Text description provided by the architects. This music venue, bar, and restaurant in Rio, at the Favela do Vidigal, one of the postcards of the city is a founding project for our architecture office and an atypical project for more than one reason. Perched at the summit of the favela, the project was confronted with difficult access as a construction site but benefitted from incredible views over Rio. This extension-renovation of the existing building made us rethink the traditional role played by architects. Actually, the project was built through the coordination between different players: the client and his economic restraints - the revenues of the venue allowed him to gradually continue the renovation, therefore, we were confronted with an unstable budget and a work developed in several short-duration phases - and the local favela companies that brought both their know-how and the limited array of materials we could employ that were easily found within the community.
The result is a steel structure that was assembled from small pieces, transportable by men through the alleys of the favela. Prefabricated concrete and steel slabs were also used while discarded steel mesh from other building sites was used either as a false ceiling or in the façade as support for vases and lighting devices. All the wood and the bricks came from Vidigal suppliers. Ordinary materials, easily found in surrounding buildings, gain a more precious dimension by the way we have employed them in our project (the rhythm of the bricks, the wooden latticework) and give it a very particular identity. The extension was made both above and beneath the existing structure, as an accumulation of slabs leaning towards the ocean. The steel pergola is used as a support for lighting, solar protection, suspended furniture and gives the idea of a unit for the previously fragmented structure. The evolution of the Vidigal neighborhood, like that of many other favelas at the heart of Rio, is intertwined with the recent transformations of the city. These territories have been struggling for decades only to profit from the economic boom in the 2000s and of the world sports events that took place: the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympic Games in 2016.
After the creation of the so-called « pacifying units » (UPP), these favelas watched many businesses flourish not only at their base but also in the previously dangerous higher parts. Vidigal, due to its exceptional position next to the beaches of Ipanema and Leblon, became the poster child of this movement. In this context, the restructuration and extension project of the Bar da Laje is part of the transformation of external regards on the favela, neighborhoods that used to be seen as dangerous and that become spaces of opportunity, only to face, once again, a new wave of violence since 2017. Space was initially made of one single terrasse, accessible from an alley through a small wooden door between a garage and a house. The program aimed at giving visibility to the building from the alley and to enlarge it through the purchase of neighboring houses. Therefore, the extension was made in three phases: first, the enlargement of the ground floor and restructuration of the entrance by building over the former garage. Then, an extension towards the -1 and -2 levels was made by creating a second restaurant-bar protected from the weather, toilets and stock spaces. Finally, by purchasing a small house on the first floor, we could create a new terrasse open to the landscape with a brick volume that corresponds to the space occupied by the former house. A new staircase made it possible to connect all these levels which were formerly accessible only through different alleys.
The revenues generated by the lower levels made it possible for the client to renovate the two upper levels. This transformation through subsequent phases asked for a constant adaptation of the program and the evolution of the project itself throughout its own expansion. Thus, a new steel structure covers the area of the two new upper floors, creating open plans where there formerly was a maze of columns and beams, allowing the building to easily adapt to new functions and layouts in the future. On the ground floor, a wooden volume hosts the cashier, space for waste and toilets at the front and a lounge and a bar at the rear, freeing up the rest of the floor for circulation, tables and concert space. Metal stairs superposed to the former one located at the -2 level connects the 4 floors that were previously separated. At the first floor, the small house was replaced by the bar that divides the area between a lounge at the rear and a terrasse open to the views of Ipanema and Leblon at the front.
Difficulties inherent to the favela’s context have been translated into the metal structure cut in small modules that were assembled at the construction site and into the usage of materials easily found in the community, like the brick, the metal mesh, the wood and pallets that were transformed by local workers. In the facade and on the first floor, whole bricks are intercalated with broken ones, creating a lively texture playing with light and shadows. This module is adapted according to its usage, thus, the absence of broken bricks at the higher parts of the façade wall allows for cross ventilation and natural light, while by rotating whole bricks by 90 degrees at the bar they become supports for the bottles. Metal meshes are employed at the facade and ceilings as supports for different elements. At the façade, recycled wood pallets are inserted in between the double metal mesh, sometimes used as vases for climbing plants when turned upwards, sometimes used as lamps when turned downwards. In order to give a unit to the entire building and to frame the landscape, a steel pergola recovers the first floor, incorporating lighting devices, plant supports, furniture, and solar protection. This pergola contrasts with the impressive topography of Rio, by modulating the structure and reinforcing the horizontal relationship between the building and the surrounding landscape.