by Evelise Grunow
In a conversation hosted by Projeto magazine, the new president-elect of the National Board of the Brazilian Institute of Architects (IAB-DN) for the 2020-2023 term of office, Minas Gerais native Maria Elisa Baptista chats with her predecessor in this position, Bahia-born architect Nivaldo Andrade. Prompted by Brazil’s weakened social, economic, political, environmental and production context, the feeling is one of ongoing continuity between their administrations. This is buttressed by major events next year that are of the utmost importance for architects and urban planners, as well as their dialogues with society in general: the 27th World Congress of Architects – UIA2021RIO and the centenary of the IAB.
The topics explored during this conversation included gender equity, networking between the IAB and civil society, and its performance as a hub of resistance. Despite (or perhaps because of) so many adversities, the outlook is encouraging. There are reports of a vibrant IAB, strengthened the engagement of a new generation of architects and with more women, together with the reopening of the North and Centre-West Departments, with ample input understanding the diversity of Brazil and its regions, as well as the battle against environmental devastation.
Nivaldo Andrade: Perhaps the most challenging task was organising the World Congress of Architects. We worked really hard on the preparations for this event, which was postponed to July 18 – 22, 2021 just three months before its opening ceremony. Another major accomplishment was the announcement of Rio de Janeiro as the first World Capital of Architecture. We were seen as a wildcard, as everyone thought that we would not have time to prepare our bid. But we forged ahead and we did it! Our bid was submitted by the Rio de Janeiro City Hall, supported by the IAB working on the layout of the bid with the Urban Planning Bureau – at that time, Verena Andreatta was the secretary. In January 2019, it was a great pleasure to watch the city’s new title being granted at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris. Another very important action is the IAB centenary, which will be celebrated in January 2021. We set up a commission last year, with a starter event last January. The next action will be a more solid exhibition that will travel through several cities. Additionally, two Architecture Biennials were organised by the São Paulo Chapter of the IAB: one in 2017 that began during the previous administration (under Sergio Magalhães); and the other in 2019, as well as our involvement in the early preparations for the next Biennial in 2022. Hosted by the Rio Grande do Sul State Chapter of the IAB in Porto Alegre last year, the 21st Brazilian Congress of Architects was one of the most attractive events ever hosted by this Institute, encompassing the entire downtown area with tributes to architect and urban planner Briane Bicca. I also highlight the newly-established Gender Equity Commission, which is an initiative urged by women architects that was promptly accepted by the IAB National Board. The administration headed by Sergio Magalhães awarded the IAB Gold Collar to a woman for the first time, paying tribute to architect and urban planner Rosa Kliass. During our administration, this honour was granted to Dora Alcântara in April 2020. We also shortlisted the largest possible number of women for the Pan-American Federation of Architects’ Associations (FPAA) prizes, which are traditionally dominated by men. The pandemic-prompted cancellation of the April IAB board meeting in Brasília and its replacement by an on-line meeting offer the advantage of attracting twice the number of attendees. Opening up new paths, this innovative approach launched a new and unfamiliar dynamic. For instance, the statutory commissions – which were often very hard to schedule – have been restructured. Attracting a new generation of participants, they are moving full speed ahead. Another important aspect is the reactivation of regional IAB departments, with eight of them being brought back into action. In August, the last board meeting before the elections was attended by all 27 IAB departments. This was a historic occasion. There is no doubt that this was a challenge to be surmounted, but what was unexpected for us was the intensity of the threat to Brazilian democracy, looming since 2016. The IAB has been forced to adopt political stances, in partnership with civil society movements, such as the Brazil Campaign for Democracy. On March 16, we joined forces with the National Federation of Architects and Urban Planners (FNA) and the Brazilian Urban Planning Law Institute (IBDU), issuing a public appeal urging a halt to evictions and the enforcement of judgements reinstating land ownership. In March, our document was adopted for use by Public Defenders’ Offices. Above all, it was the dismantling of the National Artistic and Historical Heritage Institute (IPHAN) – initially through appointing unqualified staff to the superintendencies and then to its presidency – that prompted us to head up a movement gathering together twenty entities from a wide variety of fields. The Forum of Entities Defending Brazil’s Cultural Heritage today encompasses more than 200 specialists, with regional forums over much of the country. We are currently setting up these Forums in Santa Catarina and Alagoas State, with 24 of Brazil’s 27 States established, together with the Federal District. This is a networking task that began with accusations and then progressed to proposing public policies. The IAB is the coordinator of this movement, which will be headed by Nivaldo Andrade for yet another year. The crisis in the national heritage field has shown us that we are stronger when working together in order to overcome these absurd situations affecting Brazil. We must remain alert and united, because problems are still cropping up constantly.
Maria Elisa Baptista: This is my fourth bid, since the 1990s – in 2008, I ran for the third time. Sometimes we were the opposition, while in others there were specific differences between the platforms. Nivaldo mentioned the male-heavy environment at the FPAA, but there were few women at the IAB as well. For example, we were in the minority at its board meetings. Although I had always served as a board member, I had not been involved with the national issue for quite some time, and last year’s congress in Porto Alegre was an important event for us all. For me, it was a special moment. It was there in Porto Alegre that the Rio Grande do Sul State Department of the IAB proposed a partnership with the Minas Gerais State Department, in an innovative international framework, with more women in the IAB, and an eager group of youngsters. They invited me to run for the presidency on a very diverse platform, committed to issues that were being constructed during Nivaldo’s administration, such as sharing work with other entities and sectors of civil society.
Maria Elisa Baptista: Many have been carried over from the previous administration, such as preparation for the World Congress of Architects in Rio de Janeiro. At the moment, we are discussing the re-dimensioning of UIA2021RIO and more specifically, its format. Nivaldo continues to represent the IAB on its Executive Committee, and we are all deeply involved in working towards an excellent Congress. We are also focused on the IAB centenary next year, preparing a beautiful exhibition, with a timeline that is contextualised in the cultural and political terms. The idea is that we will fill in this line as we digitise the rich cultural heritage of the IAB departments. This will be a work tool and data source for research that also fosters convergence. Through this approach, we will portray the role of the IAB in the struggles of Brazil, the battle for women’s rights, the fight for fair cities, for freedom and democracy. In terms of heritage aspects, in addition to reaching out to even more sectors of civil society committed to protecting our heritage, we think that it is important that the Forum also stresses the environmental agenda, particularly land occupancy issues. Although architects have always been concerned with cities, environmental disasters are now threatening the integrity and safety of indigenous peoples and families who live off the land to an unprecedented extent. Firm steps are needed in order to ensure fair and environmentally correct occupancy. This is why it is important to stress that the reactivation of the Departments mentioned by Nivaldo is underway in States that are at the heart of this agenda, such as Pará, Mato Grosso, Tocantins, Goiás and Piauí. This is a region that the IAB is determined to bring into the discussion. So, briefly, these are issues related to the political agenda of the IAB, as resistance. Another focus of attention is technical assistance, which is extremely important, ensuring that inputs from architects contribute significantly to enhancing living conditions among the poorest segments of the population. There are many initiatives already underway in this field, such as technical residency courses in Bahia, Rio Grande do Sul, and Minas Gerais States, and calls for proposals issued by the Brazilian Architecture and Urban Planning Council assigning funds to these initiatives. Overall, there is still much to be done. With regard to the equity issue, a major focus for us is to discuss generous, healthy, and welcoming cities, and the role of architects in this construction.
Nivaldo Andrade: Ever since this event was postponed, back in April, we have been trying to understand and predict (with reasonable accuracy) the global and Brazilian situations within the context of these public health and economic crises. The schedule of speakers and discussants is already complete and confirmed, as well as the UIA General Meeting. The main issue now is the public. How many people can we gather together? We still do not know. So we are working on the possibilities for boosting parallel on-line attendance, designing a hybrid format that has proven both possible and interesting.
It’s interesting how the discussion tracks of this Congress have not lost their relevance, despite the pandemic.
Maria Elisa Baptista: The themes of this event have become even more pertinent, and the Congress remains right on the cutting edge of current events. Its format is indeed under discussion, but not the Congress itself.
Maria Elisa Baptista: The IAB has never favoured courses that are completely on-line, as architectural training requires knowledge of reality and creative exchanges that require more than virtual communications. The IAB Education Commission has been striving to understand how the pandemic has affected the courses, and how all this is taking place nationwide. There are aspects causing concern, such as mass layoffs of lecturers, with students piled into virtual classrooms. Some schools continue to work synchronously, with teachers and the same numbers of students interacting, while others have taken a leap in the dark, bringing together 400 students in the same classroom. The Federal Universities, which are currently returning, are facing problems with workshops, laboratories, and extension facilities. We are conducting and overseeing research projects investigating this situation, in partnership with our entities and the National Brazilian Architecture and Urban Planning Students Federation (FeNEA), concerned particularly with conditions for students having to adapt to remote learning methodologies. We are faced by a digital inequality that is causing much concern, and this must be understood and taken into account.
*Interview originally published in the Projeto magazine
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