Expanding our Horizons-Rio de Janeiro

After looking at the Indian slum of Dharavi, we decided we needed to look at somewhere with a little bit more height and contrast. The flat planes of Dharavi just seemed too simple, and weren’t visually exciting, so we have looked to the Favelas of Rio de Janeiro for inspiration.


Favelas are places increasingly recognized by planners and architects for their:

  • Low-rise, high density development
  • Pedestrian orientation
  • High use of bicycles & public transportation
  • Mixed use (homes above shops)
  • Residence close to workplace
  • Organic architecture (architecture evolves according to need)
  • New urbanism
  • Collective action
  • Intricate solidarity networks
  • Vibrant cultural production


85% of housing worldwide is built illegally. In highly urbanized Latin America, one third of all city dwellers live in informal conditions.


In the city of Rio, close to 1.5 million people – around 23-24% of the population – live in favelas. That’s comparable to the percentage living in affordable housing (public, rent controlled, cooperatives, community land trusts and other models) in major cities worldwide. Rio’s favelas are our affordable housing market. Rio has more favela residents than any other Brazilian city and, all together, Rio’s favelas would comprise the ninth largest city in the country.


There are over 1000 favelas in Rio. They range from newer or more challenged communities with slum-like conditions and a desire to resettle, to highly-functioning, vibrant neighborhoods determined to maintain their qualities and continue developing in their own extraordinary ways.


Rio’s oldest favela, Providência, was founded in 1897 within a decade of the abolition of slavery, next to the Port that received two million enslaved Africans (four times the number taken to the entire United States). 


According to a recent survey of six communities, 95% of favela homes are built of brick, concrete, and reinforced steel. 75% have tile floors. Residents put decades-worth of income and physical labor into the construction and consolidation of their homes. Peek inside and you’ll not only see the basics of electricity, running water and indoor plumbing, but a large-screen television and, in over 44% of cases, a computer. The increased presence of computers and other technologies allow for the fact that, as of 2012, nine out of ten favela residents under 30 could access the internet. 2015 data showed that favela residents are more technologically connected than those living on the “asphalt,” or formal city.

30% of Rio’s population is not connected to a formal sanitation system, which encompasses not only some of Rio’s favelas but also some of the city’s wealthier neighborhoods.


The 12 million people living in favelas across Brazil are responsible for generating R$38.6 billion per year in commercial activity, which is equivalent, for example, to the GDP of Bolivia. In 2001, 60% of favela residents belonged to the lower class and 37% to the middle class. By 2013, 32% were in the lower class and 65% in the middle class. This shift corresponded with a 54.7% increase in the average wage in favelas from 2003 (US$269) to 2013 (US$460). This is significantly greater than the national average wage increase of 37.9% over the same period.


According to a study released in 2013 by the Data Popular Institute, 85% of favela residents like the place where they live, 80% are proud of where they live and 70% would continue to live in their communities, even if their income doubled. A 2014 study by the Data Popular Institute, 94% of favela residents state that they are happy.

-http://catcomm.org/favela-facts/ Rio Favela Facts



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