A couple of months ago the Center for Architecture launched a show on the make-do, or "jugaad," architecture of India, the explicit suggestion being that this spirit should be applicable everywhere. "Painting Urbanism: Learning from Rio," now on view at the Storefront for Art & Architecture, bares that same message.
The gallery presents the interventions of Haas&Haan (actually, Dre Urhahn and Jeroen Koolhaas), who have gone into the favelas of Rio and painted them over in supergraphic patterns with high-key colors drawn from the local palette. As Storefront director Eva Franch i Gilabert writes, this "activates the urban fabric introducing new spaces of and intensity and collectivity beyond political or spatial conditions and denounces the underutilization of residual spaces of design and action within the city." To judge purely by the exhibition, some of the spaces created by H&H are vibrant and alluring. They've also proposed a few interventions along the same lines for New York. The gallery itself is transformed in similar fashion, and to dramatic affect; the place has never looked better.
Peter Hall, in a new piece for Eye, suggests a taxonomy of such make-do projects, classifying them into three types: "improvisation (short term), misuse (using designed objects for purposes other than intended) and new use (long term)." H&H's interventions, presumably, would fall into the first type (and maybe sometimes the third).
Coincidentally, yesterday someone sent me a link to the extraordinary photographs of Brazil's improvised soccer fields, by the German photographer Joachim Schmid. What a difference they make from the perfectly manicured suburban greens from which most American soccer players emerge. Just the other day, the brilliant Roger Bennett quipped that if America wants to generate players of Brazillian caliber, we'll have to start playing on dusty backlots. I would suggest it is primarily culture and not physical space that accounts for Brazil's success, a fact that reformists should bare in mind. In any case, the US plays Brazil in the Women's World Cup this weekend, so we'll see these notions put to a test.
As it is, the show at Storefront left me with divided thoughts. At some level, such projects seem to be lipstick-on-a-pig design solutions to much larger social and political problems. But it's impossible to deny the very real improvements even such minor ameliorations can make in the way people conduct their lives, and it takes a great cynic not to admire anyone who's willing to put in the time and energy toward such endeavors.