Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department

Architecture and Community Design

Major Professor

Stanley Russell, M.Arch.

Committee Member

Mark Weston, M.Arch.

Committee Member

Miguel Kaled, Eng.Civ.CREA-RJ


Housing, Flexibility, Modularity, Adaptability, Favelas, Containers


Despite reasonable advances in public policies for housing in the last two decades, Brazil's current housing deficit is 5.6 million housing units. In São Paulo, Brazil's largest city, an estimated one fifth of the population of 17.5 million is currently living in inadequate housing conditions, like the "favelas" (Shanty Towns) (IBGE). The favelas' houses are made from scrap materials such as wood and metal sheeting, they do not have services such as sanitation, water or electricity, and the settlements are usually very overcrowded. The gigantic rate of illegal occupation of urban land has lead to disastrous consequences not only to the people who live in them, but to society as a whole, and to environment sustainability.

At most countries, including Brazil, social housing has little to do with diversity and uniqueness of living. Social housing is influenced by functionalism and the economic cost effectiveness of the production process. Unfortunately, new urban areas are still being built using the same traditional ideas, which results largely in a very functionalistic approach of repetitiveness. One unit is repeated into a row of identical blocks. This concept is still used in most of the new Brazilian urban areas. As a result those areas become monotonous and repetitive, lacking identity and uniqueness.

This Thesis objective is to expose the negative impacts of the present social housing mass production model, and then to analyze the possibilities of a coherent alternative to housing based on identity, sense of community and uniqueness present at the favelas, which could consistently improve the dwellings and the built environment. The main idea is to find inspiration on the Brazilian favelas to develop a new concept for social housing.

In spite of all the physical, environmental, economic and social problems, favelas are an example of coherent housing production processes where dwellers autonomously decide about the design, building and use of their dwellings. They also are usually linked to a strong sense of community no longer found elsewhere. The pattern of these large areas shows an uncontrolled growth of residential units, which leads to a vast, seemingly chaotic, but yet very structured way of living. (Vanderfeesten) The analysis of this pattern of structures is a very strong foundation to develop a modular system of building blocks. The main idea is to create an urban housing environment consisting of modular blocks to provide a "favela-based" pattern. Multiple modules typologies will be designed in order to correspond to each family's needs. The arrangement of the modules will result in open walkways, small streets, larger open areas and a vast amount of balconies, roof terraces, parks, and gardens. As a result there is a great opportunity for social interaction. The main goal is to design a housing neighborhood where each house is unique in its structural composition, providing a way of living in which social interaction is promoted while maintaining each individuals identity through the uniqueness of each unit.