The Ladeira da Misericórdia is a steep street in Salvador that straddles a geological fault. Tying the historic upper city to the lower commercial district, the Ladeira was once an important colonial passage, but remains abandoned today. Lina Bo Bardi intervened on the street in the 1980s, designing the Coati restaurant and renovating three buildings. This studio thus offered us not only an exceptional site but also an exceptional architect, a patron saint of sorts, whose ethos we could choose to emulate. We were tasked with a program of housing plus a cultural anchor of our choosing, and were required to develop a preservation strategy for the decrepit buildings on the site.
For me, understanding the cultural nuances of Salvador meant stepping back to look at regional dynamics: the surrounding bay is dotted with quilombos, agrarian communities descending from runaway slave camps, and terreiros, spaces of worship for practitioners of Candomblé that often include sacred forests. These communities face increasing threat from militant groups and the Bolsonaro administration, but it is their Afro-Brazilian traditions and cuisine that form the backbone of Salvador’s tourist industry, which in turn has displaced thousands of residents from the historic center over the last 40 years.
My project offers a space of autonomy for these communities, using rammed earth to celebrate their ways of living, to index new additions to the site, and to expand on Lina’s ferroconcrete experiments. My intervention into the ruins takes the form of a communal casa that provides temporary accommodation for visiting quilombolas and terreiro members, where eating and cooking is the main occupation. Orchards and gardens support these activities and provide space for gatherings while protecting the site from tourist traffic through elaborate entry sequences. My proposal attempts to address the inequities that undergird Salvador’s cultural economy, while tying the site to the hinterland communities that have long supported it.
This project owes its soul to Lina Bo Bardi, drawing from her light architectural touch, her attention to detail (down to designing door grills and imagining menus), her love of vernacular art and construction, and her unrelenting commitment to the people she built for. It is from Lina and this studio that I learned what it means to be a good architect: to nurture a spirit of listening, to celebrate the beauty of what already exists, and to offer something that can dance with it.