The Transformation of an Abandoned Space Into a Hub for Creative Businesses in Brazilian Neighborhood

In the neighborhood of La Floresta, in Porto Alegre, Brazil an old structure, dating back to 1925 sat abandoned. The space spanned nearly 5,000 sq. ft., and although it was considered a cultural heritage by the city, it was on the verge of  collapse. Fortunately, by 2013, this same building had become one of the most active social and cultural hubs of the city after Associação Cultural Vila Flores rescued it. The association started a cultural project to transform the abandoned space into a dynamic cultural, educational, and creative business center.

Vila Flores - Group Sitting Outside
Group sitting in the courtyard at Vila Flores | Courtesy of Towards the Human City

The Vila Flores initiative promotes the revitalization of  cultural heritage in the city of Porto Alegre through cultural activities and the creation of a work space for artists and creative entrepreneurs. This multidisciplinary space was developed to foster an artistic and creative community that energizes the neighborhood and connects citizens with one another. Vila Flores is home to several artists and professionals from creative industries who  generate revenue for the cultural center by renting space to work there.

The association’s disciplines are divided into three different perspectives: culture, education, and creative business. As the venue for more than 100 types of activities, including theater, music, exhibitions, debates, and entrepreneurship workshops, Vila Flores has become the meeting point for all the stages of the workflow: creation, production, prototyping, selling, and consumption.

“Now we are adapting the project to be able to fit all the variety of people who are working together here,” said Antonia Walig, founder of this initiative. One of these new initiatives based at hub is a bike shop. The project was launched by Camilo Pacheco and his friends, who share the belief that bicycles can change cities and societies as a whole. They work on making bikes, creating custom bikes, and restoring old ones.“Vila Flores is like a seed that will permit that these alternative ideas flourish and develop,” Pacheco said. 

With more than 30,000 visitors coming through its doors, and after being one of the finalists for the Brasil Criativo Award, a competition organized by the Ministry of Culture, the founders of the Vila Flores have deemed the project a success and wish to replicate the initiative in other cities. 

“I really hope that Vila Flores, as a methodology for working collectively and in groups, serves as an example and is applied to other places. There are so many projects going on out there, so many spaces asking to be occupied,” Walig said. “If the experience we are developing here can be copied to another spot, we will be very happy to share this experience so that other spaces can become more alive,” Walig said.

Vila Flores - Bikes
Bikes parked at Vila Flores | Courtesy of Towards the Human City

When considering the duplication of the Vila Flores model, it’s important to consider the lesson learned from this project: urban initiatives must meet the demands of citizens. In a neighborhood where people were crying out for a cultural oasis, Vila Flores met that very demand.

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