23 March 2020

Changing Lives by Revitalizing Housing

Fifteen houses, fifteen families and fifteen opportunities to change lives. Living up to the mission of transforming lives through educational excellence, La Salle University (Unilasalle) in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, has been working since 2019 with the institution’s Office of Architecture and Engineering acting as focal point, in partnership with the Housing Secretariat of the city of Niterói, within the Metropolitan Region of Rio de Janeiro.

Architectiral and engineering students are designing houses to help up to 50 economically marginalized and socially vulnerable people: men, women and children who live in the Badu neighborhood of Comunidade da Cocada, founded in 1980 when workers of a nearby farm built temporary homes on the hill where they worked. Today, Cocada has an average of 350 properties, some in extremely precarious conditions, a reality that a group of Unilasalle students and two professors are actively helping to change. The university was invited to design homes, including steps needed for their completion such as a budget and potential viability of the project. 

As a first step, students visited the area with their professors and city officials, talking to residents and understanding the particular needs of each family. For Luanna de Lima Antunes, an architecture student, the experience “awakened” her empathy. “This is something very special for my university career of course, but also at the personal level as I feel we use our knowledge for the benefit of others.”

Desirée de Oliveira Lube, a civil engineering student, stressed that her work has been met with nothing but “smiles, gratitude and emotion.” Professor Mariana Vaz noted that the innovation and practical application of the initiative provided students with real world experience in applying their education and that project “is like a school in itself but outside of the classroom.”

The government of Brazil is funding the project as a way to empower local residents by allowing them to stay in their communities. “Keeping residents in the place where they chose to live is quite important for their own identity and the premise of this program is precisely to foster land regularization where there is no risk at all to residents,” explained José Carlos Freire, Niterói's Housing Secretary.

Residents of Comunidade da Cocada will have better homes, and students will have a better understanding of the needs of communities. “It is useful to experience the critical role of architecture while contributing to improving society’s quality of life. This reinforces the commitment towards the social reality of the community,” said Paula Brasil, coordinator of the Architecture and Urbanism Program at Unilasalle.

The initiative has already been recognized by the Rio de Janeiro Architecture and Urbanism Council for the use of innovation in meeting social needs and collaboration between students, professors and residents on the project.

The initiative is directly related to Sustainable Development Goal 11 of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, in particular target 11.1 on ensuring access for all to adequate, safe and affordable housing and basic services and upgrade slums. To know more about the UNAI SDG Hub for Goal 11 click here.