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Palimpsest Landscape and Urban Forum

Part 1 Project 2013
Chengqi John Wan
Bartlett School of Architecture (UCL), UK
The urban landscape of São Paulo is a dense urban labyrinth of decaying concrete towers with a distinct lack of public space. Borne from sheer economic drive and the socio-political climate of the country’s old military dictatorship, the world’s third largest metropolis projects a built image of contemporary dystopia, with a highly visible rich-poor divide.

This proposal, entitled the Palimpsest Landscape and Urban Forum, seeks to interrogate the design of contemporary public space in the unique Paulistanian physical and societal context by introducing memory of place, programme, and fragmentation into a barren and underutilised existing public space - Praça Roosevelt, located in the centre of São Paulo. Originally a vacant public square, the Plaza has undergone repeated cycles of failed tabula rasa during the past 110 years, presenting itself to the city in various incarnations, beginning with a large open air car park, succeeding as a crime-ridden geometric concrete construction in 1969, and most recently in 2010 as a sun-bleached concrete landscape where police patrols watch vigilantly over gangs of skateboarding youth.

The Palimpsest Landscape and Urban Forum detaches itself from pre-existing notions of typological and doctrinal correctness, proposing a new type of public space which formally incorporates past incarnations of the Plaza whilst matching itself against the contemporary social needs of a rapidly evolving city. While existing site circulation is retained, a new formal language is discovered through a synergy of new interventions by uncovering the past archaeologies of the site, which act to permeate and order the site. The resulting new urban microcosm now houses lush public gardens, a sheltered public market, and new accommodation and work opportunities in the form of a printing press for the city’s homeless.

In the vernacular traditions of Lina Bo Bardi and Paulo Mendes da Rocha, off-form concrete is employed, with its visual and tactile harshness mitigated by verdant green planting suited to city’s subtropical climate. Technical studies were undertaken to determine the best conditions for plant growth, with strategic placement, rainwater irrigation, concrete additives influencing the final design of the Forum.

Chengqi John Wan


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