AuthorSiwi, Marcio
PositionThe Sao Paulo Experiment - Brazil's Ibirapuera Park

The world's attention turns to Sao Paulo and the proud people of this blessed land, whose vitality and progress are vividly expressed in the city's many accomplishments. Day and night, the pace of construction is intense at Ibirapuera Park, where the IV Centendrio celebration will culminate with the great Sao Paulo Trade Exposition and the first International Fair in July 1954. (Fundo IV Centendrio. Arquivo Historico Municipal de Sao Paulo.) The citation above appeared in one of the five official advertisements for Sao Paulo's 400th anniversary celebration. Held in 1954, the IV Centendrio (as it was called) was a year-long series of exhibitions, fairs, conferences, and spectacles designed to project Sao Paulo nationally and internationally as a worldclass city. As these ads show, the organizers of the IV Centendrio (a group that would include industrialists, scholars, architects, and politicians) promoted an image of the city centered on five key themes, each with their own ad. In one of these ads, Sao Paulo was hailed as home to major artistic events while a different ad praised the city's intellectual life. Specifically, Sao Paulo's ability to convene "experts from across the globe to engage in scientific and cultural debates." (1) Another ad (the one cited above) celebrated the "industrious character" of the paulistano and their "natural disposition" for work. (2) There was also an ad exalting the athletic prowess of the paulistano and, finally, an ad that positioned Sao Paulo as Brazil's commercial and industrial powerhouse. Rich in text and imagery, these ads circulated widely promoting a narrative of paulistano exceptionalism to audiences at home and abroad. To be sure, there were other events scheduled for the IV Centendrio, including popular entertainment. These, however, were hardly mentioned in the official publicity since they tended to clash with the image of Sao Paulo promoted by the commission in charge of the IV Centendrio as a progressive and cultured city.

Efforts to anchor Sao Paulo's alleged exceptionalism in one or more of these themes were not new. As scholars have shown, elite paulistanos had been engaged in similar pursuits since the early 1900s. (3) That said, the IV Centendrio gave a new generation of paulistanos--specifically those connected to the industrial sector--an opportunity to repackage the city's carefully crafted identity with an unprecedented level of precision and support, from both the public and the private sectors. Time, it would seem, was on the side of these paulistanos. After all, the 1950s were among the most ambitious years in the city's history. With an economy that was growing at an average rate of 8 percent a year, a population that doubled in size, and a construction boom of one new building every seven minutes, residents of Sao Paulo had a lot to be optimistic about--even boastful. (4)

Paulistano pride was particularly strong among the organizers of the IV Centenario. Headed by Francisco "Ciccillo" Matarazzo, a wealthy industrialist who gained notoriety for presiding over the Sao Paulo Biennial (the biggest international art and architecture exhibition in Latin America held for the first time in 1951), the commission in charge of the IV Centenario had numerous responsibilities. These would include the events associated with the 400th anniversary celebration and, just as important, preparing the city to receive the million or so visitors expected to travel to Sao Paulo in 1954. (5) According to the members of the commission, Sao Paulo was not equipped to host an event of such magnitude and significance. In addition to not having enough luxury hotels, commissioners worried there was no reputable venue in the city to host the IV Centenario's three flagship events--the Sao Paulo Biennial, the Trade Exposition, and the International Fair. Consequently, building a state-of-theart venue for large-scale events designed to project Sao Paulo's aspiring identity became the top priority for Matarazzo and the commission. In fact, more than 80 percent of all the funds set aside for the IV Centenario were spent on the new complex. (6) For Matarazzo, this price tag was entirely justified. After all, he was convinced that Ibirapuera Park (as it is called) promised to not only "exemplify the wealth and strength of Sao Paulo" but also "ensure Sao Paulo's place among the world's greatest cities." (7) If, in other words, the IV Centenario aimed to launch Sao Paulo as a world-class city, Ibirapuera was the main stage.

Ibirapuera Park featured prominently in the official publicity of the IV Centenario, appearing in all five ads mentioned above. These and other representations of the Park circulated widely, drumming up excitement for Sao Paulo's IV Centenario and its new symbol of modernity. However, no matter how glossy, these ads concealed the fierce debates surrounding the design and the construction of the Park as well as the consequences of Sao Paulo's aspiring identity on the social fabric of the city. The creation of Ibirapuera Park and its effect on the city, especially its poorest residents, is the focus of this article. The article is divided into five parts. First, I explore the location and purpose of the Park during and after the IV Centenario and ask why members of the organizing commission were determined to build Sao Paulo's newest symbol of modernity in what some described as an "abandoned" meadow. Second, I examine the architectural debates in Sao Paulo at the time of the construction of the Park and consider the arguments for and against modernism. Third, I analyze the tensions within the organizing commission of the IV Centenario surrounding the Parks design. Fourth, I examine how efforts to showcase Sao Paulo as a progressive and cultured city revealed anxieties in paulistano society. Specifically, I explore a discourse promoted by elite paulistanos that framed favelas as the antithesis of Sao Paulo's aspiring identity. Finally, I consider the destruction of two favelas located in the area designated for the Park and the displacement of over two hundred poor and working-class families in relation to broader patterns of socio-spatial segregation in Sao Paulo. By exploring the tensions surrounding the making of Ibirapuera Park and how the vision of Sao Paulo as a progressive and cultured city was conceived in terms of space, style, class, and race this article seeks to reframe the often celebratory way in which Sao Paulo's encounter with postwar modernity has been understood. (8) In doing so, this article contributes to scholarship on Ibirapuera Park by a growing number of authors whose works have motivated new questions about the Park and Sao Paulo's modernist projects more broadly. (9)


The making of Ibirapuera Park was a complex and fraught process. (10) One of the main controversies surrounding Sao Paulo's new symbol of modernity was its location and purpose during and after the IV Centenario. In the early 1950s, Sao Paulo was already a sprawling metropolis with poor and workingclass neighborhoods sprouting up along the outskirts of the city." While social and economic disparities between the center and the periphery persist to this day, these disparities were even starker in the 1950s. At that time, most of the infrastructure required for commerce, finance, hospitality, entertainment, and culture were concentrated in and around downtown Sao Paulo, where better-off paulistanos tended to live. Public services, including sewage, electricity, and transportation were also unevenly distributed. Not surprisingly, commissioners all agreed that the main venue for the IV Centenario had to be located within reasonable distance to the downtown area. Several locations were considered, however, two in particular drew the most attention and became the subject of intense disputes among commissioners and the public alike. These included a large tract of land in the Butanta region on the western part of the city that had been set aside for the new campus of the University of Sao Paulo and a meadow known as Ibirapuera located halfway between downtown Sao Paulo and the city's main airport.

Those who wanted to host the IV Centenario at the Butanta site were among the most prominent members of paulistano society, including architect Cristiano Stockier das Neves. Neves and his supporters, including journalist Paulo Duarte, framed their arguments around two key issues. First, they feared that by urbanizing the Ibirapuera site the commission would "destroy" one of the last remaining green areas in the city. In an article titled "The Mutilation of Ibirapuera Park," Duarte argued that the mark of a great city should not be measured in terms of mega-events and flashy buildings but, instead, in the ratio of green space to built area. (12) To this end, Duarte noted that unlike many of the cities paulistanos looked up to as models, Sao Paulo did not have adequate amounts of leisure and recreational spaces. For these paulistanos, preserving Ibirapuera as the "green lungs" of the city was essential for the future of Sao Paulo and the health of its residents. (13) Second, this group of paulistanos insisted that the 400th anniversary celebration needed to leave a lasting impact on the city. Their goal, therefore, was to use the resources available for the IV Centenario to build the University of Sao Paulo's long-awaited campus. According to these paulistanos, the structures built at the Butanta site would be converted into classrooms, libraries, and other university facilities at the end of the year-long celebration. (14) However, as we shall see, preserving nature, encouraging healthy habits, and advancing public education were not priorities for Matarazzo and the commission.

The group of paulistanos who envisioned the IV Centenario at the Ibirapuera site were also committed to building permanent structures, albeit for different reasons. The multi-venue...

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