
Planning Area 4 Analysis of the borders

Uit het juryrapport: “Het strategisch ontwerp bestrijkt de schaal van de hele stad en laat vervolgens ook zien wat de strategie kan betekenen voor verschillende concrete plekken in de stad. Het plan neemt alles mee wat relevant is in het kader van de opgave, het is echter niet alleen compleet het geeft ook blijk van de notie van wat realistisch is. Gezien de meta schaal en de complexiteit is het niet alleen enorm moedig om deze moeilijke opgave aan te pakken, het is uitzonderlijk om hem op dit hoge niveau uit te werken.”