Rio de Janeiro, Brazil


Founded on July 1st, 2022, World Architecture Day, Instituto Agente Muda (I AM) arises as a new manner to think about the relationship between cities and architecture. The planting of the World Capitals of Architecture’s seedling, in September 2021, represented the ground zero of this project.

CIDADE BEM VIVER (WELL LIVING CITY) – The inauguration ceremony occurred at Rio de Janeiro’s Parque Estadual Library. This relevant and symbolic venue had just been re-inaugurated after a long inoperative period (before the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic).

The hybrid event gathered both remote and in-person participants, ensuring the presence of I AM’s founders from different parts of the city and even from other cities and states. One of them was Anders Hentze, Country Manager of the Danish Cultural Institute in Brazil and a fundamental actor in making I AM. What also earned hybridity to the event was the presence of a non-human member: a seedling of paineira (floss silk tree), a native Atlantic Rainforest species. In the ceremony, the paineira seedling represented the aim of the project.

The Instituto Agente Muda (“We Change” Institute) is an institutional response to the goals practiced by its founders.

Beyond the planting of paineira seedlings, the project aims to encourage citizens to “reflourish” their own city. In other words, to motivate citizens to practice habits that help promote the well living of their city, including its animals, vegetables, minerals, ideas, children, adults, etc. The Instituto Agente Muda understands that the desired urban architecture for Rio de Janeiro is one that, connected to a thriving economy paradigm, arises where relations between citizens and landscapes reflourish.

Thus, with such actions in progress, naming Rio de Janeiro “the World Capital of Architecture” seems just adequate.

The paineira seedling was planted on a Sunday, two days after the inaugural meeting. It was planted at a crossroads relevant to Rio’s history, the Trevo das Forças Armadas (Army Clover). Treated as an empty-core traversal, the Trevo das Forças Armadas used to be the point where rivers and the Guanabara Bay met, forming a vast mangrove that, in Rio’s colonial times, consisted of a natural boundary. Once the entrance to maritime invasions and a source of water supply for ships, the Trevo has later become the crossing point of important Rio highways. It is a point marked by the absence of defining urban interventions, like a blind spot in the heart of Rio’s emblematic landscape. The seedling no.1, therefore, reveals this counter-landscape that had been invisible so far.

I AM is born from the Commons & Communities project through the #agentemuda action. It intertwines with the Vida Local project and with initiatives connected to other movements that the founders of these projects have long incentivized. Among them are the Baixo Rio collective and Movimento Escoteiro.

As one of I AM’s founders helped create, almost simultaneously, the Amigos do Parque Ecológico da Rocinha (APER), a collective that also dialogued with the #agentemuda action, I AM became a direct partner of APER.

These networks of voluntary associations are the structures sustaining the kind of urban architecture that I AM wants to encourage. The Vida Local Rio case is an example of how these networks operate.

When it resumed in 2022, Vida Local Rio project relied on I AM as a local organization capable of dialoguing with public authorities, the private sector, universities, sellers, and residents. This Vida Local Rio-I AM relation enabled the production and coordination for making Vida Local Rio 2022.

As the local agent that proposed and executed the Danish project in Rio de Janeiro, Instituto Agente Muda had the autonomy to make sudden decisions and adjust plans throughout the process – but not without preserving the original project proposal. Two episodes from Vida Local Rio 2022 illustrated when sudden decision-making was necessary:

In the first one, I AM planned to gift seedlings to all participants who attended the first phase of the project (a gesture aimed at reinforcing the connections). While Rio City Hall agreed to donate to the project over a hundred fruit tree seedlings from a farm in Rio’s countryside, the high cost of the transportation service would make it unfeasible. However, one of the project members offered his car to transport the seedlings, turning his vehicle into a small, mobile tropical forest that crossed the city for around an hour. As there was no physical space to save the seedlings, Instituto Agente Muda designed and created a table for them a few days before the meeting. The table, compact and collapsing, was called Mesa Primavera (Spring Table).

The second episode refers to the erasure of a graffiti painting that was dear to the neighborhood. Located on a wall right next to the location chosen for the project’s second phase, the graffiti was a tribute to Teli, a resident beloved by the community who had died of Covid-19. With the saying “Teli eterno” (Teli eternal), the graffiti was erased by an unidentified author. But, after an I AM organizer posted a video on social media calling the community to join the project, many residents felt angry: they misunderstood that the organization had been responsible for the erasure of the graffiti.

Teli’s daughter responded to the video post, affirming that the person who erased the graffiti is as anonymous as the artist who created it. The graffiti, she said, was a gesture to keep alive the memory of a man who tragically and suddenly disappeared from the human landscape of that community. On the same day the controversy involving I AM and the graffiti erasure occurred, I AM committed to rescuing that symbol of community memory. On the next day, I AM members painted, on the same wall, the saying “ATELIETERNO” four times, each one suggesting a different meaning: “ATELIETERNO” (eternal atelier); “ATELIÊ TERNO” (tender atelier); “ATÉ LI ETERNO” (I even read “eternal”); “À TELI ETERNO” (To Teli, eternal). The expression “ATELIETERNO” became the name of the temporary venue of Centro Democrático e Sustentável de Design Urbano (Democratic and Sustainable Center of Urban Design) – CDSDU.

The neighborhood chosen for Vida Local Rio 2022 was the same where Trevo das Forças Armadas and Seedling no. 1 are located.

I AM keeps dialoguing to build a structure for Trevo das Forças Armadas, a space that flourished with the actions carried by Commons & Communities.

Instead of premeditating a future unknown, I AM seeks to act and project ideas as the present unfolds.

* Text by Guto Santos.

Instituto Agente Muda
Transformation agents

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