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The stigmatization of mental illness is a practice that dates back to the end of the eighteenth century when it began to be perceived as a disease that could be studied and treated. Asylums are used throughout the world as spaces of social control, preventing inmates from coming into contact with and being seen by society. Invisibility was the main purpose of these spaces. The São Pedro Psychiatric Hospital was the first psychiatric treatment institution in the Southern Brazil and remains the largest in the region. Since psychiatric reform, the site has been subject to a continuous process of disuse and abandonment.

Financial and political difficulties coupled with a lack of infrastructure and accessibility on the site make the recovery of the complex, which is of great historical, cultural and financial interest, extremely difficult. This work proposes the integration of the hospital with the city and society on two scales: urban and architectural.

At the urban scale, it proposes the redevelopment of the area through the expansion of the existing road network towards the hospital. At the architectural scale, the hospital becomes a multifunctional complex through the creation of a Center of Coexistence and Culture, cultural facilities and workspaces for private enterprise. History and architecture are converted into tools for the deconstruction of stigmas, resignification of spaces and social integration.


The São Pedro Psychiatric Hospital is located at an important city node of Porto Alegre. The site is bordered by important streets and avenues that connect the whole city in east–west and north-south orientations. Despite the area’s easy accessibility, São Pedro’s site does not share the same level of integration due to the block’s monumental dimensions and lack of permeability. The hospital complex acts as an island within the city.  The complex consists of 41 buildings, five of which are listed as historically important and in need of a restoration process. The rest of the complex has no historical relevance because of its disorganized and unplanned construction. 

The vast majority of the buildings are abandoned and some are even unfinished. In order to allow the expansion and entrance of the existing urban tissue onto the hospital’s site, the remaining 38 buildings are removed. The void that is created allows existing streets to be extended and  connected. The new urban tissue that arises reduces the dimensions of the block by half and increases its permeability. Two neighboring areas of public interest are preserved and also connected to the city, enabling its future urbanization. The historical facades that once were hidden from the city’s inhabitants can now be seen. Bridges are built into the island; the hospital becomes part of the city.


São Pedro is an unfinished project; only half of the original plan was realized. The original project was drawn following the Panopticon architectural typology; surveillance, control and isolation can be seen through its construction and site location. Architecture is not merely functional; it reflects a system of values and beliefs. A break with the existing architecture is necessary in order to change these values.  An axis is established, marking the void left by the removal of the original main entrance. A series of porticos conducts the public through the new access.

The panopticon logic is reversed: the entrance that once led to an enclosed building that was a dead end for the great majority of patients now leads to a free and open space. A mixed-use approach is sought to ensure not only the economic viability of the project but the liveliness of the area. The hospital becomes the setting of a Center of Coexistence and Culture, a Cultural Center, and an office building.  An architecture is created in contrast to the framework of exclusion and invisibility. Lightness, openness, permeability and integration are its new values.

January | 2018

Porto Alegre, RS - Brazil

Carol Vasques

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