Work as a Housing Right

  • Ana Rosa Chagas Cavalcanti TU Delft, Architecture and the Built Environment


This paper hopes that architects designing social housing for people originally living in informal settlements consider the importance of social practices, namely work activities, held by residents within the established informal settlements. Both the analysis and reflection hinge upon the practices previously established by a group of resettled inhabitants from the Favela Sururu de Capote, that exists in Maceió (Brazil) since the 1970’s, to Vila São Pedro, a housing project developed by Brazilian Government in 2009. In fact, the research shows that labor, the social practice that most of all shapes and governs spaces in the favela (Cavalcanti, 2017), also drove the modifications that significantly altered the original shape of the social housing designed according to principles of formal architecture.

The ethnographic research was developed according to participant observation through a multi-year field research started in 2008, before the resettlement of residents and continued after one and seven years from relocation. Information consisted of interviews, audio records of residents’ monologues, drawings, photos and video. In sum, the socio-economic traditions of residents were analysed before and after the resettlement process, both in the favela and in the social housing. Already little time after relocation, the social housing was profoundly modified and ‘mischaracterized’ by residents. Thus, the original project failed its mission, as it happened twenty years before in a similar attempt, in a project designed by the housing program PROMORAR, in 1989. From the analysis, it emerges that the herein emplaced working activities mostly drove residents to profoundly change the social housing designated to them according to traditional design and management schemes. According to this research, nearly 87% of the incremental changes in external spaces and ground level of the 380 housing units of the Vila São Pedro were devoted to give room to labor activities. The elaborated information constitutes the roots of an intellectual reflection about the in-depth reasons of this phenomenon. In fact, all the observed modifications are emplaced to preserve the source of income of residents of favelas, needed for the inhabitant to pay their bills and therefore to guarantee their permanence in the new housing units. Thus, these necessities overcome any aesthetic rigor, hygienic standards, canons, program, formal/legal constrains that are inherent the designing criteria of formal housing. This impellent necessity of unprivileged groups of society should question the role of architects within the delicate mission of providing dwelling solutions to informal settlements. But the consequences arising from this reflection invest many sectors, from institutions to academia. In fact, in the context of informal settlements, the right to have spaces to work is embedded in the right to have a housing unit. Possible strategies to rethink policies, knowledge on incremental processes, urbanization, design strategies, and the right to dwelling in a neoliberal society to consider the socio-economic tradition of labor within both the context of the architecture in informal settlements or, the resettlement process of its inhabitants, are presented in this paper.


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How to Cite
CAVALCANTI, Ana Rosa Chagas. Work as a Housing Right. A+BE | Architecture and the Built Environment, [S.l.], n. 8, p. 125-156, aug. 2019. ISSN 2214-7233. Available at: <>. Date accessed: 18 sep. 2019. doi: