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AA Matéria-Prima Visiting School

2011 BARRACÕES DE SAMBA – PORTO DO RIO AA Rio de Janeiro Design Workshop 5-  14 April 2011

Relating to Rio de Janeiro’s annual Carnival, as well as to the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games, the workshop explored alternative, grass-roots cultural programmes and structures, as a way of transforming the precarious urban environment of the Porto region, and to suggest ways that these major international events can leave a legacy that is beneficial for the community year-round. The ten-day workshop promoted a design philosophy that mediated between global and local sensibilities, between formal and informal economies, and between high-tech and low-tech fabrication processes. In contrast to imported and pre-fabricated end-products, it employed a hybrid methodology, using the raw goods (matéria prima) and other found-objects, inspired a Brazilian art tradition, yet evolving and re-purposing these materials with novel computational-design and fabrication processes.

Taking place almost forty days after the Carnival, the workshop explored the re-use of otherwise discarded floats, costumes, and the fabrication techniques of the local float-builders, collaborating with several Escolas de Samba located in the post-industrial derelict warehouses of the Porto area, the birthplace of the Carnival and Samba. The low-tech found-materials and techniques were combined with high-tech design generation using parametric modeling and Processing, as well as with digital fabrication techniques using the C.N.C. and laser cutter.  Workshop participants actually worked in the Grande de Rio Pimpolhos Carnival-fabrication warehouse, collaborating with and employing the local float builders (who would otherwise be without work this time of year) introducing digital fabrication techniques and machines, donated for the workshop duration by DS4, thus creating an intense high-tech/low-tech laboratory. Recycled Carnival material and techniques were transformed using digital fabrication processes to create interventions for micro-venues in the Porto region, especially on and within the Pimpolhos Building itself. The goal was to maintain and express the identity of the Samba culture within the decaying port, as well as across the city, by proposing cultural events and structures that engage the local population and complement the large-scale constructions of Olympic sports venues, as well as the new real-estate pressure that threatens to gentrify the Porto area and re-locate the Carnival float fabrication away from the currently near-by Sambodromo.

Immersed within the colorful, Carnival-paraphernalia decorated walls of the Pimpolhos warehouse, in a stifling-hot air filled with the smells and sounds of C.N.C. and laser cutters, fiber-glass and samba music, participants, tutors, carnival workers and the Pimpolhos art team, shared ideas, techniques and the savory group meals of the warehouse kitchen. Particularly inspiring was the Pimpolhos ideology in their being a children’s Carnival samba-school which promotes the building of floats and costumes inspired by contemporary art forms, and made from recycled materials. Rather than simply using ready-made goods, the artistic production employs local community members, and engages children within different impoverished communities via weekly workshops throughout the year, where art-work and Carnival material are produced using recycled trash.  The different prototype intervention proposals of the workshop incorporated this conceptual and technical ethos in a variety of ways. Programmatically, projects explored ways of expressing the identity of this grassroots community Carnival culture through interactive traveling sculptures, public playground infrastructure, and Carnival-ornament environmental mediation devices. Technically, projects incorporated both the use of recycled Carnival pieces and other found objects, supported by new digitally fabricated constructions, as well as the production of digitally fabricated molds for the local builders to use with their own fiber-glass and vacuum forming techniques, promoting a longevity to this high-tech/low tech mode of production, once the high-tech machines have been returned.
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