Archetypes. A project for the Brazilian City

Sacconi, Davide (2022). Archetypes. A project for the Brazilian City. PhD thesis The Open University.



In the endless field of urbanisation, where every resource, every person, every thought and relationship is put to work for a single end, for the production and reproduction of capital, can architecture still have a critical and projective role? Can architecture still resist the all-encompassing managerial logic of the masterplan that flattens political conflict to a false dichotomy between bottom-up and top- down approaches?

Responding to this question this thesis proposes the archetype as a conceptual and methodological tool to reclaim the relationship between architecture and the city, between built form and the desires, hopes and ambition of emerging collective subjectivities.

This thesis revisits and challenges the canonical typological discourse, understanding the archetype in opposition to type. If the type is an abstraction that imposes norms and behaviours, the archetype is a paradigmatic built form that, through its material presence, establishes an explicit rule that can be accepted or refused. In other words, the archetype makes the conflicts that constitute the city legible and thus frames the possibility to imagine and practise alternative forms of life.Archetypes emerge in response to specific conjunctures, when the shifting of politico-economic conditions demands the reorganisation of power relationships, opening the possibility for the reappropriation of territories and establishing new modes of dwelling.

The notion of archetype is investigated within the context of Brazil where, due to the specific geographical and historical conditions, colonisation operated by strategically deploying archetypes. Instead of the all-encompassing order of the grid, paradigmatic forms gave organisation and orientation to the conflicting forces constituting the territory.

This research investigates three examples that epitomise crucial historical shifts: the Jesuit reduction, the avenida and the cover.

In the early period of colonisation the Jesuit reduction is the archetype that emerges from the encounter with the radical alterity of the Brazilian territory and its native people. In the reduction architectural form was the fundamental tool in the construction of the common ground where the project of conversion and colonisation took place.

In the shift between the Empire and the Republic of the late 19th century, the avenida is the archetype through which the alliance of the “coffee barons” and the “creole bourgeoisie” conquered the city, establishing urbanisation as the paradigm for the Brazilian megalopolis.

Finally, the archetype of the cover provided an ambiguous response to the strategy of conservative modernisation and the deployment of capitalism within the colonial structure of the territory. On one hand, the cover celebrated Technic as a promise of development, in the attempt to maintain the chasm between man and land that modernisation was threatening to fill. On the other hand, the gesture of suspension put forward ways of gathering, living and building that challenged a universal idea of Technic and progress, instead offering a form of resistance to the endless expansion of urbanisation.

Building on this conceptual and methodological framework this thesis proposes an archetype of a rural settlement at the fringe of São Paulo’s metropolitan area. Considering that rural territory in periurban areas is one of the key places of conflicts and struggles within contemporary Brazil, the project puts forward an archetype for cooperative production, collective ownership and communal living which could preserve the possibility of a rural life as limit to the all-encompassing logic of urbanisation. Using this reading of the archetype, the project reclaims the power of architecture to operate beyond the logic of top-down or bottom-up approaches, and provide a rule of inhabitation for a collective subject.

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