Written by Karolyna Koppke
The aim of this article is to present an urban intervention carried out in Ouro Preto, a city located in the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais. Ouro Preto is the most eloquent expression of the gold cycle in Brazil, undertaken during the eighteenth century. It is a national monument since 1933 and in 1980 it was recognized as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
The Horto dos Contos Park is part of a broader project called "Recovery and landscaping of the Horto Botânico and Vale dos Contos" that was implemented in 2008, undertaken by the Monumenta Program, which promoted the revitalization of old buildings and cities across the country. The new public area was built on the site of the old botanical garden and is located in the Pilar neighborhood, just at the origin of the urban core in the city. On the project, two areas originated from different urban shaping processes are interconnected through a footbridge beside the Casa dos Contos Museum, under a bridge with the same name.
It is, in fact, a structural intervention, in the sense that it deeply interferes in the traditional logic of occupation of the ancient cities in Minas Gerais. This short article is linked to a master’s thesis developed within the master’s program in Built Environment and Sustainable Heritage (MACPS) from the Federal University of Minas Gerais (UFMG).
The research is concentrated in the Vale dos Contos stretch, given its urban morphological configuration. The valley is indeed inserted into the old town hull, while the ancient Horto Botânico area has a broader and more dispersed character, setting up a different kind of urban spatial conformation, less related to the objectives of the investigation.
In Vale dos Contos, it was undertaken the openness to the public use of a block center inserted in the backyards of the eighteenth-century houses. Thus the main objective of the investigation is to understand how the relations between public and private space changed after the implementation of the project.
The earliest reference to the design of a park in the Vale dos Contos area is found in the first report written by the Portuguese architect Alfredo Evangelista Viana Lima, upon his hiring as a consultant by UNESCO in technical cooperation agreement with the National Historic and Artistic Heritage Direction (DPHAN). In 1975, João Pinheiro Foundation presented a master plan for Ouro Preto which included the proposed park. In the 1980s, the architects Maria Elisa Costa and Paulo Jobim, with Lucio Costa’s consultancy, developed a project for the implementation of the Horto dos Contos. Their effective execution happened, however, only in the 2000s, under the Monumenta Program. One of the thesis’ main goals is exactly the reconstruction of the history of the project.
According to Bonduki (2010: 227), "The intervention [...] may represent the biggest news since the historic core was protected." Indeed, despite being a small intervention, its design makes room for new possibilities of relationship with Ouro Preto’s public areas. Understanding which possibilities are those is essential to know the project results. Even if the realities of the Brazilian old cities are distinct throughout the country, noticing by these kinds of actions that these cities are so vivid and dynamic as the contemporary agglomerations is already realizing that they can be rethought and rebuilt every day.