Rebel Architecture

Luis Carlos Toledo: ‘The favela is unplanned’

The charismatic architect has worked on favela urbanisation in Rio de Janeiro long before it became fashionable.

Luis Carlos Toledo is a veteran ‘urbaniste’, a charismatic architect and an innovative planner, who has designed dozens of neighbourhoods in his native Rio de Janeiro.

The favela is unplanned. It arises spontaneously, with no help or design from the government. This leads to big problems that become even bigger with the approach of the Olympic Games.

by Luis Carlos Toledo

Toledo has been active in the Rocinha favela since the 1980s, when the favela’s mayor arrived unannounced in his office and asked him to redesign the favela’s centre in the image of one of Rio’s richer neighbourhoods.

But it was only after the slum’s notorious Three Day War of 2004 (when drug factions fought over control of the community) that he became involved in larger-scale plans to improve life in the sprawling neighbourhood. He spent a year working in the slum developing ideas with Rocinha’s residents.

His 1,000-page plan detailed a rigorous rethink of the favela. But as the local government began to put the plans into practice, Toledo saw his vision being hijacked by politicians. He contested the addition of a cable-car system to his plans in place of the hospital he had foreseen, and which became the focus for civil unrest in Rocinha 2013.

Seven years ago, Toledo was diagnosed with a fatal degenerative illness which has drastically hindered his ability to move or even draw.

He battles to realise his vision of Rocinha within his lifetime, but as redevelopment scandals emerge across the city his fight has inevitably become political.

He says: “In Rio de Janeiro, where there is a super-rich and super-poor population, the relationship between the favelas and the ‘Tarmac’ defines what the city is.”