05. Mar 2010

Breaking down the walls
The Parque da Juventude in São Paulo/BR

Text: Andréa Espírito Santo
Photos: Neide Senzi; Collection; Nelson Kon; José Luiz Brenna

The famous 18th century French writer and poet Victor Hugo once said: “He who opens a school door, closes a prison”. If the author of Les Misérables were with us now, he would definitely have appreciated the concept of freedom in the lighting design and architecture developed for the Parque da Juventude.

Walls that sheltered a history of scandals, the violation of human rights, plus various forms of violence and delinquency – that is the reputation the Casa da Detenção ofSão Paulo, also known as Carandiru, enjoyed. This reputation is perpetuated in a film of the same name directed by Hector Babenco. The detention centre was in fact the largest prison in Latin America. It is located in the neighborhood of Santana in the northern part of São Paulo. Opened in 1920 as a high-security prison, it was visited by notable persons such as Claude Lévi-Strauss, but in the course of two decades it became a source of great concern for the governors of the city and state. The prison became a major protagonist in the urban degradation of Santana: the value of properties depreciated, and frequent escapes and its dark, austere architecture put fear into the hearts of the local population. More than eight thousand men were squeezed into the cramped cells that were designed to take about 3,250 prisoners. The cells were poorly lit and badly ventilated. The beginning of the end of this horror story came in 2002 when –thanks to pressure from the society and as a result of a state government ordinance – parts of the prison were closed and specific sections were demolished. In its place, the task was to install an institution that would return to the terrified society useful qualified young people who would be able to fill the job market. The solution: the Parque da Juventude (Youth Park). A further goal of this transformation was to develop facilities for sport, leisure and cultural activities in the300 thousand square meters of space. In the course of the re-utilization and refurbishment, the place was divided into three large areas, classified as parks: the Parque Esportivo (Sports Park), in which spaces were created for volleyball, handball, soccer and basketball; The Parque Central (Central Park), a space dedicated to natural landscape, in which a section of native forest was revitalized and access circulation routes, bike lanes and tracks for racing and walking were inserted; and the Parque Institucional (Institutional Park),which entailed incorporating vocational schools and technical colleges into the existing old jail complex. […]
The full version of the article can be found in PLD No. 70

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