the term that identifies shantytowns in Brazil, originates from poverty settlements in Rio
de Janeiro and is derived from a type of bush that is abundant in the semiarid Canudos
Entries A–F 841
area in the northern state of Bahia. Rio’s favelas coincide with the occupation of the
Santo Antônio and Providência hills (morros ) in the city center. In 1897, soldiers who returned
from the Canudos War—a military campaign in the northeastern region of Brazil—
received permission to temporarily settle on these sites, where they built shacks of
cardboard and wood. Morro da Providência received the name Morro da Favela (favela
hill) in reference to the previously mentioned bush. In 1904, 100 houses existed, and by
1933 the number had grown to 1500.
By the 1920s, favelas had spread to other hills of the city: Morro dos Telégrafos,
Mangueira; Morro de São Carlos, Vila Rica (Copacabana area); Pasmado (Botafogo); and
Babilônia (Leme). This expansion even reached the city suburbs. The growth of favelas
was driven by the lack of a government policy to address the housing problems of the
poorest members of society. In 1888, Brazil proclaimed a law of freedom for slaves; it
was the last country to do so in Latin America. The urban reforms of the early part of the
20th century almost eliminated tenement houses (cortiços ) in the city center; such houses
sheltered approximately 100,000 people in 1890.
The peasants’ migration from the northeastern rural areas to the capital intensified the
settlement in the hills wherever vacant land was available near workplaces. The same
development took place in areas near primary transportation lines that connected the city
center to the northern zone of the city where industries were located: railroads and, later,
wide avenues. By the 1920s, one of the main suburban favelas had emerged near the
Madureira railroad station, right in front of the Imperial Palace (Quinta da Boa Vista).
The favela, throughout its history in Rio de Janeiro, was considered mainly an
undesired component of the urban structure. This vision was present at the beginning of
the 20th century in the programs of Mayor Pereira Passos (1903–06) and with the Agache
Plan in the 1930s.
The importance of the favela and its presence in the city context were recognized and
taken into consideration only to control public hygiene and epidemics. From the 1940s to
the 1960s, the slums were considered to be an urban-order disruption, and their
population was seen as alien to the urban society, so the government policy for favelas
was simply to remove them from areas near the “formal” city. The Alliance Progress, a
U.S. government aid program, was created to resettle the favela dos, who rejected the program,
which foresaw single apartment blocks located far in the periphery. At the same time,
religious organizations, municipal initiatives, and sensitive architects (such as Carlos
Nelson Ferreira dos Santos) helped several communities transform precarious shacks into
houses of bricks and concrete and to furnish technical infrastructures, such as stairs,
electricity, water supply, sewage, and garbage systems. Most of the favelas are still
concentrated along the railroad system in the northern area of Rio; others are old,
traditional settlements near the “noble” southern neighborhoods, such as Botafogo,
Copacabana, Ipanema, Leblon, and São Conrado, with a privileged view over the
marvelous natural environment. Rocinha, one of the largest and steadiest favelas of the
city, has almost 100,000 inhabitants; Vidigal has 10,000, and Santa Marta 5000. The
latest report shows that in 1999, one million people were living in 600 favelas in Rio de
One could define as romantic the claim that there are some positive social, cultural,
and urban components in those settle-ments, denying the negative opposition between
“formal” and “informal” city. The free articulation of volumes and colors of housing
units along the hills was admired by Le Corbusier during his visit to Rio in 1929. Bernard
Rudofsky, who lived for several years in Brazil, recognized the spatial and formal quality
of irregular urban structures and its vernacular huts before writing his book Arch itecture without Architects. The
relationship between medieval cities and modern metropolises as defined by the French
historian Jacques Le Goff is present in the favelas’ urban structure. However, this free
composition is related to individual and social appropriation of space that creates for
inhabitants a sense of community and solidarity. This is reaffirmed by religious activities
that make up the syncretism of Afro-Brazilian rituals and by the meaning of popular
music (samba) and carnival shows, icons of carioca culture around the world. Some of the most
important and oldest escolas de samba of Rio’s carnival belong to traditional favelas: Salgueiro,
Mangueira (Estação Primeira de Mangueira); Serrinha (Império Serrano); Formiga; and
Borel (Unidos da Tijuca). Writers, poets, singers, and film directors used favelas as the
main subject of their creative work. In Brazil, several films assumed this popular
Entries A–F 843
environment: in the 1950s, Frenchman Marcel Camus directed the film Orfeo Negro, which diffused
the life and music of Rio’s favelas, as did Favela dos meus amores (Humberto Mauro, 1935), Rio 40 graus (Nelson Pereira
dos Santos, 1955), Como nascem os anjos (Murilo Salles, 1990), and Orfeu (Caca Diegues, 1998). However, there
is a dark side of favelas: In the last two decades, lottery managers and drug dealers have
taken over control of the population.
In the 1990s, the municipal government of Rio de Janeiro, with the initiative of the
former secretary of urbanism, architect Luiz Paulo Conde (city mayor in 1997), and the
secretary of housing, architect Sergio Magalhães, decided to develop a longterm plan to
integrate the “informal” city (favelas) into the “formal” urban structure. The key change
in the municipal government’s programs is the replacement of the idea of dealing only
with the deficit of adequate housing for a policy that focuses on “producing the city”
through readdressing the urban deficit.
The new program, Favela-Bairro, started serving 90 favelas with a population of
300,000 inhabitants and counted on an investment of U.S. $300 million, of which 40
percent came from the City of Rio and 60 percent from the Inter-American Development
Bank (BID). To integrate the favela into the urban fabric of the formal city, the program
includes the following key actions: (1) completing or constructing main urban
infrastructures; (2) providing environmental changes that ensure that favelas look like
standard neighborhoods; (3) introducing visual symbols of the formal city as a way to
identify favelas as neighborhoods (paved streets, parks, urban furnishings, and public
services); (4) consolidating and inserting favelas into the planning process of the city; (5)
implementing social types of activities, such as setting up day care centers for children,
income generation processes, training programs, and sporting, cultural, and leisure
activities; and (6) promoting the legalization of land subdivision and providing individual
land titles.
In 1994, the housing secretariat organized, in cooperation with the Brazilian Institute
of Architects (IAB, Institute de Arquitetos do Brasil), a competition for designing a
methodology to develop improvements, beginning with 18 medium-size favelas (between
500 and 2500 dwellings). An important innovation was the organization of 15 teams, led
by architects who partici pated in the competition that presented new ideas and
methodological approaches. The competition included firms of young architects, such as
Planejamento and Arquitetura, Fábrica Arquitetura, Arquitraço Cooperativa, and Archi 5
studios, as well as those of older, prestigious works, such as Paulo Casé, Luis Aciolli, and
Maurício Roberto, who for the first time would undertake design for the poorest members
of Rio’s population. This initiative promoted a new relationship between technical
expertise and the degraded areas of Rio de Janeiro to attempt to improve the quality of
life of people living in favelas.

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