... in sao paulo

Looking at the crisis from inside the belly of the beast

One of the more notorious/famous places in São Paulo is the boutique department store (Villa) Daslu. According to wikipedia ‘the boutique is known as the ‘fashion designers mecca’ of Brazil as it houses more than 60 labels plus 30 store-in-stores and is the place where Brazilian socialites, ranging from multi-millionaire soccer players to conglomerate bigwigs shop for the latest accessories and clothing’. Leged has it that Daslu is the only department store in the world where you can also buy helicopters (although that seems to be a bit of an exaggeration, in reality you can (could?) buy fractual ownership in helicopters operated by HeliSoultions) though the store.

Yesterday Kai and I decided to pay a visit to Villa Daslu to have a look at this icon of Brazilian upper class lifestyle. To our surprise/disappointment/excitement we found relatively little of the expected abundance. Instead large parts of the building stood empty looking as if they had been hastily abandoned and the few shoppers to be seen were easily outnumbered by the staff.

Large sections of the 2nd and the 3rd floor as well as some of the showrooms on the 1st and the 4th floor (including former Chanel, Gucci, Dolce & Gabana outlets) were completely empty, with all merchandise and most of the display-furniture missing. Strangely the management of the store did not even try to hide these empty spaces (one employe told us that they were ‘changing the concept of the store’ but in the absence of any sign of construction this seemed a bit implausible). As a result we were more or less free to stroll though the deserted parts of the building and take pictures of the emptiness (more pictures in this flickr set):

Moving through this half deserted temple of luxury shopping was easily one of the most surreal experiences i have ever had. This was reinforced by the fact that in other parts of the building the staff carried on as if everything was completely normal.

While i would certainly hope that this situation is illustrative of the effects of the economic crisis on the über-posh lifestyle of the Brazilian upper class this is probably not the case (it seems that the herd has simply moved to other pastures on the other side of the river). Instead it appears to be more likely that this situation is the result of the recent legal troubles of Eliana Tranchesi, owner and founder of Daslu who was recently sentenced to 94 years in prison and fined €434 million for tax fraud and smuggling. Apparently the aftermath of this verdict is slowly eating away this once iconic symbol of São Paulo’s immense economic inequality from the inside.

Bonus: one other option that i had considered for spending queens-day was to make a quick one day trip to brasilia (inspired by these incredible photos of the construction of brasilia by Marcel Gautherot). guess that will have to wait until next time…

Update (23.04.2012): The January 2012 edition of Time Out São Paulo contains a short article about the demise of Daslu (‘Death of a showroom‘) that uses two of the photos i took during my visit.

Spectacular city...

Is the title of a photo exhibition at the Netherlands Institute of Architecture in Rotterdam (on show till the 7th of january 2007). the exhibition consists of about a 100 mostly large scale large-scale reproductions of – well – spectacular urban landscapes, exceptional buildings and all kinds of eerie views. Many of the pictures contain very little traces of human live (which has a strange calming effect on me). One notable exception is São Paulo, Sé by Andreas Gursky:

On display this picture is something like 3 x 2 meters and which puts you face to face with the waiting subway passengers the picture perfectly captures the monstrosity of the Se subway station in central São Paulo. Looks like he did digitally add a a level or two (see my own impressions and pictures here).

The rest of the exhibition is pretty amazing as well, especially the ministry of transportation building in Tiblisi (via we-make-money-not-art, which made me aware of the exhibition in the first place. thanks Regine!).

São Paulo Metrô

03 Jul 2006 | 371 words | sao paulo public transport urbanism cities metro

I have blogged about public transport in São Paulo before and i have made someobservations while traveling on the subway (called metrô by the locals) but being back in town i have realized that i have not really given enough credits to the metrô system itself.

The system is absolutely amazing. at the moment it has 4 lines among them two (the red and the blue line) which are mayor ones and two others that act as feeder lines. both main lines run at 2 minutes intervals off-peak and at 60 second intervals during peak hours. apparently the whole system transports about 3.8 million passengers a day and employs a number of sophisticated measures to avoid this massive amount of travelers on a relatively small system to end up in absolute chaos:

Most station have painted waiting corridors on the ground (something that the Brazilians seem to love) which mean that you are supposed to queue up between white lines painted on the ground. Some of the bigger stations enforce structured queueing-up by metal barriers (like at the slaughter-house) and the most busy ones have separate platforms for getting on and off the trains (the doors facing the disembarking platform open before the doors on the embarking side so that passengers can get off before new passengers get on).

The most amazing station in the whole system is ‘Sé’ where the red (east-west) and blue (north-south) lines connect. it feels like as if about 50% of the passengers on either line change for the other one or exit at Sé station. in order for this massive amount of people to flow without interruption the flows within the station have been completely separated: passengers leave the subway cars towards an inside platform that is directly connected to the outside platforms on the other line’s level. at rush hour there is an almost continuos flow of passengers from the blue line to the red line and vice versa, which is quite an amazing sight.

Apart from this extremely well-choreographed handling of masses the fact that they have a station called ‘imigrantes‘ (on the green line) is another reason to love the planners of the São Paulo Metrô

More panorama shots here and here.

More on helipads in São Paulo

I blogged about the helipads in São Paulo back in october of last year. Seems like i am not the only person fascinated by the phenomenon of intra-city civilian helicopter traffic: The transmediale06 media arts festival in Berlin features a short video by french artist Richard Nicolas about the helipads of São Paulo:

The sky of Sao Paulo is always swarming with helicopters: 350 daily departures and landings – or one flight every four minutes. The city ranks first in helicopter air traffic and its air fleet – with 500 counted passenger planes – internationally ranks third after Tokyo and New York. The Brazilian bureau for civil air traffic confirms 220 helipads. The video-performance shows a bird’s eye view from the hustle of São Paulo and its huge choice of helipads.

The video is absolutely beautiful. if you are in berlin go check it out! It can be seen in the transmediale Lounge on the big projection screen (there are two other videos on that are projected alternating on the same screen, so you might have to wait for a while for it to appear). It even features a birds eye view of my favorite helipad.

When i am dead....

…i want to be buried here:

razor wire graveyard wall

Walked past the catholic (this might constitute a ideological problem) graveyard on Consolação today and to my immense joy realized the paranoid citizens of this fine city have had the ingenious idea to put razor wire on top of the sky blue walls that surround it. Until now i have never really known where i would want to be buried but now i am sure (other places i have briefly considered can be seen here and here). I will feel much safer here than on any other graveyard once i am dead.

Also i feel a bit sad that i have to leave as well. São Paulo has been really great. I must come here more often. I spend the last 2 hours at an amazing place: Prestes Maia 911. it is 23 story building in downtown that has been squatted by 458 families associated with the roofless movement (they do not say homeless because what they are missing is a roof or a dwelling and not a home with all its non material implications). It is a very organized place with an incredibly warm and friendly atmosphere. In fact it is the only squat i have ever been to that smells good (i was there around dinner time and the smell of all the different families cooking is absolutely mouth watering. The families live in separate little rooms that are made from wood and other discarded materials. in a way it is pretty much 23 favelas (by lack of a better word for collections of tiny makeshift housing units) stacked on top of each other. The whole place embodies the anarchic, organic chaos of the city on a miniature scale. Being there and talking to some of the inhabitants has been quite an experience. unfortunately it looks like the place is going to be evicted pretty soon.

Thanks to everybody who invited me into their ‘apartments’ and thanks to Fabiene for taking me there.

Vicious penguins

31 Oct 2005 | 285 words | public transport travel sao paulo food penguins

For some reason the hotel staff got the reservation a bit wrong and though that Monica, Vishwas and me are all called monica. at least they started addressing us like this when we checked in yesterday night. This already reminded me of the penguins in madagascar, but things got even more Madagascar-like a bit later. We had inquired about a japanese restaurant that would be open on a sunday night (which given how serious they take their sundays here is a bit of a difficult thing to find) which resulted in one of the ladies from the reception volunteering to walk us to one near Avenida Paulista that according to a friend of hers would be definitely open.

Now it is quite a trip to go from downtown to Paulista by subway (it involves changing lines twice) and a bit strange to be accompanied by someone from your hotel reception on high heels who is apparently eager to brush up her english by chatting to us. As one could have predicted the restaurant was closed and by the time we got back (t(stay) = 0 in this case but the rest of the equation being confirmed once more due to the fact that we took a cab on the way back) even the most reliable downtown restaurants were closed as well so we ended up in the hotel restaurant which managed to makes us wait for pasta for about one and a half hours. The whole hotel staff definitely resembles the slightly evil madagascar penguins a lot:

Completely unrelated i was wondering the other day if the vicious character of the penguins in madagascar is part of a secret plot by hollywood to discredit tux

Helipads (!!!)

I have mentioned it before, but the thing that impressed me the most so far is the facts that people actually travel by helicopter within the city. There are lots of heli-pads on buildings in the city and if you find yourself placed high enough to oversee a bit of the city you actually see helicopters taking of somewhere and landing elsewhere on a heli-pad. Of course this is kind of sick (someone told me that you can actually commute by helicopter from the north-zone to downtown for R$ 5000 per month (the minimum income is something like R$ 500)) but it is also poetic in al its shabby futuristic-scenarions-have-come-true glory.

Heli-pad on Avenida Paulista

Heli-pad in downtown area (with helicopter landing)

The small shabby helicopter from the last image in mid-flight

Heli-pad on Avenida Paulista

Heli-pad in downtown area

Living museum of youth cultures

27 Oct 2005 | 347 words | sao paulo culture consumerism

I guess the bigger a city becomes the harder the kids are forced to develop some kind of group identity. São Paulo with it’s 18 million inhabitants seems to be a pretty good example. The kids seem to be much more devoted to individual youth cultures than in most European cities. This is pretty much obvious on the streets or on the subway but the prime spot to witness this is the rock-gallery in downtown. It is a multiple story shopping gallery from the 70ties (or so) that neatly sorts youth cultures per floor:

In the basement you have shops that carter to afro /reggae clientele, the ground floor is all about hip-hop/streatwear, the 1st floor is suddenly all gothic/dark metal the 2nd floor is alternative (with the humming of tattoo needles echoing throughout the space) while the 3rd floor caters to yet some other variant of rock music (and for some reason i cant figure out the 4th floor is all occupied by silk screen printing shops).

rock gallery shopping center

Every floor covers all your youth cultural needs: there are clothing stores, shoe stores, accessories stores and record stores (plus tattoo & piercing parlors where the culture requires it) all of them exist at least in threefold and all are selling the same stuff. It is quite an experience to climb the stairs from one level to the next and travel through these different universes of style. As the whole thing has a very 90s feeling it really feels like a living museum of youth cultures. The only thing they should change is to replace the labels on the buttons in the elevator. instead of having ‘0’, ‘1’, ‘2’ …. they should have signs saying ‘hip-hop’, ‘gothic’, ‘alternative’.

One little gem from one of the shops on the ground floor is this package of nike wristbands with the word original written in clumsy handwriting by the owner. Apparently the shop is selling so much fake stuff that the fact that these are indeed originals has to be communicated to the clients.

original nike wrist bands

Calculating travel time

27 Oct 2005 | 158 words | traffic sao paulo time

Both time & distance seem to have rather flexible meanings over here. Now after 5 days i think i have found the formular for calculating the total length of a trip

T(total) = T(waiting) + (T(travel) x 3) + T(travel) + T(stay)


T(waiting) => 20min AND = T(travel) = the actual travel time on the shortest route from A to B

T(stay) = the time spend at the destination

of course the most intresting thing is the ‘(T(travel) x 3) + T(travel)‘ part of the equation. this is based on corroborating evidence gathered while going with Alexandre from the hotel to the Berlin bar and back (way out 30min way back 10min both in light traffic) and with felipe to the metareciclagem center in Santo Andre (way out 90min way back 30min both in medium traffic). somehow the city seems to be extremely difficult to navigate outward bound while inbound traffic is virtually sucked towarads the center.

On cities and villages

27 Oct 2005 | 297 words | brazil sao paulo urbanism cities stupidity

We went on top of the Edificio Italia building yesterday afternoon. It is one of the tallest buildings in the city and located smack in the middle of it. They have a ridiculously overpriced executive bar on the 41st floor with the worst piano player i ever had to listen to. The whole thing feels distinctly 80-ties, but if you want to have access to the outside gallery you have to order drinks in this bar.

The view from the bar an the gallery is absolutely breathtaking. Tthe Sao Paulo metropolitan agglomeration extends to the horizon (and probably beyond) in all four direction. The city seen from above is a collection of high rises of all shades of gray all states of decay and pretty much any architectural style imaginable. extremely beautiful if you ask me.

View from the Italia building in downtown São Paulo

Being in a cities of this size always make me lament the fact that i was raised in a provincial nest where you could cycle to the country side in 5 minutes and to the ‘city center’ in another 15. places like that should be called what they are: villages. That place also prides itself in having the largest inside the city forest in germany which is even more stupid. since when does a forest belong into a city? If you ask me people should either live in places that are so big that you cant see the end of it when you are standing on a 45-story building in the middle of it or they should live in villages and raise cows and chickens. Most stupid thing is this idea of living in the green and commuting into the city to work at the sparkasse or some similar place every day.

meanwhile... is the personal weblog of Paul Keller. I am currently policy director at Open Future and President of the COMMUNIA Association for the Public Domain. This weblog is largely inactive but contains an archive of posts (mixing both work and personal) going back to 2005.

I also maintain a collection of cards from African mediums (which is the reason for the domain name), a collection of photos on flickr and a website collecting my professional writings and appearances.

Other things that i have made online: