The Tools of the 'Architects' in Informal Settlements: The Case of the Builders of Brazilian Favelas

Ana Chagas Cavalcanti

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Conference proceedings/Edited volumeConference contributionScientificpeer-review


    This article addresses the notion of architecture in informal settlements. The intellectual reflection derives its roots from an in field research of almost four years in Brazilian Favelas. According to the author’s experience, there are tools and strategies that the so called “architects” of favelas use to build their houses but they are unwritten in the traditional architecture study. The research identifies several unwritten tools and modes of experiencing architecture in the favela. In the current paper they are described and classified as tools of perception, tools of conception and tools of negotiation. As it is widely known, the favelas aren’t built by professional architects. Usually the spaces are designed by a network of experienced masons in the community; or, through owners’ auto-construction (autoconstrução) or even, through joint efforts of groups of inhabitants (mutirões) of the community.
    Often, the layout of houses in the favelas does not derive from official plans. In poorest settlements, inhabitants and builders may use sticks to draw the limits of houses in the floor of the field of intervention. Sometimes, putting the furniture of their future houses on the floor of the terrain of construction can be also a way to both guess, speculate and measure the size, the proportion and the layout of the future house. On the top of the drafted limits, around the furniture, inhabitants usually build a frame, shaped as a grid, in which an infinite amount of materials are assembled in order to constitute the walls of the house.
    These are only some the many accounts of the numerous calculations and tools adopted by the architects in informal settlements, that have a particular system of signification for those who live in the favela and that can be also in contrast to the principles and norms that current architecture adopts. For example, the foundations of many houses in the favelas can consists of locally available materials casts (such as shells of Sururu, in the favela Sururu de Capote in north-east of Brazil).
    The analysis of strategies adopted in the favelas to design space opens a debate. On one hand, on how to address planning in the Favelas based on principles of dignity in the building practices of informal settlements (i.e. safety and hygienic standard). On the other hand, current architecture bases its foundations on principles and notions sometimes distant from the functions and practices of inhabitants. This implies in a broader discussion between the technical apparatus of architecture and the logics of doing architecture in the field, with limited resources, as a way to both discuss architecture as a technocratic apparatus, and to build a debate based on the challenges that arise from the communication of the practices of inhabitants and, non parochial theories.
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationEAHN 2017 Conference: The Tools of the Architect
    Number of pages6
    Publication statusPublished - 2017
    EventEAHN 2017 Conference "The Tools of the Architect" - Delft and Rotterdam, Netherlands
    Duration: 22 Nov 201724 Nov 2017


    ConferenceEAHN 2017 Conference "The Tools of the Architect"
    CityDelft and Rotterdam
    Internet address

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