A recent article from the Global South Studies Center online publication Voices, as part of the issue on Social Water, discussed a unique project in São Paulo, Rediscovering Rivers in A Brazilian Megacity by Douglas McRae, a PhD Candidate in History at Georgetown University. The focus of the article was on a project “Rios Des.cobertos” (Rivers Un.covered, or Dis.covered). which is “a collaborative installation between researchers and designers has sought to reignite these questions in the minds of their fellow Paulistanos, imparting a vision of the city’s hydrological reality through an exhibition combining history, geography, ecology, and visual art.”
The work emerged from a collaboration between “…geographer Luiz de Campos and architect José Bueno have coordinated the Iniciativa Rios e Ruas (Rivers and Roads Initiative), raising awareness of the city’s forgotten rivers through educational and community activities.” The group has been working since 2010 with an aim to “Deepen reflection on the use of public space and bring back to the city the underground and submerged rivers.” The methods are also outlined below, which includes research, field work, storytelling, and tours, all of which engage in the hidden hydrology of the city.
A map of the over waterways developed by Rios e Ruas shows many of the streams, and as mentioned in an article in the Guardian, “São Paulo has nearly 300 named waterways, says de Campos, and probably closer to 500 in total. A collective map used by Rios e Ruas shows the city looking like a vital organ, encased in a blue web of waterways – a network of mostly buried rivers and streams totalling more than 3,000 km. “There’s plenty of water in São Paulo,” says de Campos. “It’s just very badly managed.”
McRae continues: “In addition to leading walking tours in neighborhoods around the city seeking to uncover its forgotten courses of water, Campos and Bueno also organize educational sessions with students, and in general raise awareness regarding aquatic nature in the city. Another important aspect of their work has involved “reclamation” activities: physically uncovering and rejuvenating submerged headwater springs of forgotten or hidden rivers and streams. “Even the smallest improvement makes a big difference,” Campos told me in an interview, and such improvements can lead to the revival the plant and animal life in neighborhoods otherwise enveloped in concrete and asphalt.”
Some context on the interactivity, via McRae: “In selecting a program on the control panel, visitors trigger an animation of this fluvial drainage in motion, illuminating the component parts that contribute to the Upper Tietê watershed, the region where the Tietê’s headwaters are located. The formerly sinuous curves of the Tietê and Pinheiros in particular vanish with the passage of time. Other rivers are highlighted: for example the Sapateiro River, which flows south of the Espigão into the Pinheiros, feeding the lakes in the city’s sprawling Ibirapuera Park. Another, the Verde River, is artificially split into two different courses, and occasionally causes massive floods in the lower areas of the Vila Madalena neighborhood. One can observe how the city developed at first bounded by these rivers, later growing over them and causing them to fade from both sight and mind. Campos often reminds audiences that Paulistanos are rarely more than 300 meters from the course of a river. “Most Paulistanos have a vision of a city with three or four rivers” Campos explains, when in fact, any stream of water above or below ground can signify a forgotten river.”
I was struck by the use of technology to enliven the story of water, particularly as an installation. Some more images from Estudio Laborg co-creators of the exhibit “…in partnership with the Rios e Rutas (Rivers and Roads Initiative), the exhibition Rios Des.Cobertos – The Rescue of the Waters of the City is made up of exhibition boards and a model with an interactive map projection that allows the public to discover the rivers and complexity of the relief of the municipality of São Paulo.”
The videos of the display really bring it to life, such as this one Caminho das aquas (Waterway or Water path), is stunning:
The use of a simple topographic relief model is augmented with projected imagery to show additional layers of information like water flows, basins. elevation, and other features. Seeing it transform seems a powerful way to engage audiences, another here:
MORE FROM SÃO PAULO
A project of a similar nature is documented in this article Project Aims to Uncover Hundreds of Buried Rivers in São Paulo, Brazil which documents Cidada Azul (Blue City) “…implemented in a single week to bring attention to a part of São Paulo, Brazil that has been buried for a long time. In order to bring the smells, sounds, and freshness of the hundreds (yes, really) of rivers that cut through the city” In addition to audio tours, they
“the blue city that transform our relationship with water in urban environments; for centuries the cities have treated their rivers and lakes as sewage channels and the result is that we can not enjoy their presence or enjoy their water”
The platform provides an awesome map a snap shown here, with their description: “São Paulo is a huge city built over more than 300 rivers. Today they are buried and polluted. Anywhere in the city you are, there is a creek flowing under your feet not further than 200m. Discover!”
There are also interactive audio guides, developed alongside Rios e Ruas, which are described as such. “The best way to discover São Paulo’s rivers is to walk the city. We are developing audio-guides that help you find and follow the river trails. Put on your headphone, choose a river and follow instructions.” Stops along the way are highlighted by signage and blue paint.
The blue paint also comes up in other ways, with painted manhole covers, and streets to alert passersby of the routing of the hidden streams. An image via their Facebook page shows one of these installations.
An article in the Guardian ‘The river hunter of São Paulo – a life devoted to finding its lost waterways” delves into similar territory, following Adriano Sampaio, an “urban explorer who knows all of its hidden rivers and springs”. Posting on Facebook as Existe aqua em SP, he documents these explorations, augmented by maps. As mentioned: “He and his friend Ramon Bonzi, an urbanist, use 1930s maps laid over modern-day street maps to track down hidden and forgotten waterways, peering over walls, lifting manhole covers and climbing about in the undergrowth in search of rivers, streams and springs. “We always find something,” says Sampaio.”
Another article from Camila Cavalheiro is The Hidden Rivers of São Paulo, which provides some context for additional activities in the community. A few links are not working, as I’d love to find more about the “Rios (In)visíveis” project, but it seems to be not linked and the map leads to a blank page.. One that’s really interesting is Aqui passa um Rio (Here flows a river) has a more exploratory and performative nature, a project that is a Coletivo Fluvial (Fluvial Collective) which exists “…to generate actions of cartographic-performative character that rub on the surface of the city the awareness of submerged questions, like its waters. We work with multiple languages, actions and investigations in urban space, theoretical research practices, cartography, intervention, stencil, performance, music, space activation and meetings. We call for participation and open dialogue and free expression in the public space.”
Marking the spaces provides a permanence to the locations of the hidden rivers and engages the broader population.
A more studio based but no less beautiful artwork also comes in the form of RIOS [IN]VISÍVEIS DE SÃO PAULO an installation by Clarissa Morgenroth, Isabel Nassif and Renata Pedrosa as part of a show ‘Connections’. This interpretation using twine and nails maps the rivers and provides a nice aesthetic for hidden rivers.
A final project mentioned is Entre Rios, a documentary film that “…tells the story of the city of São Paulo from the perspective of its rivers and streams. Until the end of the 19th century, these waterways were the great sources of the city. Today, hidden by the pipes, pass unnoticed by most of Paulista. But in the rainy season, the city stops when floods show the buried face of local nature.” In Portuguese only, it’s still pretty informative to one who doesn’t know the language.
NOTE: Apologies in advance for any awkward translations, but wanted to distill the gist of info as most of the text is in Portuguese so I’m relying heavily on Google Translate here. (so please correct anything inherently wrong),
HEADER: Installation from Estudio Laborg – RIOS DES.COBERTOS – EDIÇÃO SESC PINHEIROS – 2017