The Commons and the Production of Everyday Life

Sao Paolo

In the region of São Paulo, Sesc (Serviço Social do Comércio) supports more than thirty social welfare centres that provide affordable cultural, leisure, health and educational facilities to inhabitants. Sesc is neither a governmental body nor a commercial organisation but is a privately-owned, non-profit initiative constituted by merchants and industrialists for the public good. Having established a network of social and cultural centres, it has become an important actor in the life of the city and region. Sesc centres are part of the everyday life of Sao Paolo citizens, offering a great variety of sports, health, cultural and leisure programmes, or simply a social setting for working and meeting others. Through its provisions, Sesc has become an agency for the production of city life. This civic ethos is rooted in the Carta da Paz Social, the 1945 document that forms the basis of the Sesc entity, stipulating its commitment to ‘economic growth and collective well-being’. As an independent welfare facility, the Sesc infrastructure may be conceived as a commons: a shared resource, defined by local communities of users and a set of commonly adhered-to rules. Operating across established categories of state and market, the notion of commons reminds us of forms of commonality that are not state-led, of collective benefits that go beyond personal profit, helping us re-think the relationship between individuals and society on the scale of the city.

During this Seminarwoche, students of the ETH, in collaboration with students from FAUUSP, examine how the urban figures of Sesc Centres contribute to the lives of São Paolo citizens, and thus how they function as commons. Over one week the students visit, use and analyse six Sesc Centres with a variety of programmes and urban configurations, including Lina Bo Bardi’s Sesc Pompeia and the recent Sesc 24 de Maio, designed by Paolo Mendes da Rocha and MMBB Arquitetos. London-based filmmaker Tapio Snellman guides the students through filming and editing short films describing the life of the six Sesc centres being studied. These films explore the urban and architectural framework of the Sescs and how these centres are appropriated by the local communities and generate adaptable civic spaces in the city. The project, which calls for the consolidation of a social archive that records stories and visual testimonials of Sesc users, was presented at the XII International Architecture Biennale of São Paulo (September – December 2019), including a screening of the film produced by the students.

This seminar week took place during Fall 2019

Dr. Irina Davidovici (Education)
Dr. Hans Teerds (Exhibition)
Prof. Dr. Tom Avermaete

Hover Image: In collaboration with the Critical Thinking and Contemporary City [PC3] Research Group, FAUUSP, São Paulo: Prof. Dr. Leandro Medrano, Prof. Dr. Luiz Recamán, Akemi Morita, Alessandro Muzi, Mariana Wilderom, Raphael Grazziano