Today was a real contrast from yesterday. Yesterday took a toll on me so I had an early night, taking some drowsy anti histamines for my mosquito ruptured legs before going to sleep. And boy, did I sleep like a log! I had prepared myself for a rather lazy day, not wanting to get anymore than a half day of room hopping at Maua Porto. I kind of did stick to my plans, but you know me – I woke up at 6am to say goodbye to Merata, whom I became very close with over the week. Merata and I never did manage to go back to Lapa for a proper Samba with the locals, but I do hope she arrives home in two days time in full spirit!
In the breakfast hall, I ran into Frank Liu, the president of World Harmony Foundation which is a global sustainable urban cities initiative that was launched right after the WUF 4 in Nanjing two years ago. He, like me, had had enough of conferencing after three days, and was harassing the tour booking agent at the front desk to whisk him away for some entertainment. I also lined up because I wanted to visit the favelas. We kind of looked at each other, because I guess we both sensed that we were the last two Asians left in Rio (just kidding, but for some reason, Asians do notice other Asians and there’s this unspoken affinity between people of same race). He had a niece who studied architecture at McGill, and wanted to see if I would go sightseeing with him. I asked whether he would go and see the favelas with me tomorrow, and he accepted. It’s really weird coming to these kind of conferences and it doesn’t seem to take very long at all to make friends at high places. I feel like an absolute minion around here. Everyone’s so high and mighty…
By late morning I managed to drag myself over to the conference venue for the fifth time and I snuck into one of the rooms early, scoping out the quickest route to my plan B session beforehand – just in case they pulled an all Portuguese or all Spanish session on me again – and there was just this one other person in the room, and of course, I went over to talk to him knowing he would have an amazing story to tell. He turned out to be a banker from NYC who grew up in the slums and worked his way up to the top of the food chain through hard work and patience. He used his skills to help the underprivileged people in South America, going around different countries to set up NGOs that provide micro-financing for homes, schools, businesses, farms and just about everything one needs to become self-sufficient within 6 months. It was a fascinating concept even though I gave him a pretty hard time at the beginning for not using more sustainable materials to build homes.
The second session I went to was all about assessing incremental housing feasibility for Haiti. It was hosted by the Global University Consortium exploring the feasibility of “incremental housing” in Haiti – represented by five universities: Harvard, MIT, UCL, Berkeley and Oxford. Coincidentally, I ran into a colleague of mine from Berkeley, from 5 years ago, who has since moved to Miami and founded the Miami chapter of Architecture for Humanity! Go figure!
In the evening I met with Rosangela to go to an interdisciplinary panel discussion about urbanism in Rio, which was an evening event organised around the architecture students’ exhibition at the Argentinean consulate. I only understood the talk given by a Harvard professor there, as the rest, even though some others were from U.S institutions, spoke either Portuguese or Italian! It was really quite impressive to see the Europeans each speaking their mother tongue quite freely as most are multilingual – I just can’t imagine the same happening in New Zealand, let alone Asia, without the aid of competent translators. I really enjoyed the exhibition, as I got to see the different approach the students in Brazil take to processes and presentation techniques. The one thing I did take away from the session is just how interdisciplinary and philosophically profound the discussions were, as I think it deepens appreciation of the built environment, and ought to go hand in hand with any practice. There was this quote from Gilles Deleuze in Portuguese – brownie point for the person who can find the English version!