The study of cartography, desires, processes, cities and traditional knowledge, led me to a small district in the Brazilian semi-arid region, an area reached only by 12-hour bus journeys, which, like other villages of the same scale, has been showing a decline in the number of inhabitants in the last decade. The theme of this work, “Prelude: the map, the eye and the city”, covers a circuit of architectural and urbanistic interventions in a small town on the border between Ceará and Paraíba states, called Iara. Investigating demands and rescuing potentialities, it was possible to work exploring the macro and micro scale of the territory. The design process made me not only an architect, but also a researcher, by producing unprecedented cartographic data and visiting the homes of families in the district with a keen eye for retelling the city's history through the stories of local residents. The research resulted in a circuit of interventions that included the restoration of an old public butchery to be transformed into a cultural and artistic center; the urbanization project on the border of the city’s intermittent lake, which includes a pier and other leisure facilities; an amphitheater with an outdoor cinema equipment; the restoration of an old wood market and the rescue of local fairs and festivities; and the implementation of technologies to mediate the lack of water arising from the problem of the drought. This work is intended to be a prelude, a first gesture towards a future in which this village, its history and knowledge, still resist.
Keywords: semiarid; research; macro and micro scale architecture; cartography; cities that disappear.
“Every story is a travel story – a spatial practice.
These narrated adventures, simultaneously producing geographies of actions and drifting into the commonplaces of an order, do not merely constitute a "supplement" to pedestrian enunciations and rhetorics. They are not satisfied with displacing the latter and transposing them into the field of language. In reality, they organize walks. They make the journey, before or during the time the feet perform it."
― de Sousa Santos, Boaventura. The university in the twenty-first century: Toward a democratic and emancipatory university reform1. Routledge, 2009.
This work is about cartographies, desires, processes, cities, the beginnings and the endings. This work is a prelude, the first step towards a certain outcome. There is an immaterial search that begins even before my birth, in the many historical stages that are intertwined with the experience of my maternal family in the semi-arid region of Ceará (Brazil).
Years ago, visiting the Cais do Sertão museum (located in Recife - PE - Brazil), I came across a series of testimonies on the upper floor. The content was summarized in personal narratives of “ex-sertanejos¹”, so to speak. People who were born and raised against the backdrop of the semi-arid region (sertão) and who, for many reasons, left their homeland to try a better life at a Brazilian metropolises.
In one of the stories, a filmmaker from Cariri region² (Ceará - Brazil), based in São Paulo, presents us with a vestige of his childhood: he recalls the annual fairs and rescues the memory of a truck, full of trunks and boxes, parked in the main square of his town. According to him, after paying Cr$ 1 cruzeiro (the currency used in Brazil before the real, R$), the right to look inside one of the boxes was granted. What was seen consisted of chimera, of displacement, of possibility. There were photos of the most diverse monuments and sights in the world: the Brandenburg Gate, the Eiffel Tower, the Coliseum.
My own childhood vacations immediately came to my mind, all spent in the Cariri region, in which I used to travel on a pau-de-arara³ car between towns and villages, with my grandmother Marciana. I remembered going to Iara, a district that pierces several of my mother's memories. I was seven years old and I heard the emancipatory phrase: “Here you can walk around the city alone, without any adults. Here it is safe”.
In recent years, as a student in the academic sphere, I started to question about the way knowledge is constructed in this space of exchange, the University. I believe that, except for a few disciplines, most of the content still propagates hegemonic thoughts, of European/Western origin and there is little contestant of the current norms. Aware of my own limitations in breaking with the constructions intrinsically rooted in my theoretical/practical work, I look for possible detours, alternative routes. It is necessary to set fire to the paths and ask: “Why do we like to stay still instead of wandering constantly?". Moving away from the known, looking for gaps, fissures, possible cracks.
I believe that the nature of my research-making collides with a stratified structure, with layers that began to be formulated even before this project emerged as an image and possibility, through intuitive and accumulating layers of time. I believe in:
“(...) the promotion of dialogues between, on the one hand, scientific and humanistic knowledge that circulates in society and that is produced by common people, both in urban and rural settings, originating in Western and non-Western cultures (indigenous, African, Asian, etc.)."
― Santos, Boaventura de Sousa (2006), "The University in the 21st Century: Towards a Democratic and Emancipatory University Reform", in Rhoads, Robert e Torres, Carlos Alberto (Ed.), The University, State, and Market. The Political Economy of Globalization in the Americas. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 60-100.
It is a fact that the discomforts recognized throughout my path as a University student also find developments in this work, tightening the boundaries between the academic and the professional route, towards its rupture. Thus, I sew this craft with curious lines of dispute, silences, materiality, dichotomies, concrete, symbolic, rural, urban, bodies, margins, looks, maps, openings, doors.
1. sertanejos. The term in Portuguese makes a reference to men that com from the sertão. Sertão is constantly translated as "hinterland", "countryside", etc. However, it is not a word that can be easily translated or explained, even in Portuguese. Sertão is a place, a time, a feeling, a culture.
2. Cariri region. Cariri is a region of northeastern Brazil characterized by its original and ancestry culture.
3. pau-de-arara car. The term used in Portuguese is "pau-de-arara", literally meaning "a stick for macaws to perch on". However, the term metaphorically describes open trucks, covered with tarps, with rustic wooden benches, used mostly for the transportation of migrants from the Northeast of Brazil.
1.2. to investigate
This term "hesitant" seems fundamental. A tentative advance: here it is a method; moving forward, not in a straight line but in a kind of exalted line, which gets excited, which goes after a certain felt intensity; an advance that does not already have a defined path, but a predicted path, a path that is constantly being called into question; whoever advances hesitates because he doesn't want to know where he is going - if he knew it already, what would he walk towards? What can still discover who already knows destiny? Hesitating is an effect of discovering; only those who have already discovered it, who have already put an end to their investigation process, do not hesitate. “My doubts form a system,” wrote Wittgenstein."
― Fragment freely translated from the book "Atlas do corpo e da imaginação: teorias, fragmentos e imagens." (Atlas of the body and the imagination: theories, fragments and images) by the author TAVARES, Gonçalo M.. Leya, 2013.
To study small towns is a challenge, a provocation. There is still little content on the subject and there are few materials that address specifics. In this context, as an architect and urban planner, I needed to find nuances of a historian, a flâneur, a social scientist, an enthusiast of the other. I needed to be close. I said yes to all the coffees, glasses of water, beans, mangoes and seriguelas that were offered to me during the visits to the homes of the families that supported me in this sharing process, in which food is as much a part of history as the prose of late afternoon on the sidewalk. No longer Clarisse, but “Marciana's granddaughter” and so many other words that express bonding and openness.
In 2004, the Brazilian Federal Government started a process of internalization of public higher education, which also contributed to the consequent displacement of private interests. As examples of initiatives in this direction, we have: Programa Expandir (2005); Programa de Apoio a Planos de Reestruturação e Expansão das Universidades Federais (REUNI), instituted by means of Decree 6096, of April 24, 2007; and the creation of the Programa Universidade para Todos (PROUNI).
Higher education in Brazil began just over a century ago and was, at first, the privilege of a small portion of the population, an elite. Despite its expansion, the democratization of access to the University is still moving slowly. Thus, I consider it essential to investigate the production of space in towns and small localities, as well as the development of content that encompasses this scale. It is necessary to be seen, it is necessary to break the traditional structures.
The Iara district, the focus of this work, is located on the border between Ceará and Paraíba states (coordinates: 7°3’16”S 38°46’58”W), on the side of the BR-116 road. Like many small cities, the locality has shown a decline in the number of inhabitants in recent decades, in addition to the gradual forgetting of traditional knowledge and expertise in the face of the directions dictated by the new forms of colonization. The conception of this work arose from demands presented by residents, which were raised based on spontaneous manifestations and/or interviews.
With a history that begins at the time of the Empire, the district has fragmented marks of a past full of warlike, spiritual and political elements. It is through this rescue of the old and the new that I try to develop a current perspective of growth of the district, proposing equipment, public spaces and guidelines.
The redefinition of the occupation of urban centers, delimited by the capitalist mode of production, also affects rural areas and their small localities. The concentration of productive activities contributes to a disarticulation of the city system, with strong repercussions in small localities, which occupy the lowest level of the urban hierarchy. While the modernization of the countryside, in the South and Southeast regions of Brazil, conditioned the urbanization of cities, in the Northeast of the country we have the opposite process, where the stagnation of economic and agrarian activities in the interior contributed to the rural exodus and the diaspora towards the city.
Here, I make use of investigation as an argument and purpose. Investigating as a process not necessarily systematic, but investigating how it derives, as the unveiling of new knowledge, paths, trails. The struggle to unfold the thin layers of time that separate the past and present of a village. Finally, go beyond academic knowledge, recognizing them rather as bridges and not as limiting walls of a single doing.