Mural no Rio Seco

Artist: Building Society 4 Architecture with Various Artists
Location: Luanda, Angola
Year: 2020
Researcher: Sindi-Leigh McBride

The Rio Seco project started in 2016/17, a proposal to rehabilitate the canal running through the city with public space on top of canal. This is motivated by the limited available and accessible public space in Luanda. This began with architects at Building Society 4 Architecture writing for a magazine about public space in Luanda, and the project soon grew into a writing and research project. In 2019, Building Society 4 Architecture was invited to participate in Seoul Biennial Architecture, same for Rio 2020, but the COVID-19 situation prevented this from being explored so the team started thinking about other ways to continue the project visually.

A large part of the Rio Seco project is to increase social awareness, so the team decided to artistically engage the façades of the houses that face the canal. Artists were then invited to participate in the construction of the mural and given the thematic tree image a brief for creative exploration. The mural consequently has the trees of Angola as its central theme. Rio Seco, or “dry river”, is an urban that is barely visible, flowing behind buildings as an open sewer on its way to the ocean. To contextualize Mural no Rio Seco, Sergey Kadinsky writing on the urban stream is useful. He explains, “The source of Rio Seco appears near the Zona Verde (green zone) in the Maianga neighborhood, to the south of the city center. The street grids here date back to at least the 1950s when Portuguese colonial authorities envisioned a planned metropolis radiating out from the old city. While the streets appear in order, architecture here is a mix ranging from makeshift to upscale that includes foreign embassies. The struggle for independence that brought the Marxist MPLA government to power in 1975 was closely supported by Cuba, which explains the green zone’s official name: Jose Marti Park, after the 19th century Cuban patriot.”

Building Society for Architecture’s vision for the Rio is an “intervention” that would widen its banks as a continuous park, providing safe public space for residents of the neighbourhoods it runs through. Kadinsky describes the river in its current state as follows, “On its concrete-clad course through Maianga the stream has the appearance of an open sewer, its chaotic appearance mirroring the country’s situation of its first quarter century following independence.”

The mural offers a visual counternarrative to this negative urban stream. Brightly coloured and evocative of lush growth, the 300m artwork is located in a neighborhood where the most striking feature is a ditch that used to get heavily polluted. It encompasses the façade of several residences and takes us visually to a contrast between the dry river and beautiful images. The aim was to turn the residents from their habits pollution to concepts of sustainability and the preservation of the natural environment, as well as draw attention to this area that is often neglected. Now there is a new reality: the Façades of the homes in this neighborhood have been transformed into a message that brings positive change.

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The background to the creation of this public artwork is directly adapted to the conditions imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic, and the architects should be commended for aiming to not only inspire ecological change but also for motivating the community to work together during this difficult time. Painting for awareness of the need to regenerate the river, the artwork draws from the symbol of national Angolan trees to push for more public space. In this way, the relationship between the artwork and local culture has been entrenched producing a very specific form of ecological locality that attends to the urban development needs of the local population.

The mural project includes numerous sections of the city and according to dos Santos, by placing a top in the Rio Seco ditch for the construction of a leisure park will give greater dignity to the area, create leisure facilities, spaces for organized commerce and entertainment. This vision could allow the enhancement of existing and new public places and create a harmonious and healthy environment.

The artwork brings together architects and artists in a collaborative community project and while there is not a comprehensive list of the images used in the mural given its vast scale, the drawings have a similarly large range of creative imagination. Based on the success of the first iteration, the idea is to now have an annual transformation of the canal to continue the attention to environmental issues in the city while promoting cultural activity.

For this reason, the project’s is recommended because of its impressive combination of ecological awareness,safeguarding the well-being of local populations and preserving public infrastructure and the city's cultural heritage. Winning this award would advance the potential for the architects and artists involved to continue the legacy for generations to come.

Progress Agency