04 February 2009

Beach as Model

enduring urban images

Copacabana is more than a neighbourhood. It is the limit between the city and local enclosures. Copacabana moves between the sensorial, the externally visible, offered through forms, colours, architecture, traffic and people, and from the other side, the spaces are reduced to the invisibility of everyday life where thousands of people submerge, anonymous faces stamped by unknown life. —Wilson Coutinho

The aerial view above is from Manchete, a Brasilian popular news magazine from the seventies, which we, spmb_projects, use almost as a logo, as a central reference for our practice. The beach engages public space in the most radical sense, where territoriality is blurred by a new possibility of spatial negotiation. It is also one of our favourite spaces in the world. Here the inhabitants of different backgrounds, cultural formation, racial roots and social classes share one same landscape in relative harmony. The beach becomes the image of the ideal urban social equaliser – a spatialised democracy in a sense. Other qualities that constitute this ideal land/urbanscape are: warm air, natural and human soundscapes, soft surfaces, views, informal infrastructures – beach vendors, ocean water, pick up soccer and kiosks; formal infrastructures – abundant transportation systems, boardwalks, health and safety stations, public washrooms, life guards, restaurants and bars, security, and large events like concerts, parades or celebrations.

The iconic design of Roberto Burle-Marx was completed in 1970, and Copacabana was redefined through the expansion of the public space by stretching the surface of the beach and the promenade through the use of traditional Portuguese mosaic paving stones, creating the now famous pattern. Based on the achievement of Copacabana beach as an exemplary case of engaging urban design, and for its renowned quality of an urban environment, this experience could even suggest a new field of exploration that we refer as Beach Urbanism. It serves us as a model for the ways we practice in public space: the beach as an urban infrastructure.

spmb_projects. 'Beach as Model' On Site review, no. 18 Fall 2008
©Eduardo Aquino, Karen Shanski and On Site review

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