Mountain Cities: changing textures exposed

Maria-Joao Pereira de Matos


The favelas of Rio de Janeiro are often mentioned as paradigms of unplanned urban areas with a strong identity. Yet, in European cities we can also find spontaneous urbanizations occupying considerable areas, of variable functional and formal complexities. In Lisbon, for instance, some of the so called AUGI (Urban Areas of Illegal Genesis) are multifunctional neighbourhoods. Galinheiras is one of these cases. Even in cities with a strong control over urban expansion and transformation we can find unplanned urban renewals, at a smaller scale. The spontaneous occupation of voids with ephemeral interventions or as productive spaces (the urban farming phenomenon is a result of this) shape the landscape and the dynamics of trans-industrial European capitals like Paris and Lisbon.
Considering the favelas of Rio, one of the reasons for the importance given to them as an object of study might be their visibility in the urban landscape which is due to the mountainous topography where they grow. European mountain cities also expose unplanned occupations in hillsides: the growth of housing and the transformation of ancient industrial buildings take part in this reality. The city of Lugano in Ticino, Switzerland, can be mentioned as an example of the expansion of housing on hillsides due to tourism, a common phenomenon in Alpine settlements. In others cases, like the city of Covilhã, Portugal, the urban sprawl came along with the transformation of ancient industrial areas. Many of these areas where abandoned, some where renewed obeying to plans, others where spontaneously reoccupied. We believe that the capacity of these highly visible structures to encourage unplanned creative interventions should be considered by the authorities, as an asset for urban vitality in industrial mountain cities.

Lisbon is not considered as a mountain city, yet the fact that the topography of the site is hilly and that it lies on a large estuary inevitably exposes the urban tissue and its details. Consequently, the changing urban textures of trans-industriality play a central role in the transformation of the image of the city. Abandoned architectural structures (such as ancient convents or military and industrial areas) as well as urban voids are numerous. Some have been occupied for temporary functions, generally associated with culture or with creative industries (for instance Lx Factory), others have been used for ephemeral events in special occasions, such as Expo 98. We propose to analyse the evolution in the second half of the 20th century of the unplanned changes operated in these areas, looking for the patterns and the addition of successive layers on the changing urban texture. From there, new approaches to unplanned interventions could be proposed, simultaneously enriching the urban landscape and promoting creative functional synergies.