São Paulo, Brazil, is a famously raucous city of 11 million people, with precious little open space. The place does possess, however, a gritty urban pluck, fueled in large part by its extreme expressions of poverty and affluence. That resourcefulness is on full display at a new park, Victor Civita Plaza, which debuted last fall on the site of a deactivated municipal incinerator.
Prior to the design and construction of Victor Civita, a battery of tests had to be conducted on the roughly 3.5-acre site. “For forty years they were burning garbage, and a big chunk of that was hospital garbage,” says Anna Dietzsch, the park’s designer. In fact, contamination levels were so high the city wrote a decree stating that a reused site would need to be capped with 20 inches of fresh earth.
In a less resourceful city, that mandate might have limited the options, but the designer saw it as an opportunity. “The idea for the park was actually the opposite of what this decree was saying,” explains Dietzsch, who runs the Davis Brody Bond Aedas office in São Paulo but worked on the park independently with Adriana Levisky, a local architect who specializes in zoning and planning. “They were going to hide the contamination. What I proposed instead was to land a structure over the site. Everything for public use would occur above the contamination.”
Supported by a steel framework, the deck floats about three feet over the toxic ground and covers only a portion of the site. Made of recycled Brazilian hardwoods, it cuts across diagonally, creating public space around a number of preexisting elements, including a grove of mature trees (off-limits to park visitors), a center for the elderly, and a decontaminated cobblestone plaza connecting to the former incinerator, which is now home to a sustainability museum.
Elsewhere on the site, the landscape designer Benedito Abbud installed the Tec Garden on a series of elevated trays capable of harvesting and storing rainwater. Dietzsch calls it a “low-tech Brazilian system,” because coconut-fiber–lined tubes in the trays allow plant roots to draw water when needed, making the garden self-irrigating. Abbud selected plants that would be educational, demonstrating concepts such as soil purification and hydroponics. “There are panels along the deck that explain everything,” Dietzsch says. “The idea was to create the whole site as if it was an open museum.”
Victor Civita is the result of a unique public-private partnership between the city and Editora Abril, a large Brazilian publisher with headquarters located nearby. A large portion of the credit here goes to Levisky, whose adroit political skills helped pull the various stakeholders together. “She was able to attach the project to the original public-private-partnership agreement so that it couldn’t be signficantly changed,” Dietzsch says. “This is what saved it, because it was a radical project for Brazil, so she was very smart that way.”