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Favela Cloud Turns A Rio Slum Into An Architectural Heaven

Architects propose a new way of looking at high-density urban slums: making space evoke a walk in the clouds.

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With hills that plummet directly into the Atlantic ocean and (in its favelas) scores of ramshackle homes seemingly stacked atop each other, the city of Rio de Janeiro makes for one of the world’s most dramatic backdrops. Maybe that’s why it’s such an ideal staging ground for massive art projects—from JR’s affecting Women Are Heroes portraits to, more recently, these enormous, glowing fish sculpture built from plastic water bottles.

But what about turning the city’s slums themselves into works of art?

From the looks of their Favela Cloud proposal, that’s precisely what Johan Kure, Thiru Manickam, and Kemo Usto, architects at Aalborg University in Denmark, had in mind. The "urban hybrid architecture" project mixes public and private space with stunning, almost supernatural, forms: The ground-level open plaza for soccer, swimming, and climbing is shaded by cloud-like top-level dwellings and public offices, connected by a single path.

The project was inspired in part by modular Cobogó design and, as Usto told The Creators Project in an interview, "from looking at the Christ the Redeemer statue every day, surrounded by hills, sometimes apparent, sometimes hidden in the clouds." And while the idea of literally lifting up a slum is maybe a little too poetic, in this case it’s practical: The proposal would involve polycarbonate and photovoltaic solar cells on a metal structure, generating energy up top while shading the public area below. At Favela Santa Marta, where they researched, there’s currently no shade, making outdoor public spaces unappealing in midday heat.

It’s still just a concept, but even as such it has value. High-density slums aren’t planned communities, they note, and Favela Cloud looks at Santa Marta’s complex social, domestic, and urban dynamics in an attempt to "rethink [and] rearticulate" what kind of housing could serve that rapidly evolving environment. If nothing else, it asks us to ponder the potential to effect change through architecture—whether a shift in aesthetic can beget a shift in perspective and, maybe, a new urban reality.

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