A Favela Painting project.
Vila Cruzeiro, Rio de Janeiro 2018-2021

In 2008, Koolhaas and Urhahn completed a +500m2 painting in Vila Cruzeiro, one of Rio's most notorious favelas. For 8 months they worked with three local youths to complete the painting depicting koi swimming upstream a river. The design was created together with Amsterdam based tattoo artist Rob Admiraal. The painting covers almost the entire street called Rua Santa Helena. At the time and still now, Vila Cruzeiro suffers from the violence of ongoing conflict between the local drug gang and military police.

Work on the mosaic is being executed by a local team, predominantly women. The total team, including masons, ranges between 5 and 12 employed locals depending on budget. Roughly one fourth of the mosaic and two thirds of the houses have been completed .

After 10 years the painting had eroded from extreme weather conditions and kids playing on its surface. In 2017 Favela Painting started renovation work, reproducing the whole painting in mosaic. Houses around the artwork are being renovated. Pigmented lime stucco and ceramic tiles cover the raw hollow brick facades. Koolhaas worked together with the owners to determine the colors for their houses which Koolhaas then incorporated into designs.

The Santa Helena Project is by far the largest and most impactful Favela Painting project to date. Favela Painting assembled a crew of local masons. They were instructed by a Brazilian architect specialized in restauration and the process of preparing and applying lime stucco. The crew delivers high quality craftsmanship with eye for every detail. A course in mosaics was set up, training women living on Rua Santa Helena to restore the faded artwork.

Neighborhood youth, contracted as apprentices, are trained by the more experienced crewmembers. Other locals are trained in general production to organize and run the project in a flexible and autonomous fashion. Close contact with the Favela Painting HQ in the Netherlands is kept for designs and logistics. One of the neighbors cooks lunch for the whole crew every day.

Through the hiring and training of local laborers, generating jobs and fostering the commerce of the region, local economy benefits.

Favela Painting realised that they had to start using materials that would last longer and that are less harmful for the environment. Together with local experts and architects they developed a new workflow, using pigmented lime stucco and tiles. These materials are common and locally available. Not only will the new exteriors of the houses last much longer, the homes themselves were improved beforehand. Unfinished walls were finished and messy electricity lines were cleaned up.

Santa Helena is an ongoing project and Favela Painting is constinuously looking for partnerships and funding to complete the entire mosaic and all the houses around it.

Got to Favela Painting to learn more about the organisation.

Design: Jeroen Koolhaas and Rob Admiraal