Eduardo Gananca, Luiz Grecco, Jessica Luchesi won the 2017 Schindler Global Award with their project “Palimpsest”. The three were students at the Architecture and Urbanism College, University of São Paulo, commonly known as FAU. Their design had a focus on looking at the many layers of the city, to arrive at a reasonable yet ambitious design for the CEAGESP site in the center of São Paulo. They spoke to us about the 2017 SGA, and offered some advice and insight for other students participating – or considering participation – in the 2019 SGA.
How did you decide to participate in the 2017 Schindler Global Award?
Eduardo: Jessica saw on Facebook that a professor from Delft who had been a student at FAU shared an article about the SGA, and got interested. One thing led to another, and the professor announced the award to his students, and word circulated back to us in São Paulo.
Jessica: It is the most prominent urban design award for students. Luiz, Eduardo and myself all deeply like urban design. During our studies we had done a studio project together that had a site near CEAGESP, but we were not happy with the result. When we looked at the SGA closely, we saw it was international, a chance to test ourselves in a similar area of São Paulo – and we already knew we were a good team.
What was your process, how did you approach the competition as a group?
Jessica: Anyone entering the competition should be ready for different learning experiences. We read a lot of UN-Habitat publications; they have a comprehensive online library of urban design knowledge. Don’t try a single approach or discipline-led thinking.
For example, we were student assistants to professors of landscape; we were connected to urban design and architecture professors. Things don’t need to be separate, they can be integrated and you can bring all of it to the design. Bigger broader aspects are important – don’t leave something behind. The more open you are to learning, to growing, the better. Then we each had specific areas where we had deeper knowledge: Eduardo was keen on urban transport, Luiz on social context.
Eduardo: Our result was different solutions, scales, and concepts. We were insecure about this. Prior to sending in our entry, we thought we should have given more focus to one area, that maybe the entry was a little too sprawling – but that was exactly how we won. The jury appreciated that we approached the project with a wide range of inputs.
Luiz: We looked at all parts of the city, gathering as much information as we could. For example, Eduardo discovered plans for changes in the railway line, which we agreed to integrate into our project.
Jessica: We were very opportunistic; we applied everything we learned in the process of preparing our entry. It is an exercise about believing in the city. We are in a moment of deep change, with fundamental questions about the survival of the cultural and communal extents that we have now. We thought about questions like: What kind of city do we really believe in, what kind of city works? What is a great city design?
What was the dynamic of the group, how did you work together and what advice could you offer to other student participants?
Eduardo: There’s so much vanity in architecture, and you must find a group where you can put this aside. Where you can throw away bad ideas without ruining relationships. Approach a wide field of subjects without having the need to develop them so much as you might want.
Jessica: We discarded more ideas than we incorporated. But also: always keep in mind that the streets are a key element – perhaps the most important one – in creating a dynamic city. A very important part of our process started with thinking from the level of the street and up. We constantly alternated the scales we operated at, from large to the small, but as part of a process that involved never losing sight of the quality of the resulting streets and what we expected that street life to be, how enriching we hoped it would be.
Luiz: It is important to never give up, never surrender. We discussed the project day and night. The people you select for your project team are the people you spend Christmas with. We spent four months, discussing, hand drawing and writing.
Eduardo: In the design process it can be a problem that some ideas develop too late or take a long time to develop, but if you don’t try them you will never find out in the end what the best solution might be. We achieved a sensibility for spotting bad ideas early because if we discussed them too much, too much work would be wasted. It was about achieving a balance, finding that sweet spot in the process, something you must do in any design activity.
Jessica: Oh, and one last thing: remember to cherish the moment and the experience, because to design with so much freedom, to propose things without many restraints, is a rare treat compared to what you are free to do in your professional career.
What did you gain from participating in the SGA?
Luiz: The most valuable lessons were about teamwork and communication. Of course we had trouble sometimes. But we found a way to improve our way of working together. Solving the problem is more important that who solves the problem. We got in contact with other student groups, professors and the jurors. This expanded our connections with completely different students and professors than in our school. It was amazing to see so many good people from other schools.
Jessica: The world is going through economic and social change. Big urban planning development projects are not going to take off to easily. We presented our competition project to the São Paulo entity responsible for making the official CEAGESP design. Presenting was a great honor.
Eduardo: For me the big realization was that as students we can do things, produce ideas worthy of realization. We used to think what we did was an exercise to get a grade, but we can do something, impact the world around us.
What have you reflected upon after winning, now that some time had passed?
Luiz: For me the competition awakened the desire to show my work to others to communicate, to stimulate conversation, discussion, argument – for cities, buildings, anything.
Jessica: One of the moments of reflection was how feasible, how possible our design might be. One common struggle was identifying what makes a good kind of city, with class diversity – and how to create organic growth in the city. As it functions now I don’t think the market could implement this long-term holistic approach, it doesn’t address this kind of “profitability”.
We talk about economic and social sustainability, reflect on value created, who is addressed, how are forces and inputs harnessed, how they are embedded in the cityscape. Cities are long living organisms. Immediate profit needs to be traded for greater value for society. Participating in the SGA helped us to raise this question, and it influences our future work, future studies.
From your perspective as students who had this international recognition, who are now recent graduates, what do we need to consider in urbanism?
Jessica: A major thing we face is the decoupling of value for society and profit. We have to start thinking in terms of civilization-wide activities. There are so many challenges: artificial intelligence, the concentration of capital, unemployment. Cities are the last bastions of the social life we want.
However I believe there’s a balance possible, where we can have developers working with the city, producing broad societal value, looking at long-term business models, not just short-term profits. Urban design is at the center of this; bringing different people together to talk, find common ground – with urban designers acting as good mediators.
Luiz: I think it is vital to watch for elements that hold important memories of that society. I think historical buildings in the region, for instance, tell the history of the city, of that place, hold a value that is ignored most of the time. Recently São Paulo received investment in the Hospital Matarazzo complex from a French group. The development preserved the buildings, redeveloped the derelict site. City projects should be undertaken considering what exists, not starting from scratch.
Eduardo: That’s a “palimpsest” – and it was our competition entry title!