Panem et circenses [1] at Largo da Carioca, Brazil: the urban diversity focused on people-environment interactions


  • Ethel Pinheiro Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
  • Cristiane Duarte Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, Brazil



This paper explores how outdoor performances actively define and create the essential character of open spaces in Brazil, a country known for its overwhelming abundance of outdoor life. We investigate the importance of open spaces within the urban fabric, and consider the ways in which the history and aspirations of the local community become meaningfully woven into these spaces. We chose an open space, or largo [3], in the city of Rio de Janeiro called Largo da Carioca, which embodies the relation between collective memory and appropriation. We then consider how the Largo has consistently been used as an arena of performance despite the intense urban changes and movement of people over the last 50 years. As a way of grasping the dynamic of the activities of the Largo da Carioca we adopted two approaches: historical-evolutive and participant observation. The first concerns the evolution of the urban space of Largo da Carioca and the background of outdoor performances as a way of introducing the popular arts of Rio de Janeiro, and as a way of connecting our theoretical analysis to the field research. In the second approach we use tools and methods from ethnographic research such as field annotations, direct interviews and visual resources, like photographs and video-shooting, so as to fulfill and complement our work. We argue that the urban essence of these performances is related to the ‘inviting’ conditions of this particular urban site and to its (in)formal structures, uses and regular activities. It invites – because of its openness, formal and social largeness and amplitude – a singular melange of uses and appropriations through which the formal and social are amalgamated – for, as one informant said, it is ‘an open space of constant comings and goings’ (Igor Ferreira, 13/07/03).

Author Biographies

Ethel Pinheiro, Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Ethel Pinheiro (MSc Arch.) graduated in Architecture and Urbanism in 2001 at FAU/UFRJ/Brazil; concluded her Master of Architecture in March 2004 focusing on questions of holistic and interdisciplinary order in relation to the studies of public spaces in the cities (e.g. architecture, geography, sociology, anthropology and philosophy). At the moment she works as professor and researcher at FAU/UFRJ.


Cristiane Duarte, Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Cristiane Duarte (DSc Arch.) graduated in Architecture and Urbanism in 1981 at FAU/UFRJ/Brazil; concluded her Doctorate in 1993 at Paris I, Sorbonne University. Since then, she has worked as distinguished professor, researcher and coordinator of ‘Nucleo Pró-acesso’ (Research, Teaching and Design Bureau on Acessibility and Universal Design) in the Post-graduation Program of Architecture (PROARQ/UFRJ).