There factors, these erroneous residents were replaced by artists,

There is no question that during
its unpoliced period, before the regeneration, the Copan was full of miscreants
and degenerates, and for the other residents living in the building it was
embarrassing to even admit where they called home. One man I met, Giovanni
Bright, even told me:


“When I first moved in, I used to be ashamed to tell people I
lived here. It was a mess. You
didn’t know who was standing next to you, … There were drug dealers on the top
floors, and some of the apartments were just flop houses for local prostitutes.1”

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Gradually though, due to a number
of factors, these erroneous residents were replaced by artists, students and
wealthy entrepreneurs who were attracted by the idea of living in such an
iconic building2. It
could be said that this surge of the so called ‘creative class’ did bring a
change not only to the building and its residents but also fuelled a revival of an area of Brazil’s most populous city, that was
once feared and avoided but now draws visitors to its cutting-edge galleries,
skate parks and trendy restaurants3. Or could it also be that the vast expanse of
the Copan, this city within the city of Sao Paulo, proves effective unto
itself. It is possibly now on the up because it has become a commodity, a
business opportunity or even a social statement. The prices have skyrocketed
exponentially after the buildings clean up and those residents who lived through
the dark times of the Copan have now ended up with a vast appreciation on their
relatively low original investment. Like Giovanni who paid $18,000 for a
two-bedroom flat in the Copan and now his apartment is valued at nearly quarter
of a million dollars4.



The Copan was built at a time
when the construction rate had reached four and a half buildings per hour5,
but residential apartment buildings were associated with the cortiços housing the
poor6. The
Copan’s high density residential development, right in the centre of the city,
configured a site of resistance to urban flight and the bourgeois utopia of suburbia,
insulated from the workplace. The street level arcade also introduced a much-anticipated
urban destination soaked in ambiance and proved very popular until the late
1970’s when Sao Paulo’s fashionable nightlife started drifting towards the
‘safer’ suburbs. However today life is slowly returning to Sao Paulo’s centre
and with it to the Copan7.
The introduction of the building itself offered the Paulistas with an
alternative model of urban, and implicitly social, organisation. The exuberant
building challenged the post-war American, masculine order of the vertical
city, bringing into the middle of the white-collar arena a site of pleasure and
dolce vita8.
This search for permanence through freedom and fantasy that can be observed in
Niemeyers work9 is
somewhat achieved in the Copan. However, in the context of Sao Paulo, it is
impossible to ignore the atrocious housing state in the rest of the city.
Recently Guardian Cities reported many thousands illegally occupy abandoned
buildings in the city centre both in protest and due to an absence of
alternative. There are approximately eighty organised squats in São Paulo,
with the number thought to be close to 20,000 people in total on the streets10
by extrapolation of the 2015 census. The right to housing is enshrined in Brazil’s constitution, though it is
rarely respected11. Rolnik, a former urban
planning minister for the country and a UN rapporteur for adequate housing for
six years explained that São Paulo’s mayor, João Doria, saw that:


“the best use of a place in the city was one that would
produce more profit, not the one that will create more possibilities for people
to live12”.


Similarly, Martinez Corrêa, the founder
of Zé Celso
theatre added to the discussion saying:


“All of these agencies are in the
private hands today … They don’t see people, they see numbers.13”


Ultimately Rolnik urged the government
to change its political policies especially in the way it projects itself to
other foreign bodies:


“Inequality is not limited to poor
communities on the periphery of the megacity, We have a periphery downtown – I
could call them invisible. These are extremely vulnerable people. … This is a
city exclusively for business, by business. The city is being sold to the
international capitals: ‘Come invest here, this is empty territory’. The centre
is not empty. It is full of people14.”
She added, “The city must be for all, and not for all investors. Sao Paulo’s
urban policy is promoting the opposite.15”


Is it possible that the introduction of more
residential buildings like the Copan could aid this crisis? I believe so. As
with all areas which have problems with housing their people, there is a dire
need for affordable and social housing. Having the Copan as the social model
for this with its vast mix of people, from various backgrounds, generations,
occupations and social status, all unified by the one building; this diversity
could create a rich environment for the people.



3 Oscar Niemeyer – Curves of Irreverence


5 Oscar Niemeyer – Curves of Irreverence

6 Oscar Niemeyer – Curves of Irreverence

7 Oscar Niemeyer – Curves of Irreverence

8 Oscar Niemeyer – Curves of Irreverence

9 Oscar Niemeyer and Brazilian Free-form