26 Aug

Interview with the architect and urban planner Professor Livia Salomão Piccinini

“The principle of thinking globally and acting locally is still valid”. Take a look in this enriching interview with the architect and Professor at Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul, Ph.D. Livia Salomão Piccinini.

Professor Livia Salomão Piccinini

Livia Salomão Piccinini, graduated in Architecture and Urbanism at the Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul – UFRGS (Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul), in 1982. Masters (M.Sc.) in Urban and Regional Planning, with an emphasis in Social Housing, at the Faculty of Economics and Political Science, from University of London, UK (1992). Ph.D. in Urban and Regional Planning at the Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul (2008), with an emphasis in Planning of Housing Policies. Livia Salomão Piccinini is Professor in the Department of Urbanism at the School of Architecture at UFRGS, since 1997. She acts in Fundamentals of Architecture and Urbanism, with an emphasis in Public Housing Policies and Theory of Urban Design. E-mail: liviapiccinini@hotmail.com.

Renato Lobato: The Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul (UFRGS) has been standing out annually in researches that present the ranking of quality of the universities in the world and has also one of the most important faculties of architecture and urbanism in Brazil. You were in the UFRGS in your process of graduation and now as a Professor in this Institution, what do you feel about this recognition?

Livia Piccinini: I feel much honored to be in the University (of Architecture), and in the UFRGS. The effort has been great in to the goal of better educate the students, the professors, to promote interchange between institutions, national and international, and to work together with the community.

As Professor, in the educating of young architecture students and the postgraduate in Urban and Regional Planning, I’m having the possibility of great moments of debate and growth. I believe that the education is the way out for deliverance, following the perspective of Morin and Maturana, that says: you need to know the know, in other words, recognizing that the knowledge is always a translation, followed by a reconstruction: it’s an interpretation, full of mistakes, noises… The knowledge isn’t just a matter of philosophers, but it’s a problem of everybody. Live and knowing are vital mechanisms. We know because we are living and it is part of this condition, It’s condition of life, of relate and organize each other. It’s live-create-recreate.

I understand that the University gives us this space of debate and re-creation of formulations (formulations in and for the teaching), with the students and the communities, doing a science connected in the needs of the country, is a creator of utopias (the University), a space of search/creation/experimentation – all collective. The dialectical relationship between universality and particularity, made possible through empirical, and the theoretical reflection within the University, allows coexistence of multiple perspectives and visions that transcend the context, where universalizing conceptions lay the basis on which can make the critical values, of the discrimination, of the power, mobilizing people for a fairer society.

So I feel very privileged to be having this opportunity to be here, where I’ve been before as a student, fulfilling an important role in the training of professionals who will provide solutions to the problems of housing and cities in the country.

Renato Lobato: Professor Livia, you have a long professional career, and also you are considered a reference for students and professionals of architecture and urbanism, especially concerning issues of public housing policies. Tell us about the reasons that led you to choose this area as your object of study.

Livia Piccinini: The history is long! In 1979, my husband finished his masters in Urban Planning at UFRJ – Federal University of Rio de Janeiro – (Coppe, at the time) and he was to do his research for the dissertation on the origins of industrial location in the area of Italian colonization, in the City of Caxias do Sul, RS, where we made contact with industrial workers and residents in the slums of the city.

In 1982, on my final project for graduation at UFRGS, I decided to do the re-urbanization of a slum in Caxias do Sul. I remember that, at the time, it was so hard to do this work, because working with the slum was not “architect’s thing”, and it was so difficult to find anyone who wanted guide my final project for graduation. But the issues about exclusion, poverty, policies struggles of the period, a sense of social responsibility, made the subject exciting and I was deeper in this direction.

In 1992, on masters, at University of London – Development Planning Unit (UCL), I made contact with the debate about “housing and urban patterns” and also with initial studies about the relation “housing and health”, in the Faculty of Tropical Medicine at UCL. This was decisive for my future work: I started to investigate the issue of the housing and urban patterns in relation to health, resuming sanitary concepts, concepts of quality of life, discussing urban instruments and devices, which led me to the discussion of livability and sustainability, investigated in my thesis PhD and, over the time, it became a large research that was included the concepts of public policies of health and housing to the landscape and territory, and it advanced to research on immigration and colonization in RS.

It’s a long and very interesting way, with many meanders and partial researches, empirical and theoretical. It’s a constant: restart, include topics, search paths, finally, seek solutions to the problems of the country.

Renato Lobato: You’ve been coordinating some groups of researches and extension within the University, among them, one that caught my attention was “Jornada Cidade e Saúde” (Health and City Journey), which is about the urban issues of socio-spatial exclusion, health and urban planning. Tell us more about the objectives, the stakeholders and the main results reached in this work.

Livia Piccinini: Within this framework, health issues, in several areas, are questioned because they encompass the relation between the space built (whether urban or house) and the effects of space on the quality of life and, therefore, on the conditions of health. As my focus is the low-income population, these issues become even more complex because there is always a question: is the disease that causes poverty or is the poverty that causes the disease?

It’s been initiated a campaign, by the Organização Mundial da Saúde (OMS) – World Health Organization –, which is to require the inclusion of health objectives in all the public policies. I consider this very important, because there is a whole accumulated knowledge of researches with affirmative results about the relationship health-housing that should be absolutely incorporated into the public policies: If the Country does not absorb and develop this knowledge in your proposals – mainly on social urban policies –, who will do this? And how, or why, ignore this knowledge?

So the goals of this work are to attract the attention of students, of decisions makers and of all the people about the issue that the space brings effects on people’s health. Good spaces tend to bring positive effects: improve health. The results are little perceived largely, but the students rethink their condition to solve problems, to build cities with good spatial quality, environmentally responsible, with local materials, incorporating the concern with the design, with the will of the inhabitants, with their interests and their possibilities. And, mainly, committed to the idea of generate development: of children, of creative capacity, of local culture, incorporating the techniques and technologies that leverage the knowledge.

Thus, I am very guided by Edgar Morin and by Report Delors, that talks about “the seven knowledges necessary to education of the future”. Reflect about our own problems and the problems of our time and recognizing and understanding the human condition as the condition of a complex human world, puts the necessary interpretation that the sustainable development should not just be a material development, but intellectual, affective, ethical-moral, humane, committed to the planetary scale. The new now it does, according to Morin, with the counter-currents: the ecological; the qualitative; the resistance to utilitarian and prosaic life; the resistance to standardized consumption; the emancipation to the tyranny of money; the counter-current against all types of violence: civilize, civilize yourself, solidarity “is the ethics of understanding the world”.

Renato Lobato: Professor, your dissertation, entitled “Housing Standards and Health in Non-conventional Housing Policies” analyzes situations connected to housing policies little discussed. In short, what results were obtained with these studies?

Livia Piccinini: This research leads me always and always to conclusion that standards are not inventions harmful, but in reverse. Being established, initially, on criteria and basic principles of health, they are still devices that seek to ensure the health, the housing, for residents in relation to all the forms that the land speculation and estate can take.

The standards do not define drawings or materials: they propose “the best way” to that specifications related to health be reached. The standards explains, for example, in relation to a housing, that the height must be X meters, the width must be Y meters, and the length must be Z meters, to be guaranteed the volume of air (W) needed for breathing. When these standards are abandoned, there are problems with health.

The safety criteria to attend a club, an open or closed space public, a mall or, in relation to services, the number of beds in a hospital that should correspond to a certain number of people or the number of vacancies parking in a building, are criteria studied and transformed into urban devices (indices, rates). When these devices are not reached, there is danger to the users. So, what is achieved with these researches is to point that the standards should be strengthened, and not abandoned, because they are guarantors of safety and health.

Renato Lobato: Now talking about the urban planning, many countries classified as “emerging” face huge structural problems in the development process, including Brazil. Thus, what is your evaluation about the urban problems of Brazilian cities and what are the best ways to solve them?

Livia Piccinini: We have large urban problems. For me, the biggest of them is the socio-spatial exclusion. I also believe that another big problem, as a country, is the issue of the education and knowledge. What leads us to accept, as a society, that millions of people live in sub-human conditions in slums? How can we allow that children be raised without the security of a bed at night, without the security of the school, without sufficient feeding? I believe that knowledge, according to Morin, is a way to change this reality, this society, manifesting humanity in us. What is our society project?

Now, in terms of urban solutions, of the urbanism, of the materiality to the projectual answers, I believe that the issues of infrastructure and basic urban services are the most pressing: drinking water supply, sewer sanitation, collection and treatment of solid waste, kindergartens, schools, health centers, community hospitals; subsequently, the housing, which means the house is associated to these equipment and infrastructure, and, in the sequel, the problem of mobility, in other words, the possibility to access the spaces needed to achievement of urban life (home-work, work-school, home-leisure, finally, the ways to access places of realization of the urban or rural life).

Thinking about the teaching of architecture and urbanism inserts the possibility of rethinking various themes that the debate and speculation are in set of guidelines that put the country, in the perspective against poverty, in the search of quality of life of the people, in the promoting of sustainability urban-environmental. It is essential to outline the challenges posed by the determinations and the socio-spatial needs and the different knowledges that can and should be invested in the process of teaching-learn-generating knowledge that should already be committed to the reality.

Renato Lobato: The Amazon is one of the greatest riches in the world, but over the time has been degraded. The anthropization and frequent uncontrolled urbanization are some of the reasons responsible for that. Thus, much more yet needs to be done, both in social and environmental issues. Within this context, how the schools of architecture and urbanism can intervene in this process, with the goal to make the Amazon increasingly relevant for Brazilians and to the world?

Renato Lobato: Some current housing and environmental programs, as PROSAMIM in Manaus and Vila da Barca in Belém, are characterized by the inspiration in important issues, like the customs of inhabitants locals for definition of the necessity program of the housing, besides works of resocialization, to reenter the low-income population to the labor market. This way, based in your researches, what are the main issues to be considered to face the housing problems of Brazilian cities?

Livia Piccinini: I want to answer these two questions together, because they are related each other. I believe that the knowledge is universal and must be universalized, but the solutions must be local: it’s those who live in the place who knows what “is the problem”; from this context, is possible to find solutions (that, from the technical standpoint, there are!). I can tell, from here in Porto Alegre, that a problem in the Amazon is the creating of jobs for the riparian, but just the riparian knows if it is, or not, “the problem”. And, if it is, they want to face it, is it a priority for them?

I believe that knowledge should be available to the communities. It’s necessary to change how this is being done. I’m not talking about take off the responsibility of the state acting in the planning and development of the regions in the country, I’m not either proposing that just the participation of the people, telling what they “guess”, “think” or “want”, will resolve. I’m talking about the decisions that are based on different forms of knowledge, one more technical, the other more from the experience, and they complement each other. I disagree with positions that understand that the population should decide everything and resolve their issues starting from their lives. This is a denial of the knowledge, is an attempt to decide recreating the wheel: we no longer have time, or resources (natural, human) left to leave the future by its own luck. As the Chilean planner Carlos Maltus said “if we do not plan, we will be putting ourselves completely at the mercy of the future events”.

The search for change means that the historical references, the understanding and models of representation of reality must change too. And, because the answers are neither are ready, it is important to develop a kind of “action scenario” that examines the certainties and accept the uncertainties of the situations, the probabilities, the impossibilities, the unpredictable, the turbulences, the deviations, the risks, establishing a commitment to the challenge, with the new and the context, with the means and ends, in this our reality that moves between the organization, disorder, order. And where, again, in the long-term, it imposes the question of the access to knowledge and education.

It’s happening a wave of reorientation about the thought in the relation “understand-know”, which puts together architects, physicists, mathematicians, computer scientists and non-scientists and they elects the nature of human feelings and the organization of nature to develop their theories, explain the cities, drawing houses, create sustainable projects for the cities and for the nature in the country, discuss and reflect about our spaces and problems, and guide the teaching programs of architecture and urbanism.

These authors also propose the disseminate of the freely knowledge and from the collective creation by network (commons), seeking support in the concepts of mind’s complexity and the relations with solutions (urban-environmental) of significant value in the training professionals to work in the cities of the XXI century.

Renato Lobato: You are a great researcher in the public policies housing area and you have a work widely recognized, deepening your studies along the master’s degree and, later, in the doctorate. Thus, talk about the importance of specializations and post-graduations in the training of professionals that want to work with researches.

Livia Piccinini: I believe that the importance of specializations, such as masters and doctorates, are for those who will work in education and research, but it’s not necessary that all the graduates go through these courses.

The importance of practical work, in the reality of day-by-day, is essential to identify the necessities and disabled points in the country, demanding where the research must be encouraged, strengthened and expanded. I believe that more important than going to the post-graduation is the work between universities, the state and the private sector in the different instances.

The university has a lot to contribute. It has an accumulated knowledge, has research method, and has valuation models. The dialectic relation between universality and particularity, made possible by empiric research and theoretical reflection within the university, allows the coexistence of multiple perspectives and visions that transcend the context, where the universalizing conceptions puts the bases where can make critical of the values, discrimination, power, mobilizing the people for a fairer society.

The State, the industry, the businessmen are able to identify the critical points, because they are in the world, in reality of the daily necessities, of the demands, of the deficiencies, of the possibilities.

Renato Lobato: Finalizing, currently, has been attracting the interest of professionals from Amazon continue their studies in the institutions of the south-southeast of the country. What do you think of Amazonian studies being developed in universities that are outside the region?

Livia Piccinini: Like I said before, I believe that there are different ways of knowledge and they are complementary. And more: I believe so hard that this complementarity should be strongly seeked, as a way to strengthen human bonds. Obviously, the reality of the Amazon cannot be imprisoned for environmental principles of development or lifestyle that serves to the northeast or south.

However, there are methods and theories that assist the development of analytical methodologies that can be used in thinking about different realities, without prejudice the local reality. The principle of thinking globally and acting locally is still valid. Besides, move toward deepening strategies and procedures that promote the knowledge, that leverage the research and actions for economic and sustainable development, by the educational reorientation for the sustainability, is a task of the whole society.

So, I understand that thinking about the Amazon is a combination of efforts, the first result is: don’t need to reinvent the wheel, because this is a waste of energy. The identification of procedures and practices that are willing on the combat against the social injustice, that seek the social inclusion, fair practices, economically and socially, including the population in the reality and responsibility to the other humans, is a basic human desire, of integration and sustainable brotherhood and planetary.

The practices and the object of education must be searched, modified, directed in the intention of sustainable practices and combating the human and environmental degradation, promoting tolerance, acceptance of diversity and difference, where the otherness is a principle associated to solidarity moral and intellectual. So, I understand that the contradiction in the development of studies about the region outside the region can be overcome when the understanding is that it means embracing the existent knowledge, of the point of view theoretical-methodological, where the empirical research environmental and reflection are realized locally and collectively.

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