April 2017: Fluvial Metropolis Workshop 4

Left: Paulo Mendes da Rocha_MuBE_Sao Paulo_Photo by Nelson Kon. Right: Roundhouse Shines_Olga Koumoundouros 2014_Photo by Gina Clyne_Clockshop.org_Bowtie Project
February 12, 2018
In April, ALI joined a small group of participants for Workshop 4 in the “Fluvial Metropolis” series, a program funded by Princeton University, the Mellon Foundation, and the University of São Paulo, Brazil. The intent of the series was to examine the history, engineering and planning of water infrastructure in São Paulo and consider future impacts of water infrastructure on urban space and form. 
Since 2015, Princeton has facilitated comparative dialog between participants from São Paulo and other cities, New York and New Orleans among them. This fourth workshop—São Paulo: Los Angeles—focussed on the role of the artistic and literary imagination in shaping approaches to public water infrastructures. From USP, art and architectural historians Guilherme Wisnik and Luis Antonio Jorge presented; writer and artist Jenny Price and Hadley Arnold of ALI brought perspectives from Los Angeles. Mario Gandelsonas, Bruno Carvhalo, and Curt Gambetta, all of Princeton, and Victoria Saramago of University of Chicago served as discussants.
Guilherme Wisnik focused on the Tiete River, the “dismantling of regional autonomies,” and the appropriation of riverfront land in the urban core for private development, displacement, and the proliferation of shopping malls. Framing the river as the “third margin” of development, he looked at the role of polemical architects such as Brazilian Brutalist and Pritzker Prize Winner Paolo Mendes da Rocha, whose dissolved boundary between infrastructural and architectural scale reasserts a public domain within the urban core. Luis Antonio Jorge surveyed 19th C. narratives of navigation and conquest penned by explorers describing not only river geographies, but river meanings. He contrasted the birds-eye optics of Euclides da Cunha’s “Os Sertoes” with Guimares Rosa’s “Grande Sertao: veredas,” a narrative recounted on foot. Ultimately, he used the two narratives to suggest that a river’s dual purpose—cutting land (on the transversal axis) and connecting land (on the longitudinal axis)—can fruitfully shape integrative infrastructures along the Tiete River.
In considering the future of the LA River, Jenny Price asked, Whose LA? Outside the narratives of power, capital, and authority that have shaped the river to date, Jenny spotlighted the role of poets, artists and filmmakers in prodding the public imagination and stretching the boundaries of communal activation of space. However ephemeral, the projects suggest multiple alternative futures and insist on more voices and visions at work on the river’s future. Hadley looked less at the river, and more at the city as a field, and the preconditions necessary for a ‘water-soluble’ future. What are the opportunities for the imaginative perforation of the city’s vast surfaces? Can perforating the city’s crust and shaping its built topography serve not only to enhance hydrologic function, on the river and off, but also to catalyze sponge-like architectures and urbanism? What needs to be in place for that to happen?
Discussions across presentations revealed differing emphases on authorship (literary and architectural) and varying scales of (aspirational) impact, potentially inversely related; contrasted political, technical, and artistic forms of resistance to homogenizing planning processes; and questioned the role a ‘literary cartography’ may have played in shaping each region’s collective consciousness around water and its place in the public sphere. We are grateful to Princeton School of Architecture for bringing us together.