Favelas and the normative, institutional Social Housing System in Brazil: discipline versus freedom, private versus public through the analysis of the unprivileged working class history.


  • Ana Rosa Chagas Cavalcanti TU Delft




Most of today’s Brazilian Social Housing Institutional production are standardized mass buildings that are planned far from cities, have no connection to public transportation systems and, are disconnected from local contexts. This is largely due to the reason that the planning approach to housing is compliant with state simplification models that turn a blind eye to the dynamics of the informal sector. The history of Brazilian institutional planning showcases successive failed attempts to setting out a chunky top-down planning system whose architecture models follow the premise of one model fits all. Moreover, the polarization between institutional planning and the changing needs of the society also address the yawning inequalities among classes and, can be analyzed through the Brazilian working class history, in this unprecedented study.

Brazil’s history of political and economic institutional reforms for the working class is a particular case study to problematize social housing production. That is, on the one hand, we notice an extreme disciplinary approach to the housing space conceived by traditional stakeholders, institutions, and real estate, in efforts to segment the life of privileged workers/formal workers. On the other hand, there is a foreseen freedom to build and to increment housing spaces by those excluded from the normative planning, by the so-called formal unprivileged workers/informal workers. 

Thus, the article explains how the favelas and other informal dwellings became a legitimated mass housing in Brazil, by the time it backtracks that long lasting binary interrelation. This study is an anthology of the history freedom and the discipline of the working class, enhanced by a failed housing institutional planning during several centuries. That is, reflected in the social housing planning history in Brazil and that acknowledges that the favelas are an integral part of social housing production. The study traces back the period of the abolition of slavery in 1888, where there has been a high demand of working class houses in Brazil. Later it refers to the advent of the wage employment, and the so-called working class villas conceived by the private sector, that is, the first Brazilian social housing prototypes. Then, during the military regime, especially during the 60s, when housing became a concern of State Institutions and demand increased massively due to the emergence of institutes devoted to providing housing for legal workers of exclusive sectors (IAPI, IAPC, IAPB). Or, social housing after the 1980s that still considered some privileged classes of workers, denying the illegal workers. Finally, the fact that some actors of society have joined efforts to conduct participatory planning, such as the Liga Social contra o Mocambo and Mutirões. In so doing, we aim to highlight the uncanny distinction between those workers who were able to live in social housing and those who couldn’t. And that this conceived an idea of housing that is an ideology, that is borderless, apart from the city historical political and economic fabric, nor a product or a commodity, but a necessity and a process.

Author Biography

Ana Rosa Chagas Cavalcanti, TU Delft

Phd Researcher, Dept. of Architecture, TU Delft


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How to Cite

Chagas Cavalcanti, A. R. (2016). Favelas and the normative, institutional Social Housing System in Brazil: discipline versus freedom, private versus public through the analysis of the unprivileged working class history. International Planning History Society Proceedings, 17(4). https://doi.org/10.7480/iphs.2016.4.1290