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Anchieta Occupation Forward!

research - facilitation



Ocupação Anchieta is a land occupation in the south of São Paulo, Brazil. The central objectives of the project
are to empower residents to become agents of change in their own community, to improve their quality of life, and to develop and disseminate sustainable land occupation resilient best practices for communities.

Faculty: María Arquero de Alarcón and Ana Paula Pimentel Walker



August 2017 - May 2019



Part of the graduate student team. I collaborated in field data collection, community participation, and organization of workshops.

See field trips, workshops and workshop kit.



Distinguished Awards for Interdisciplinary Sustainability

Nov 2017 - Dow Sustainability Fellows Program

at the University of Michigan


2018 Outstanding Graduate Student Project

Oct 2018 - Michigan Association of Planning


Discussion during the Adult's workshop at Ocupação Anchieta

Anchieta Occupation

Site history

The occupation
Ocupação Anchieta is a 5 year old land occupation in the south of São Paulo, Brazil. In 2013, due to housing shortages, a handful of organized families occupied the land of a local NGO, Instituto Anchieta Grajaú (IAG). The site, formerly Primary Atlantic Forest, includes a zone of permanent environmental protection under Brazilian law. The site is now home to 850 families, or 3,900 residents.


Most of the residents live in poverty in precarious shelters, but they are motivated to implement sustainable projects to demonstrate their commitment to the land and improve their living conditions.

Project Overview

The Ocupação Anchieta Avança! project is a multi-pronged approach to address one of the Global South’s most pressing issues, rapid informal urbanization of environmentally protected areas located in the periphery of cities.

We propose new sustainable strategies of land stewardship through a site-specific case study in collaboration with a robust network of local partners in São Paulo, Brazil.

Following a December 2017 storm that destroyed the community’s former community center, the project was re-oriented to focus on rebuilding the heart of the community after discussions with the Brazilian partners.


The architecture and urban planning teams started to focus on the design of a new Civic Center. That would allow the community a space to have an association office, have regular community meetings with 600+ attendees, accept and store donations, casually gather, and a safe space for children to play. The capacity for a vulnerable community to gather in order to discuss conditions, options, and opportunities is crucial to build inner resilience and resistance.


The resultant design for the Ocupação Anchieta Civic Center seeks to balance the needs of the community to occupy the site with the need to maintain the land’s ecological capacity.

Components to support environmental sustainability

  • Sewage biodigester

  • Rainwater retention and reuse system

  • Re-greening and reforesting

  • Community garden



Components to support social sustainability 

  • Playground

  • Large assembly space with a stage, interior rooms for a community association headquarters and other meetings

  • Site plan that reserves space for a future church by a local congregation and fire prevention materials provided by IAG.

Field Trips

Field trips

I visited the occupation once in December 2017 to meet partners at IAG and residents.

The main goal was to assess their needs after the storm that destroyed the community center.


During June 2018, an architect teammate and I visited the site to steward the construction, and collaboratively further the design. We also held two workshops to engage residents on sustainable practices.


I conducted 5 in-depth interviews with residents, 2 in December 2017 and 3 in June 2018. The interview questions were based on the work of teammate Jiayang Li, with the goal to gather useful information to inform future sustainable design.  




Ocupação Anchieta Avança! Pamphlet and Workshop investigate communication techniques to transfer the agency of advanced, academic research into the hands of communities to balance the right to the city and the right to a healthy environment.


The workshop was developed by Laura Devine and I, and the pamphlet was developed by Laura Devine through an independent study to explore communication techniques to meet communities where they are.  It was designed in A4 paper using only black and white so it can be readily and affordable reproduced and shared.


The pamphlet, a planning framework, first acknowledges the positive actions that the community has already taken then poses a series of questions that focus on dreams and available resources to collaboratively build a stronger community.


See workshop kit.


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Workshop guide

In June 2018, a children's and adult's workshops were created and tested to show the community how to understand and leverage the planning framework and sustainable actions set forward in the pamphlet.


This helped us to interact with a variety of residents to strengthen our collaboration, bring different groups together to discuss and envision the future of the occupation, and educate more residents on sustainability.

Children's Workshop

June 17th, 2018


Focused on collaboratively designing the playground that is next to the Civic Center. A group of local volunteer, Jovens sem Fronteiras da Hebraica, work with the children every week and collaborated with us to run the workshop.


Following a conversation about sustainability and its importance, the children gathered in small groups and given a deck of cards with playground equipment and sustainable design components.

The children then drew what they would most like to see in their playground. These drawings were shared with the resident's association and considered when designing the playground to make sure the children's wishes were the primary driver of the design.


Adult's Workshop

June 24th, 2018


The goal of this workshop was to present the pamphlet to key community members and demonstrate how it can be used to guide sustainable community development.


After broadly discussing the importance of sustainable projects within the community, each resident voice the assets they saw in their community and their dreams for its future.


Using posters, markers, cards, and voting the group decided their most urgent objective then chose an action to support it. They chose the Trash and Recycling topic due to the build-up of trash within the community and the potential of recyclable materials. We then collectively discussed a potential plan of action and key leaders to steward the initiative.


Through the workshop, we could introduce and engage community leaders in the topics contained in the pamphlet.


Workshop Kit

Workshop Kit - Elements

It contains the project planning pamphlet, the workshop guide and 4 sets of cards.



Workshop guide

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Workshop guide

Cards Boxes

Pamphlet and Workshop guide




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cards (2).jpg
cards (1).jpg

Moving forward

The Ocupação Anchieta Civic Center has already become the civic heart of the community and is a proud achievement of all the partners involved. Through the residents' network of social movements, leaders from surrounding communities have heard about the project and are interested in implementing similar sustainable projects. Through the built project and the informative pamphlet, other communities are able to envision and build these features to demonstrate a similar commitment to the land and environment.

Working through a complicated collaborative design process with changing site conditions has been both a challenging and rewarding piece of our academic careers. The site will act as a rallying point and demonstration of the occupation's commitment to each other and to sustainable land occupation strategies that will be admired and shared among their network of social movements increasing its local reach.

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