Victor Civita Park
An Eco-park Rises from the Ash: In São Paulo, the transformation of a brownfield into green space creates a model for landscape reuse and management in Brazil.
What once served as a garbage incinerator now hosts the public for a variety of educational and leisure activities. Victor Civita Park occupies 3.1 acres in central São Paulo with the main objective of promoting and exhibiting sustainable design strategies, appropriate for a brownfield site that, after four decades of continuous activity, was deactivated in 1990.
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In 2002, the city announced its intention to create a number of new parks in São Paulo, proposing this site as one of them. Establishing a partnership with Grupo Abril, a publishing house founded by Victor Civita, this public-private partnership became the first in Brazil involving urban parks. Hamilton Santos, director of Grupo Abril, remarked: “If we can transform an incinerator site into a green area, it means we can do the same with other neglected spaces.” Thus the project has served as a cornerstone for sustainable development in the city.
In 2006, a series of chemical studies of the site’s soil conditions indicated that contamination was too high for human occupation. The client then hired Levisky Arquitetos Associados, a local architecture firm to help. “When we started working on this project, there was no national legislation that would guide us on how to proceed,” remarked Adriana Levisky, director of the firm. Therefore, the first, and probably smartest decision Levisky made was to insist that the project be limited by the original public-private partnership agreement, preserving its original goals. The design team contacted Brazilian architect Anna Dietzsch, who heads the São Paulo office of New York-based firm Davis Brody Bond Aedas, to help develop a formal solution. Instead of a conventional approach, Aedas suggested converting the incinerator building into exhibition space, the surrounding land into gardens, and creating a raised deck for access, an inventive solution that preserved the site, allowing it to serve as a learning lab for the public.
The architects decided to minimize intervention in the 12,500-square-foot incinerator building, exposing and preserving the brick walls and concrete structure. Renovated to serve as a museum of sustainability, the first floor of the facility is used for permanent exhibitions with the second floor not yet occupied. A 20,750-square-foot deck of recycled Brazilian hardwood floats three feet over the contaminated soil, serving as the main organizing principle of the park. In addition to creating a safe distance between the contaminated soil and visitors, elevating the structure also preserved the site’s abundant rubber, eucalyptus, ficus, and fruit trees.
Transported from Brazilian rain forests, Ipê, Garapa, and Sucupira create the deck structure. The wood is so dense that it doesn’t require weather treatment, and a gray patina developed over time serves as an added layer of protection. The elevated platform establishes a main linear pathway that crosses the site with a long diagonal. It also creates a central plaza, generating secondary paths of varying sizes and forms that are shaped into gathering areas, overlooks, and seating that invite public use. When reaching the sides, the horizontal planes of the deck undulate upwards becoming fences, overhangs, and exhibit panels that explain the systems used in the park. In places, a series of “windows” have been cut out of the ramp’s vertical panels to allow viewing of the gardens.
In addition to existing trees, newly planted areas organized thematically recall fields of farmland in their arrangement. “I wanted the place to reflect agricultural concepts, with linear and geometrical patterns that farmers use to cultivate the land,” Dietzsch explains. Following this idea, various regional fruits, vegetables, and bulbs are planted in alternating strips. These include plants used for biomass, medicinal purposes, transgenic plants, and a vertical hydroponic garden.
Contributing to the eco-theme of the park, water collection and reuse are other key objectives. Developed by the landscape architect Benedito Abbud to separate the contaminated soil from the new soil, “The Tec-Garden consists of an elevated system of plates that create an impermeable surface for planting. Above the plaques, a geotextile blanket is laid for the soil. Holes drilled into the plaques accommodate tubes that transport water in both directions, irrigating the plants,” he explains. In addition, water from the restrooms is conducted underground to an ornamental pond adjacent to the museum where it is filtered for irrigation reuse.
Additional cultural and educational facilities include a covered amphitheater, renovation of an existing building for a 2,900-square-foot center for the elderly, and a 1,350-square-foot space where workshops on the subject of sustainability are held. Photovoltiacs were originally planned, but cut from the program due to cost.
Part of the “Plan of 100 Parks for the City of São Paulo,” the park’s importance to the city is unparalleled. “It establishes a public place for cultural activities, so few in São Paulo,” Mayor Gilberto Kassab affirms.