The pedreiro and the master planner

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Ricardo de Olivera is a Brazilian ‘pedreiro’, a real rebel architect. He has built over 100 houses with no formal training while utilising the most basic tools, all within his local community of Rocinha, Brazil’s largest favela, situated right in the centre of Rio de Janeiro.

Working on a variety of projects across the favela, including his own house, Ricardo explains how these simple buildings meet the social and budgetary needs of their clients. But as the city gears up for the World Cup and Olympic Games, life in Rocinha is changing and even Ricardo cannot escape the violence spilling over from the government’s favela ‘pacification’ programme.

Whilst Ricardo struggles to provide a better life for his own family, Brazil’s new profile on the world stage has also led to an influx of urban planners, NGOs and well-meaning architects, all hoping to improve the physical conditions of the favela – and bringing with them the very real threat of gentrification.

Luis Carlos Toledo, the architect behind the master plan for the government’s regeneration of Rocinha, was considered a radical for working on favela urbanisation long before it became fashionable and says living conditions can and must be improved.

However, even he starts to question the benefits of an attention-grabbing cable-car system, whilst thousands of residents are still without access to education or healthcare. The battle for the future of Brazil’s favelas is on.