São Paulo City Museum project
One of the world's mega cities
The city of São Paulo has a population of 17.9 million, while around 24 million live in the larger metropolitan area, placing it second only to Tokyo in world rankings. Flying over the city seems like flying over an urban country, such is its vast size. It teems with city problems such as crime, social deprivation and an inadequate infrastructure. Yet it is a restless, dynamic place and the industrial and commercial heart of Brazil.
The city still retains a few fragments from another era
The city has been described as having a fragmented memory, having been rebuilt three times in around 100 years. It is not your normal city. How then can you create a museum which can do justice to the city’s past, present and future?
Ana Rodrigues, who is responsible for a project to create a new museum about the city, is a town planner and architect with a deep knowledge of urbanism, and with the considerable advantage of not being a museum professional. She works at the São Paulo City Hall and is responsible for an Inter-American Development Bank financed project which includes the restoration of the Marquesa de Santos mansion (Casa da Marquesa de Santos), home to the future city museum.
Casa da Marquesa de Santos
The mansion is located near where the city was founded and was preserved as one of the few remaining examples of 18th century urban architecture. The restoration of the building and its use as a new museum is part of rehabilitation programme which aims to promote economic and social development in the historic centre of São Paulo, which has suffered from the flight of high income earners to what is termed the “expanded centre” of the city, leaving a hole in the middle.
Inside the partially restored museum
The museum was originally created in 1975 as an historical museum of the city, and the existing collection consists of items from different historical periods, particularly photography and indigenous ethnography. However, in the 1980s it was proposed that a city museum should be established which would contain everything that had been significant to the construction and transformation of the city. It would not be an exercise in nostalgia, the curse of many city museums, nor try to impose order on the surrounding urban chaos. In contrast, while not disposing of remembrance of things past, it would also deal with matters such as urban marginalisation, the housing crisis, pollution, violence and social tension. Exhibitions would be built around five themes: territory, population, economy, socio-political movements and sustainability. This remains the blueprint for the new museum.
Restoration in progress
The museum represents an increasingly common type of city museum, one which makes connections between the city’s past, present and future and whose founding principle is that ultimately the museum collection is the city itself.
A full account of the project, including a discussion on memory and meaning in the city is set out in an article by Ana Rodriguez in UNESCO’s Museum International, September 2006.
For more information on the project contact Ana Villanueva Rodrigues (above) at email@example.com