The development of brownfield sites in cities is complicated by pollution, requiring costly and lengthy remediation of the soil. When confronted with designing a park on such a site in São Paulo, the architects at Davis Brody Bond, with Levisky Arquitetos Associados, proposed lifting the walkways and other public spaces above the contaminated soil. This approach saved money and time, but it also gave the park its unique appearance and experience.
The architects answered a few questions about the project.
What were the circumstances of receiving the commission for this project?
In 2002, the city announced its intention to create a number of new parks in São Paulo, proposing this site as one of them. Establishing a partnership with Grupo Abril, a publishing house founded by Victor Civita, this public-private partnership became the first in Brazil involving urban parks. The client then hired Levisky Arquitetos Associados, a local architecture firm to help. The design team contacted Davis Brody Bond to help develop a formal solution.
Please provide an overview of the project.
Located in a central urban area, at the site of a deactivated garbage incinerator, Victor Civita Plaza provides São Paulo with a new leisure area while at the same time introducing an innovative approach to the revitalization of a contaminated brownfield site.
Like other post-industrial areas, the existing site was degraded and polluted, exemplifying the urban challenge most metropolises now have to face. Conscious of this issue, Anna Dietzsch (director of Davis Brody Bond in São Paulo), in association with Adriana Levisky (director of Levisky Arquitetos Associados), proposed a design that remediates the contamination and proposes a sustainable solution, incorporating social political, cultural and environmental elements into a productive design.
A deck of certified, recycled Brazilian hardwood sits above the site, supported by steel structure, to minimize contact with the contaminated soil. Like the frame of a ship, the deck unfolds, creating places that are defined by the three-dimensionality of the form – great urban rooms that invite public use. Floating three feet above the original topography, the deck extends in a lengthy diagonal, emphasizing the natural perspective of the site.
Visitors encounter exhibit panels explaining the various sustainable processes present in the plaza, including the recycling of wood, examples of plant specimens used for the production of bio-energy and medicine, hydroponic systems, genetic engineering and soil purification. Visitors will also be able to learn about the use of an organic water recycling system used in the plaza.
What are the main ideas and inspirations influencing the design of the plaza?
The formal expression of the wooden deck is in direct connection with that used in the 9/11 Memorial Museum ramp, designed right before the plaza.
Were there any significant challenges that arose during the project? If so, how did you respond to them?
In 2006, when studies found heavily contaminated soil at the intended location of a new public park in the center of São Paulo, the city considered abandoning the project. We proposed an elegant alternative to disruptive and lengthy remediation measures: a new deck that floats three feet above the ground on a steel cradle. In addition to maintaining a safe distance between visitors and contaminants, the strategy also preserves the abundant trees already growing on the site. Surfaced in low-maintenance recycled Brazilian hardwood, the deck extends diagonally across the site to expand the perceived size of the park. The deck is treated as an abstract surface that folds up along its length to define urban rooms that invite public use.
How does the project relate to contemporary architectural trends, be it sustainability, technology, etc.?
The park contains many small-scale but completely functional sustainability demonstration projects including materials recycling, a vertical hydroponic garden, and an organic water recycling system. Exhibit panels explain throughout the park explain these measures. New thematically organized planting beds recall the geometrical patterns that farmers use to cultivate the land, and the plants are used for biomass and medicinal purposes. A modular system of plates under a geotextile blanket creates an impermeable surface between the contaminated soil and the new planters. Holes in the plates accommodate irrigation tubes. Existing buildings were adapted for various uses with minimal intervention, leaving brick walls and concrete structure exposed. The incinerator building is now a museum of sustainability, and other structures have been revived as public workshops and a center for the elderly.
How did you approach designing for São Paulo/Brazil and how would you describe the process of working on the project there?
A common thread among post-industrial cities in the developing world is the issue of how to deal with brownfield sites and other environmental issues that linger as a result of their industrial beginnings. In São Paulo, soil and water contamination remain major concerns that are unfortunately not being addressed imminently. Our design creates a place that directly reflects these issues. In a city with few public greenspaces, Victor Civita Plaza provides a recreational greenspace with a specific cultural agenda that can be accessed for free.
How would you describe the architecture of São Paulo/Brazil and how does the plaza relate to it?
Typically, buildings in Sao Paulo are developer-driven, and the results are often “anonymous” structures with little regard to the surrounding architecture or their relationship with the larger context of the city itself. Contrasting this, our design for Victor Civita Plaza employs a thoughtful selection of “soft” materials, delicate details, and direct communication with its users, including guided visits through educational and explanatory panels.