Internet Explorer is not supported. Please use another browser such as Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Edge.

Mutyrõ of Urgent Resistance

In a world facing rapid planetary climate changes, architects and urban planners question ways of their practices to cope with a new anthropic caused environment. Due to nature’s lack of sociological capacity to fairly distribute the burdens of the harming climate, the less privileged are regrettably the ones who most need to bear the impacts [1].

In addition to natural hazard vulnerability, the lack of access to basic infrastructure and financial services imposes restricted production and consumption conditions for this population, as well as limits technological innovations that for some privileged experts, would be promising for reducing our environmental degradation [2]. Hence, when thinking along the United Nation’s promise of “leaving no one behind” for a sustainable future, one must think – What is really possible in marginalized, peripheral, poor contexts?

In my diverse experiences in social projects in Brazil, I came to face situations where from the lack of options, these populations have been actively resisting their existence through informal and creative ways of production, consumption and education. Ways that have been excluded from the respect of government officials and policymakers, but that we can learn from to ressignify our modus operandis that have overpassed the bearable impact on the planet.

I bring to the discussion the practice of mutirão, a word with indigenous roots from Tupi-Guarani mutyrõ (within many other variations), freely translated to English as “common work”. The practice, with debated origin [3], has been present in diverse cultural contexts and geographical regions, suggesting a common intrinsic human trace of solidarity [3], but that aggregates different layers of political and social challenges. Deteriorated by the growing individualization of work configuration, some practices of mutual help survive their remote past’s heritage [3], yet incorporating new complexities of contemporary urban configuration.

In Brazilian cities, despite the legal effort to make cities accessible [4], these challenges include housing deficit, lack of basic services such as sanitation and electricity, and restricted land access [5]. In the overall neglect of this urban ill by some government officials, it creates a condition that obliges people to find informal ways of occupying the city – usually in configurations such as favelas, and ocupações. In these scenarios of poor infrastructure assistance, climate vulnerability is enhanced, being common phenomena of landslides, extreme rainfall and floods that cause significant dwelling damage and human loss. Yet invisibilized by officials, the segregated people find political and social strength by unification of their voices, knowledge and workforce abilities in a territory that is not assisted by formal governance. They collectively construct housing, infrastructure, and collective spaces in labor that are generally non-remunerated, non-hierarchical, and do not aim for a financial profit. Therefore, the mutirão incorporates a political view of anti-hegemonic activity that is contrary to capitalist work relations [6].

To bring this into practical terms, I share a practice of an informal occupation located in Santa Maria, a city in south of Brazil, that is in a current legislative process for the State to formally allow 53 families to live where they have been for the past seven years – “Vila Resistência” – in direct translation – “Villa of Resistance”. The name coherently suggests their will of power, as 15 of the pioneer families came from a situation of eviction from a past land they occupied, and in the current site, they have already been through at least three direct threats of removal [7]. The disputatious situation introduces other various conflicts these organizations encounter, and their need to urgently resist to be able to live.

Logo of the Vila Resistência community exposed at their 6th birthday celebration in 2022. Photo by Comissão de Moradores da Vila Resistência

In legislative terms, the main controversy lies in the lack of attendance to the social right to housing [8] and the social function of property [9] that, in the public land they occupy, was absent from at least 20 years of unuse [10]. The lack of an official address led to condemning collateral effects of negligence to basic public services, such as health, education and childcare as well as physical infrastructure. All which is burdened by extreme weather events that many times have caused severe damages to their site.

The positive side is that internally, the community has reported little or no inter-conflicts, which along the years, allowed them to develop a network of mutual trust. Since the beginning, in October of 2016, the families have been auto constructing their houses, one phase at a time, with the help from their neighbors. The necessity of support evolved into a voluntary willingness to strengthen linkages that ushered to officially creating an organization to assist in communitary needs of political organization, infrastructure, communication, education and culture as well as general administrative relations committee. This also favored establishing partnerships with external stakeholders that supported their cause.

An important participation was the city’s public university (Universidade Federal de Santa Maria), which demonstrated a very positive effect in multidisciplinary perspectives. The institution hosted courses of pedagogy, sociology, law, architecture and urbanism that allowed the active participation of students and professors in collaborative projects to assist the community. The extension project “Technical Assistance for Social Housing (ATHIS) and the Reurbanization of Precarious Human Settlements (REURB)” had the technical aim to qualify and regulate the architectural object, landscape and urban space, based on the legislation to provide free public technical assistance for the design and construction of social housing [11] as well as land regularization of irregular settlements [11]. Most uniquely, in the legislative background, the university was an opportunity to provide support in the judicial process being an amicus curiae to bring to the attention of the state judge the work being developed in the extension project and the community, with the aim that the judgment is given with awareness of the entire social context that permeates the dispute. Since vulnerable groups’ voice is generally silenced, it seems beneficial to count with the support of recognized institutions to increase pressure towards officials to defend and propose legitimate rules of power.

The 1980s witnessed a confluence of factors at the national and global level, driven by Chinese economic reforms, demands for new infrastructures, and the subsequent commodities boom. These phenomena precipitated the premature expansion of small Brazilian cities.[4] As a consequence, the accelerated pace of what was understood as progress, dictated by global capital, mobilised resources but failed to translate its benefits into improvements in the lives of local actors. Instead, it obscured the unique rhythms of these communities, rendering them invisible within the whirlwind of development.

As Vale expanded, its shares became some of the most traded on the New York Stock Exchange in 2007, and it received substantial national funding of approximately $1.3 billion, based on current exchange rates.[5] One year later, Vale was responsible for Brazil’s biggest environmental crime. The city of Mariana, located close to Itabira, suffered extensive damage due to the use of a risky method for the construction of a dam, which was also more economical. Besides several deaths and injured people, the resulting mud traveled 680 km until it reached the ocean. Bento Rodrigues, a subdistrict of Mariana, had 80% of its buildings destroyed.[6] With the purpose of preventing further destruction, Mariana was quickly listed as a heritage landscape. The fast pace of the act, however, resulted in the lack of a precise definition of the object of preservation and its guidelines.[7] As a consequence, the government gathered efforts with ICOMOS and regional universities, and promoted meetings with the community.

In the aftermath of the event, the affected agents found the strength to mobilize resources and promote alternatives to value their ways of life and memories, reinforcing support networks. Among these flourishing narratives, the proposal of a Museu Território (Territory Museum) aimed at acknowledging the plural collective memories that inhabited the city, especially by fostering a dialogue about the community’s difficult memory, and raising awareness at a national level about the event whose significance transcended the city limits. Its final goal was to become an instrument for building local capacity, development and, ultimately, resilience. It was envisioned as a living organism, constantly evolving and not dependent on a fixed building — as traditional museums. Through focus groups, the residents expressed their desire that the memory of the destruction remains alive through the preservation of ruins, the creation of marks to indicate the level the mud reached in buildings, the name of the former inhabitants, the replanting of typical trees from their childhood, and also the construction of a memorial.[8] In this case, the reconstruction of the site would mean the erasure of their memory.

When referring to memorials, places or objects that contribute to preserving and disseminating a memory, the German language makes a distinction between the words Denkmal and Mahnmal. While the former is related to the etymology of “monument” and comes from the Latin verb monere or “to remember” the latter expresses the urge to actively recall a difficult memory that should not be repeated.[9] For instance, in Berlin, Mahnmal is used as the title for the Holocaust Memorial. In Brazil, the creation of a memorial site for the difficult memory of the Mariana disaster would help contest the erasure caused by the mud and engage in a dialogue against further disasters. The repetition of a similar event only four years later in the city of Brumadinho reflects the need for more dialogue. Despite manifestations, such as a march in the opposite direction of the mud carried by 300 people one year after the Mariana disaster, the absence of articles about the events in the main newspapers reinforces the need for such pedagogical spaces.

Aerial image of Vila Resistência. Photo collected by drone by the ATHIS/REURB project (2021).

Amongst the community’s projects, I bring most merit to the escolinha (little school), since it features the secular informal practice of mutirão intertwined with a formal architectural project, woven by immaterial pedagogical ideas. It started from the community’s worried mothers’ request to have school tutoring due to their kids’ difficulties in the educational system, and soon evolved into an expanding mindset of pedagogy. The community’s objective for the escolinha was to consolidate a popular, libertarian, autonomous way of sharing knowledge – a decolonial perspective that was absent in the kids’ formal education, but that was essential for the acknowledgement of their identity and their territory [13]. The activities ranged from childcare, cinema and documentary exhibitions, environmental education, art activities and capoeira [14],  practiced thanks to diverse internal and external contributors, formally and informally professionalized.

Circus pedagogical activity at the escolinha. Photo by Comissão de Moradores da Vila Resistência

Eventually the demand outgrew the available precarious infrastructure they had (small and subject to floods and leaks) and came the opportunity to expand the space in the viable process they were very familiar with – mutirão. The difference was that instead of applying it to build their own houses, it was now destined for collective use. At this time, they came acquainted with the social architecture studio Pro4rq that were willing to help them consolidate this dream.

This relationship was essential to unite in practice the formal knowledge of architecture professionals and the grass-roots liveability experience. From the interviews, reports, and pictures documented, I would say the project process had a high participation level, which is not the reality in many social experiences that take the risk of exploiting philanthropic help. The exchanges were frequent, from both sides – the architects came into the occupation and the community went into their office, in the center of the city, breaking the boundaries that formal service should only be destined to “official” members of the city. At the same time that the methods seeked to include the diversity of actors in the community, from kids, to elders, there was a group in the community responsible for heading the project, which consolidated an assiduous task force for the completion of the activity.

In general, the community had a great amount of consensus and no conflicting opinions, which may have been facilitated by them being a small group with similar backgrounds, social conditions and interests. The architects respected the ideas proposed by the community, and their main function was to technically consolidate the architecture project, in blueprints and 3D models, just like any other formal delivery is expected to be. The finalization of the first stage of the project was celebrated with a presentation in the community on 7th of December of 2019, concluding a little more than two months since the first participatory survey. The most voted name for the school, “Elena Quinteiros”, represents a martyr from the Uruguayan dictatorship that defended the potential of education in developing critical, autonomous subjects who are conscious of their history from the availability of exchanges, experiences and encounters.

Presentation of the final version of the escolinha project. Photo by Comissão de Moradores da Vila Resistência.

The main challenges came into the practice of the collective construction activities. Within the quantification of the materials done by the architecture studio, the community proposed an online crowdfunding as well as a raffle game for raising the necessary money. Since the aimed amount was not reached by the start of the project, it implied in them being dependent on new irregular incomes of funds to have continuity, disturbing the flow of the activities.

The execution activities were not accompanied by the architects, and the planning was mainly done by the community’s infrastructure commission, responsible for proposing, organizing and communicating with the workers. The specific activities were collectively defined at the end of each joint effort day. On the construction site, no one was responsible for coordinating the activities, which proposes an alternative non-hierarchical method, but might have affected the efficiency of the process. The active hands were non-fixed voluntary experienced construction workers as well as kids that were excited to make this part of a game and learning encounter.

The mutirão practice also demonstrated inconsistency with the project’s blueprints. The dimensions of the project were adjusted when confronting the construction site, realizing they would not be enough for their needs. This suggests an insight of the importance of on site experimentation for lay people that have no familiarity with construction dimensions, for both formal and informal architectural practices. Regarding the materials, the project planned it considering their local availability, low cost and sustainability impact, such as wood, bamboo, tetra pak tile. Nevertheless, the expectation had to be adjusted into using higher carbon consumption options (regular cement tiles) due to the workers’ handling experience in their own jobs. A reflection is raised on the stagnancy of the construction industry in which also alternative practices result to be subordinated to.

Construction activities of the escolinha project. Photo by Comissão de Moradores da Vila Resistência.

At the end of each working day, they practiced a celebration ritual of a collective barbecue at the construction site with the whole community. These types of rewards have proven to be important in different participation processes to consolidate the effort, gain communitary strength and stimulate the continuation of activities.

Since the mutirão days were usually Sundays (the only available day for the workers to rest and enjoy a bit of leisure time with their families), a practice that was meant to be a collective celebration started to become an exhausting continuation of their workweek. This being considered, the future activities were reconsidered to have a financial remuneration, suggesting an in-between route between capitalist work relations and communitarian trade, considering it is also a scarcity they need to overcome to be included in the economic system.

Nevertheless, according to the interviewed people in Vila Resistência, the greatest remuneration is the gratification of being able to do a collective workforce to raise a meaningful space with their own hands. To see the twinkle in the eye of the people that live everyday to fight and resist to a cause they believe in.

Construction activities of the escolinha project. Photo by Comissão de Moradores da Vila Resistência.

Vila Resistência stands proudly to overcome limited formal ways of living, of practicing architecture and urban planning. The conditions of scarcity they face enacted the urgently needed necessity of reviving remote solidarity practices of mutyrõ, ressignified with new layers of  complexities in territory resistance. The promising results suggest that a mix of formal and informal architectural practices is possible and potentialized with pedagogical grass-roots know-how, conceptually demonstrated in the escolinha. It urges a reflection on how systemic solutions thought to overcome planetary crisis should incorporate a plurality of knowledge, that inspire new insights while being inclusive to marginalized, peripheral and poor contexts.

This text has been commissioned and written uniquely for Urgent Pedagogies.



Juda, E. (2022, November 29). [Graphic] CO2 Emissions v. Vulnerability to Climate Change, by Nation | Online Public Health. GW-UMT.


Panayotou, T. (2003). Economic Growth and the Environment. In Secretariat of the Economic Commission for Europe (Ed.), Economic Survey of Europe (pp. 45–72). United Nations.


Caldeira. (1956). Mutirão: formas de ajuda mútua no meio rural. ed. Nacional.


Brasil. (2001). Lei no 10.257, de 10 de Julho de 2001.


Digital, O. (2023, February 1). Veja quais são os principais problemas sociais urbanos do Brasil. Habitat Brasil.


Maricato, E. A Produção Capitalista da Casa (e da Cidade) no Brasil Industrial (2º ed). Editora Alfa-Omega.


Silêncio, G. D. (2018, April 20). “A gente só quer um lugar pra morar” – Gritos do Silêncio – Medium. Medium.


Brasil. (1988). Constituição da República Federativa do Brasil de 1988. Art. 6.


Brasil. (1964). Lei nº 4.504, de 30 de Novembro de 1964.


(2018, May 9). A história da Vila Resistência, em Santa Maria (por Ocupação Vila Resistência). Sul 21. Retrieved January 11, 2024, from


Brasil. (2008). Lei Federal nº 11.888 de 24 de Dezembro de 2008.


Brasil. (2017). Lei Federal nº 13.465 de 11 de Julho de 2008.


Silva. (2021, July 26). No chão do território se ergue um mundo novo: mutirões de construção da Escolinha Comunitária Elena Quinteros, na Ocupação Vila Resistência (Santa Maria-RS). Teia Dos Povos. Retrieved January 11, 2024, from


Rádio Armazém; Boca Jornalismo (Host). (2019, August 20). [Audio podcast episode]. Escola Comunitária Elena Quinteros. In Spotify.

Giovanna Deltregia Martinelli

is concluding her masters studies in Urban Planning for Transition at IUAV. She received the title of Architect and Urbanist from Universidade Federal de Santa Maria, Brazil (2021), where she engaged in various social projects with marginalized communities. Through NGOs like Engineers without Borders, EMAU Perspectiva and ATHIS/REURB, she led participatory urban interventions. She gained experience in sustainable urban planning through research at GEOTPU.LAB in Portugal (2019) and deepened her theoretical foundations at UNICAMP, UFSC, and USP (2022). Professionally, she has acted mainly in neighbourhood impact studies at Braido Arquitetura (2019-2022). She is currently an intern at the non-profit agency UNLESS addressing climate change from Antarctica’s perspective.

Giovanna Deltregia Martinelli
Cookie Consent with Real Cookie Banner
About Contact