Monday, January 5, 2015


In my first article of the SMELL IN THE CITY series I started to describe the SMELLSCAPE of São Paulo City. Today I will continue to  deepen into the unique olfactive qualities of this city by bringing to you sensory information of my perception of different places and sites.

Before we start this journey I will introduce a concept that will be used many times in this text - SMELLSCAPE.
 In "Landscape's - ocular-centrism and beyond?" Hannah Mcpherson from the school of Architecture, Planning & Landscape of the University of Newcastle, UK explains that although the environment perception literature focus mostly in the ocular centric approach (sight), there are other alternative aspects of how the land is sensed and interacted with. 
Talking about multi-sensory interaction with the land she points out that the relationship between perception, the senses and the landscape is not fixed, but geographically, historically and culturally contingent. She also mentions the works of Porteous and the inclusion of the such terms as soundscapes and smellscapes.
Our perception of places and landscapes are also understood experiencing sounds and smells. Landscape perception is therefore, a "whole-body activity".
The experience of visiting a city cannot be reduced only to a visual perception of the place and its landscape, but an enriched experience that must bring a multi sensory exploration!
For us here sound and touch are less important, but not excluded. I will focus more on the SMELLSCAPE of São Paulo by bringing general smellscapes for the entire city, no matter where you are located or local olfactive experiences in neighborhoods of my choice.
 Last time I started describing São Paulo's general smellscape as follows:

"My smell walk in São Paulo City starts with an olfactive exercise of trying to decompose the general smell that is particular of my city. 
Unfortunately the stench of Tiete & Pinheiros Rivers is growing stronger as we approach to Summer, added to the fact that the air is denser and dryer due to a long and severe period of drought. We are facing an increasing amount of dust in the air and also in the level of the city's pollution. The result is a stronger odor of sewer discharge (consisting of industrial and domestic waste) combined with the stench of abrasive metallic pollutants and the smell of a haze of urban dust which is a mix of fine particles of residual concrete, paint, wood and many others materials used in the construction of buildings.
These 02 rivers with high concentrations of sulfides flow through the city bringing a smell of putrid waste and rotten eggs all together.
It is indeed a very difficult task drift away from that stench, but a trained nose must be succeed by focusing in something else".

Updating the local meteorological status - it started to rain. In fact we have been celebrating many heavy to medium showers lately - which painted a slightly different scenario in our smellscape. Let's say the smell of dust has decreased and the smell of humidity has returned.

To describe the olfactive urban design of São Paulo I will start from below the nose with smells located underfoot with the Brazilian pavements and sidewalks.

You will find different types of pavements and pavements techniques in São Paulo. The most beautiful one IMO is the mosaic shaped sidewalks:

Calçada portuguesa – Portuguese Calçada or mosaic (also known in Brazil as Portuguese stones) is a specific pavement, used mostly for finishing the walkways and sidewalks, alleys, squares and other bustling places. This stone flooring is particularly popular in Portuguese speaking countries. The unique mosaic pavements (typically from limestone or basalt) are irregularly shaped. The game of contrasts allows forming various decorative designs because of the difference in the nuances of the different pieces. The most common colors used for shaping the cobblestones are black and white, but there may be found in red and brown. (extracted from the work of Tatiana Weintraub and Waldemar Celes "Modeling the Copacabana Sidewalk Pavement").

Contrary to Israel and the United States where pavements made of concrete are everywhere, here we find a vast array of styles and materials. What is unique about these pavements is that there is a sense that time has stopped here. Sometimes you feel you are in a small village centuries ago just by looking to these trails of limestones. Brazilians are not picky about plants growing on the corners of the sidewalks. Sometimes the roots of trees have such extraordinary growth underneath the pavements and that they lift the sidewalks and street pavements resulting in superficial runoff, or end up crackling them considerably, taking over the landscape. 

São Paulo has many streets and entire areas presenting partial or total pavement destruction due to high traffic density and the high volume of pluvial waters a year round. Urban flooding is still a reality here even in the fanciest neighborhoods.

In terms of smellscape there is a very exquisite combination of mineral smells of limestone and basaltic stones combined with the smell of dirty humidity from soil and rain water evaporating with the heat. 

São Paulo is in constant rebuilding, so it is very common to find the smell of shaving/grinding stones, the tarry- rubbery smell of blacktop (asphalt mix) or the smell of smoke and oil of tractors working outside on the streets.

Interlocked concrete pavements do exist in larger areas and squares, but the streets of São Paulo still offer the vintage experience.Then there is the particular smell of the humid dirty accumulated between stones combined with the smell of moss that grows within time - a deep green smell of moss with a decay aura on top of it and the fresh flowery smell of plants, little flowers and fungus. Fact is that ecological pavements do not offer the infiltration of pluvial water and the growth of plants and mosses like these limestones do.

Visually São Paulo still presents some sort of rusticity to its landscape. All over town you will find rotten cut branches of trees with huge fungus cultures shelving up and rotten wood benches and fences. This brings a particular smell of wood decay and humidity to the air that is very countryside-ish. To me it is natural, organic and mushroomy. 

In my next post we will continue to explore the city's smellscape focusing in smell sources of all kinds. Good or bad. because the olfactive identity of a place is not the designed by a home spray or a city themed perfume!


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