the core of the triangle: the history of an empty lot in downtown são paulo

Our daily lives are comprised of small acts of forgetting. Forgetting keys or subway cards—small amulets that grant us access—can cause an entire day to be reconfigured. We forget less serious things: a jacket left behind, a momentary lapse that deprives the plants of their daily watering. But forgetting an umbrella or a pair of glasses can be a small tragedy.

When we forget these small things, they don’t cease to exist. On the contrary, their presence is reinforced, coming to mind at the very moment the forgetting is remembered. Forgetting is not simply an absence unfelt. It is necessary to perceive a lack in order for it to exist.

Our daily routes through the city mark the pace of these brief acts of forgetting. We walk through the streets as if grids, houses, buildings, and parks will always be part of the landscape. We frequently encounter new stores, new cafés, a new building under construction, ruins that will later give way to the new, the yet unknown. And then it hits: we’ve forgotten something. What was there before? That very place we pass by every day, which we had incorporated as part of our routine.

Umbrellas and cities are different in this respect. When we forget part of the city, it ceases to exist. It’s not like going back to grab a subway card left on the table. The city is composed of layers of time that are slowly shaped in space, like a manuscript endlessly erased and rewritten, a palimpsest. This is why forgetting exactly just what was there can spark our indignation. How could we let it slip, how could we be so inattentive, how could we simply fail to notice?

Ipiranga Avenue, Consolação Street, and São Luís Avenue form a triangle. It’s not just any geometric shape within a mosaic, it’s a key part of the São Paulo urban model. On one end, the Copan building, on the other, the Itália building. The São Luis side is formed by a row of buildings that likewise do not go unnoticed.

Hundreds of people live, work, pass through, dance, kiss, suffer, protest around this triangle. The image of this cutout of built space is often used to represent the entire city, to imprint these shapes into the memories of those who pass through, of those who stay. But what lives inside the triangle is more elusive, more difficult to discern.

Two thousand, three hundred, and thirty-eight square meters. I’ll repeat that to myself out loud: two thousand, three hundred, and thirty-eight square meters. Perhaps saying it aloud can help provide this number with a sense of materiality. This is just a part of the inner area that forms the core. It is the cut-out area of what today comprises lot F0010, sector 006, block 064, CodLog 052450, entrance through number 268, Consolação Street. Among all the possible cut-outs of the triangle area, this is the one that draws the least attention. Much more than a blind spot, it is foremost an empty lot. A void of two thousand, three hundred, and thirty-eight square meters in the middle of the city’s most iconic triangle.

The triangular block, view from above. Source: GeoSampa

The things we forget about in everyday life are usually miniscule. They are hidden because they are mixed in with other objects, their slightness allows them the cunning of improbable hiding places. The things we forget about the city can be much bigger. They may not even move; still they are forgotten. Oftentimes ruins will indicate the first signs of the fall—fencing can mark the beginning of the death of a place. But how is it possible to remember that we have forgotten a great void?

View of current lots from a section of the triangular block. Source: GeoSampa

“When there was greater retention by the government, our income faced expenditures until money owed arrived. FAPESP has always been concerned with investing, obtaining revenue so that there is no gap in covering the costs of research. Once a transfer took so long that researchers produced a manifesto in support of FAPESP. As a result, the Foundation formed a permanent investment fund that guaranteed resources, even during the worst of times. I also recall that we purchased land on Consolação Street to build FAPESP’s headquarters. Later, for reasons I no longer remember, we didn’t build it, and that white elephant remained. We needed to explore that economically and Mr. Galvão suggested a parking lot; I don’t know whether it still exists.” 1Testimony of Celso Antônio Bandeira de Mello in HAMBURGER, Amélia Império (ed.). Fapesp 40 anos: abrindo fronteiras. São Paulo: FAPESP/Edusp, 2004, p. 448.

The memory of the purchase: alive. The memory of the creation of emptiness: absent. The memory of unintended use: “a parking lot; I don’t know whether it still exists.”

Property is the mark that remains while the social function of property fades away.

A daily parking lot is not very demanding. A wall, a gate, a bit of paint: the combination of these elements is enough for wide recognition of an empty lot as a site for the parking of cars. Cars stationed so that people can continue to move.

Low demand made horizontal parking lots a constant in downtown São Paulo. It is often the means builders and developers utilize for the lot to formally fulfill a function while serving as a retainer of value for future construction. Of the 89 parking lots notified by the city for non-compliance with the social function of property by 2016, 43 belonged to legal entities, most of them linked to the real estate market. 2AKAISHI, Ana Gabriela, SILVEIRA, Ana Flávia Lima da. Função social da propriedade e imóveis ociosos no centro de São Paulo: os estacionamentos rotativos e os proprietários de imóveis. Anais do XVII ENANPUR, 2019.

FAPESP is the Research Support Foundation of the State of São Paulo. It supports, with grants and funding, scientific and technological research developed in the state. FAPESP is not a real estate company. But the easy construction of a daily parking lot setup must have spoken louder. Better a void that is sometimes inhabited by cars than a mere void. Better a temporary void that generates a bit of income than a non-profitable void. It is at least interesting to consider that every fifteen or twenty reais received as a daily parking fee contributed to fostering academic and technological knowledge—or, at least, to covering costs. From parking to the precarious financing of research in this country.

Lot façade, 2011. Source: Google StreetView

FAPESP’s original proposal was to build its headquarters and an office building in lot F0010, sector 006, block 064, CodLog 052450, with entrance at number 268, Consolação Street. In 1991, a competition was even held to develop the project, overseen by the Brazilian Institute of Architects.

“The winning project was presented by Ícaro de Castro Mello Arquitetos Associados, whose team was formed by architects Rita Vaz, Christina de Castro Mello and Eduardo de Castro Mello. Rita Vaz commented that participating and winning this contest was very rewarding, an honor for the team, as the composition of the jury as well as the other invited firms and their respective projects were of a high caliber. She praised the organization of the competition, which, as a rule, required participants to present a model, in order to enable the evaluation of the building inserted on the block, which privileged the winning project, mainly for composing a continuous volume on the block’s façade, providing an interconnection with the bordering façades, recessed on one end and aligned on the other. The block in question stands out for its proximity to the Mário de Andrade Library and the irregularly shaped property (resembling an arrow) facing Consolação Street, its back facing a private street, part of the COPAN building.” 3Minute of 100th meeting of the Executive Commission of the Operação Urbana Centro, held on May 30, 2012, p.2

Photos of FAPESP’s building project mockup. Source: TEUBA Arquitetura e Urbanismo
Drawing of the plans for the FAPESP building. Source: TEUBA Arquitetura e Urbanismo

What is the possible link between a highly sophisticated architectural project and a horizontal parking lot? How can the two visions of the city rooted in each of these proposals be made compatible? There is but a single common denominator: an empty two thousand, three hundred, and thirty-eight square meters.

An empty two thousand, three hundred, and thirty-eight square meters could become a building, which opens out to the street, constructed using sustainable materials and in an intelligent manner—it could house an internal garden on the ground floor, connecting pedestrians who pass through the streets of the triangle. Two thousand, three hundred, and thirty-eight square meters have in fact turned into a daily parking lot, that is, the cheapest and most immediate means of generating profitability and value retention.

But parking lots can also die. In 2011, ownership of the lot changed hands. In this case, it was not a construction company or a developer that bought one of the best-located vacant lots in an area of the city undergoing an intense gentrification process. The lot has not only changed owners, but also its legal status. When the University of São Paulo purchased lot F0010, sector 006, block 064, CodLog 052450, entrance at number 268, Consolação Street for R$7.4 million, the empty lot was no longer private property, having become a public good.

“The future building on Consolação Street would house USP’s Attorney’s offices, the headquarters of the legal superintendence, and the central bookstore and headquarters of [USP’s publishing house] Editora da USP. It is currently a parking lot. (…) In the evaluation carried out by Luiz Paulo Pompéia, director of the Embraesp consultancy, the amount paid by the university for the property is below market value. ‘The lot is valued between 9 and 12 million,’ he estimated. The market value, given by the Municipality for the collection of IPTU [federal urban property tax], is R$2.8 million.” 4SILVA, Cadê. USP prevê gastar R$ 11 milhões para erguer prédio administrativo no centro. O Estado de São Paulo, November 30, 2011. Available at: https://educacao.estadao.com.br/noticias/geral,usp-preve-gastar-r-11-milhoes-para-erguer-predio-administrativo-no-centro,805095, accessed on 10/19/2020.

“Opponents accuse the dean of misallocating resources. They criticize the choice of pharaonic works, claiming that recent renovations have been overlooked. The bookstore of the university’s publisher, Edusp, for example, had undergone a structural renovation in 2009, and had already needed to be removed from the Old Rectorate. Rodas decided to renovate the entire building to make it once again the seat of the university’s government. ‘It will be the New Old Rectorate,’ joked Massola.

The reforms opened up a new site of tension between Rodas and certain professors. In March of this year, the rectorate published a letter in the newspaper O Estado de S. Paulo, which argued that the leadership of the USP Faculty Association, Adusp, had been ‘judicially interpellated.’ They should respond to the claim that ‘academic funding was being diverted to construction projects’.” 5SCARPIN, Paula. Rodas em ação. Piauí, n. 71, August 2012. Available at: https://piaui.folha.uol.com.br/materia/rodas-em-acao/

The gates and the parking lot wall gave way to an improvised fencing. This type of siding often announces the arrival of the new. The transformation of private land into public often announces new use, greater integration with the needs of the city. But in this case, the siding merely came to hide the core of the triangle once again. To hide two thousand, three hundred, and thirty-eight square meters. But now with an aggravating factor: two thousand, three hundred, and thirty-eight square meters of public property.

Now as before, the proposed construction was not carried out. The lot remained empty between 2011 and 2014, when the new rector of the University of São Paulo, Marco Antonio Zago, decided to reverse Rodas’ real estate expansion policy. The acquired lot would be auctioned off. Since 2014, a “for sale” sign has been visible above one of the poorly fitted fencings at number 268, Consolação Street.

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FAPESP sold the lot for R$7.4 million in 2011, below market price. USP planned to spend R$11 million on construction. Only the stakes were made. Nine years later, USP seeks to sell the lot for more than R$28 million. It remains empty.

The curators of the museu do louvre pau-brazyl project initiated contact with USP in 2017, receiving a formal response from the university only in March of 2019. The request was simple: they sought to use the empty space.

The answer was also just as simple: a negative. The University statement is clear: this property is for sale. Don’t come to us hoping to bring it to life, don’t try to open a door to make this core visible, don’t come to us with these ideas. It is property, not the social function of property. We want to maintain its invisibility.

The response also arrived beyond the form of a letter. The day after the 3rd act: the verso exhibition closed, the badly laid siding gave way to a brick wall topped with barbed wire. A wall to demarcate the negative, to demarcate property. Placed there as well were security guards, making their daily rounds.

The letter and the wall demonstrated that the university would maintain its position in the face of any appeal. Not even a petition signed by dozens of artists and professors. Not even with the endorsement of three of the university’s own departments (the School of Arts and Communications, the School of Philosophy, Letters and Human Sciences, and the School of Architecture and Urbanism). Not even with a meeting with the Dean. Not even to calculate that a lot occupied by artists could increase its attractiveness for sale in a neighborhood undergoing gentrification. Not even.

How is it possible to forget an empty lot in the middle of downtown São Paulo? How is it possible that, from 1991 until now, the only function actually exercised in this space was that of parking cars?

Empty lots in central urban areas are not only the subject of legal disputes or labyrinthine bureaucratic procedures. The city’s territories are in constant dispute over access, uses and functions. A few meters from number 268, Consolação Street are living examples of how the city pulsates under constant tension. Just walk a bit down Consolação Street to reach Augusta Park—which would have become a set of towers had it not been for the work of activist mobilization. Likewise, a short walk along São Luís brings you to the Nove de Julho Occupation—which would have remained an abandoned building had it not been for the relentless struggle of housing movements. These are spaces of fierce, daily dispute. The core of the triangle is not part of a fierce dispute over urban space, it is part of our forgetting. And when we forget part of the city, it simply ceases to exist.

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This text was originally published in the book reds (museu do louvre pau-brazyl, 2020) and revised in June, 2021.

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  • 1
    Testimony of Celso Antônio Bandeira de Mello in HAMBURGER, Amélia Império (ed.). Fapesp 40 anos: abrindo fronteiras. São Paulo: FAPESP/Edusp, 2004, p. 448.
  • 2
    AKAISHI, Ana Gabriela, SILVEIRA, Ana Flávia Lima da. Função social da propriedade e imóveis ociosos no centro de São Paulo: os estacionamentos rotativos e os proprietários de imóveis. Anais do XVII ENANPUR, 2019.
  • 3
    Minute of 100th meeting of the Executive Commission of the Operação Urbana Centro, held on May 30, 2012, p.2
  • 4
    SILVA, Cadê. USP prevê gastar R$ 11 milhões para erguer prédio administrativo no centro. O Estado de São Paulo, November 30, 2011. Available at: https://educacao.estadao.com.br/noticias/geral,usp-preve-gastar-r-11-milhoes-para-erguer-predio-administrativo-no-centro,805095, accessed on 10/19/2020.
  • 5
    SCARPIN, Paula. Rodas em ação. Piauí, n. 71, August 2012. Available at: https://piaui.folha.uol.com.br/materia/rodas-em-acao/

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