An Aesthetic of Process
In Rio de Janeiro, a landscape architect heals 16 kilometers of degraded coastline.
By Peter Jacobs, FASLA
In Rio de Janeiro picturesque mountain peaks and the famous
beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema create one of the most spectacular landscape
settings in the world. Yet in Rio, as in other large urban areas in Brazil, the
landscape is being radically transformed, and extensive areas of previously
productive forests, farmlands, and coasts have been devastated. Continuing
migration from the countryside closer to the city creates a patchwork quilt of
official and unofficial housing; 600 or more favelas (squatter settlements) have populations as large as major
towns. Not surprisingly, the spreading footprint of urbanization threatens the
biologically diverse and socially dynamic landscapes of the coastal plain and
the surrounding forests.
In an exceptional project led by Brazilian landscape
architect Fernando Chacel, 16 kilometers of coastal lagoon shoreline have been
reconstituted, repaired, and conserved. Chacel has instituted innovative design
strategies that conserve areas of the original ecosystems of the coastal
lagoons and restore other areas by mixing fragments of the original vegetation
with new indigenous plantings. In areas closer to residential communities, he
has added more traditional parkland to the mixture of wild and reconstituted
coastal landscapes. And to assure that the project remains sustainable, Chacel
has negotiated management strategies focused on the “adoption” of components of
this system by resident associations and the development community.
Chacel addresses the ongoing debate as to whether landscape
is art, social process, or support for nature by embracing all three. One of
Brazil’s foremost landscape architects, he has spent the better part of the
past 40 years rehabilitating and restoring the urban landscapes of Rio de
Janeiro and other sites throughout Brazil. In his work he asks: How can we
stimulate greater public understanding and appreciation for natural processes?
How do we tell the story of an evolving landscape that is worthy of our
respect? How do we create landscape settings admired as much for their beauty
as for the processes they shelter? How do we render visible the complex web of
life that links urban ecosystems to all others?
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