There is no question that duringits unpoliced period, before the regeneration, the Copan was full of miscreantsand degenerates, and for the other residents living in the building it wasembarrassing to even admit where they called home. One man I met, GiovanniBright, even told me: “When I first moved in, I used to be ashamed to tell people Ilived here. It was a mess. Youdidn’t know who was standing next to you, … There were drug dealers on the topfloors, and some of the apartments were just flop houses for local prostitutes.1” Gradually though, due to a numberof factors, these erroneous residents were replaced by artists, students andwealthy entrepreneurs who were attracted by the idea of living in such aniconic building2.
Itcould be said that this surge of the so called ‘creative class’ did bring achange not only to the building and its residents but also fuelled a revival of an area of Brazil’s most populous city, that wasonce feared and avoided but now draws visitors to its cutting-edge galleries,skate parks and trendy restaurants3. Or could it also be that the vast expanse ofthe Copan, this city within the city of Sao Paulo, proves effective untoitself. It is possibly now on the up because it has become a commodity, abusiness opportunity or even a social statement. The prices have skyrocketedexponentially after the buildings clean up and those residents who lived throughthe dark times of the Copan have now ended up with a vast appreciation on theirrelatively low original investment. Like Giovanni who paid $18,000 for atwo-bedroom flat in the Copan and now his apartment is valued at nearly quarterof a million dollars4. The Copan was built at a timewhen the construction rate had reached four and a half buildings per hour5,but residential apartment buildings were associated with the cortiços housing thepoor6. TheCopan’s high density residential development, right in the centre of the city,configured a site of resistance to urban flight and the bourgeois utopia of suburbia,insulated from the workplace. The street level arcade also introduced a much-anticipatedurban destination soaked in ambiance and proved very popular until the late1970’s when Sao Paulo’s fashionable nightlife started drifting towards the’safer’ suburbs.
However today life is slowly returning to Sao Paulo’s centreand with it to the Copan7.The introduction of the building itself offered the Paulistas with analternative model of urban, and implicitly social, organisation. The exuberantbuilding challenged the post-war American, masculine order of the verticalcity, bringing into the middle of the white-collar arena a site of pleasure anddolce vita8.This search for permanence through freedom and fantasy that can be observed inNiemeyers work9 issomewhat achieved in the Copan. However, in the context of Sao Paulo, it isimpossible to ignore the atrocious housing state in the rest of the city.Recently Guardian Cities reported many thousands illegally occupy abandonedbuildings in the city centre both in protest and due to an absence ofalternative.
There are approximately eighty organised squats in São Paulo,with the number thought to be close to 20,000 people in total on the streets10by extrapolation of the 2015 census. The right to housing is enshrined in Brazil’s constitution, though it israrely respected11. Rolnik, a former urbanplanning minister for the country and a UN rapporteur for adequate housing forsix years explained that São Paulo’s mayor, João Doria, saw that: “the best use of a place in the city was one that wouldproduce more profit, not the one that will create more possibilities for peopleto live12”. Similarly, Martinez Corrêa, the founderof Zé Celsotheatre added to the discussion saying: “All of these agencies are in theprivate hands today … They don’t see people, they see numbers.
13″ Ultimately Rolnik urged the governmentto change its political policies especially in the way it projects itself toother foreign bodies: “Inequality is not limited to poorcommunities on the periphery of the megacity, We have a periphery downtown – Icould call them invisible. These are extremely vulnerable people. … This is acity exclusively for business, by business. The city is being sold to theinternational capitals: ‘Come invest here, this is empty territory’. The centreis not empty. It is full of people14.
“She added, “The city must be for all, and not for all investors. Sao Paulo’surban policy is promoting the opposite.15” Is it possible that the introduction of moreresidential buildings like the Copan could aid this crisis? I believe so. Aswith all areas which have problems with housing their people, there is a direneed for affordable and social housing.
Having the Copan as the social modelfor this with its vast mix of people, from various backgrounds, generations,occupations and social status, all unified by the one building; this diversitycould create a rich environment for the people.1https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2017/nov/30/copan-building-oscar-niemeyer-sao-paulo-tiles2https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/01/world/americas/brazil-sao-paulo-edifico-copan.html3 Oscar Niemeyer – Curves of Irreverence4https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/01/world/americas/brazil-sao-paulo-edificio-copan.html5 Oscar Niemeyer – Curves of Irreverence6 Oscar Niemeyer – Curves of Irreverence7 Oscar Niemeyer – Curves of Irreverence8 Oscar Niemeyer – Curves of Irreverence9 Oscar Niemeyer and Brazilian Free-formModernism 10 https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2017/dec/01/sao-paulo-exclusively-for-business-by-business-at-expense-of-urban-poor11 https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2017/dec/01/sao-paulo-exclusively-for-business-by-business-at-expense-of-urban-poor12 https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2017/dec/01/sao-paulo-exclusively-for-business-by-business-at-expense-of-urban-poor13 https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2017/dec/01/sao-paulo-exclusively-for-business-by-business-at-expense-of-urban-poor14 https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2017/dec/01/sao-paulo-exclusively-for-business-by-business-at-expense-of-urban-poor15 https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2017/dec/01/sao-paulo-exclusively-for-business-by-business-at-expense-of-urban-poor