CEUs (Centros Educativos Unificados)

CEU Heliopolis (some of the older public housing can be seen in the background)

CEU Paraisopolis

CEU-Paraisopolis, view from the interior

Marta Suplici, the previous prefeita of Sao Paulo, belonging to the PT political party (from 2000 to 2004) began with the proposal for the CEUs. The idea behind the CEUs was to conform an educational and cultural network for the city, creating “Escuela Parques”- school parks- containing schools, community centers, theaters, sports facilities in a same contained area, and strategically deploying them in the poorer neighborhoods in the city (sounds familiar? I too thought of Medellin’s Library Park immediately). The initial plan projected 45 CEUs total. In reality, under the PT, there were 21 CEUS constructed. The EDIF was created as a specific department in the Prefeitura of SP in charge of these projects. When the social democrats took control,  the program funding was discontinued and the EDIF was dissolved; nevertheless, because of the demand, the physical installations continued to be constructed in a smaller scale. 24 CEUs were constructed in this “second phase”.

It is important to note that the CEU is one of the only programs that has been “intersecrecretariat”- joining the different secretariat of education, health, planning, etc. Although, I didn’t get the opportunity to visit too many of the structures, most of the CEUs look and are designed relatively the same way.

Today, the maintenance of CEUs seems to be somewhat problematic since they are large facilities (there are no commercial spaces integrated into the design, or any other spaces- apart from the theater if they were to rent it out- that allows these interventions to become self-sustaining). In addition, from the couple that I visited, there seems to be a disconnection between the original intentions and plans of forming not only a larger networks of CEUs, strategically deployed in the city, but also a local network connecting to other local institutional, commercial, cultural and public nodes already existing in the community. With this original intention, a clear strategy for transportation, path and roadways, health, public parks would have been executed. Contrary to this, the result was a very punctual intervention, most of the time located in the border of an informal settlement, fenced in and controlled. As such, the CEU remains disconnected from the existing logic of the settlement, and the liberties and empowerment that is originally intended, are not encouraged but suppressed.


As mentioned before, the mutiroes are self-help housing projects, based on Uruguayan and Portuguese housing programs. The prefeitura donates the land, and professionals (architects, engineers, etc.) form technical associations (similar to an NGO)- called “assessorias”- to help the conception, design and execution process. USINA and BAPERU are a couple of the assessorias that remain today- I believe that there are only 3 or 4 assessorias which continue to function independently from the government since the program was abandoned by the prefeitura. It is an extremely participatory process where the population in question, gets a vote in the location, material selections, design necessities, etc. of the project.

The housing is paid through the work of the inhabitants (in the construction phase), in addition to a subsidy a long-term finance plan.

I will not discuss the Mutiroes any further, but wanted to give you a point of comparison with the current housing policies taking place in SP.


Following are some images of the public housing projects being constructed in the largest favela in Sao Paulo, Heliopolis. Currently, the majority of the projects in this favela consist of waterways recuperations and canalization, as well as housing projects. During our visit with the Prefeitura, we were able to visit three housing projects under construction. I must say, that in comparison to the social housing seen in Medellín, the level of construction and designs are, in my opinion, better and more diverse.

Diagram of Heliopolis showing the location of the public housing project (as well as the path taken to visit them)

Public Housing Project 1

Public Housing Project 2 ( inspired by the water treatment plant lacated next to the housing site)

Public Housing Project 3 ( prefab structure)


  1. Hey Adri, Hope you’re doing well. Sorry haven’t written for a while.

    These various housing projects in the pictures above, seem extremely interesting and are visibly different strategies being employed and I was wondering what maybe some of the reasons of this may be?
    Are they just driven by the whims of the developer or designer or are there other more nuanced realities on site that drive these “formal” imaginations of housing in the city?
    For example, the SuBdiv project in Paraisopolis, takes on this very “new urban” imagination that confirms to an imagination of the “facade” that needs to be created for the stadium.
    Hence what are some of the lesser “spectacular” but more ordinary economic or political drivers that guide/ conduct design strategies?

    sorry about the length of my “comment” (its more like an essay!) but I hope its constructive.

    • Hi Luby- thanks for the comment. It seems as though the majority of the projects taking place in Sao Paulo consist of public housing projects- based on their plan: Habitation plan for the 2024 (Plano Municipal de Habitaçao 2024, or PMH). The way it works (and this is from what I was able to understand with respect to the developments in Heliopolis), there are 4 to 6 contractors/construction companies doing the developments- these contractors are grouped in consortiums- having basically 2 companies per project. As far as the designs go, the architects are either part of the contractor/constructing companies or they are selected by the community (not sure when the latter happens but I know that the “circular” project is designed by Ruiy Othake- an apparently famous architect in Sao Paulo- chosen by one of the “communities” (residents living in a concrete area of the informal settlement) in Heliopolis). That said, I honestly think that, since the majority of the projects are based on housing, they are trying to experiment on different construction methods, materials and aesthetic results. These projects seems much more complete, solid and complex than Colombian public housing for example… Neverthless, I am not sure if the different projects themselves are conforming an integrated housing plan for the city. This is where we need to stop looking at housing as a product and truly understand it as a process- in that sense, mobility, public space and other infrastructure projects, mix use programs and possibilities, amongst many other factors- should be included in the design of a “housing strategy”- something that I really don’t yet see happening here… On the other hand, these projects area at least being located in the proximity or perimeter of the favela- which I think is important to maintain some of the social networks existing, etc…
      The funny thing is that these projects seem to mostly be located in the perimeter of the favela- giving a new front or face to informal settlement with respect to the surrounding “formal” city.

  2. Excellent article. Thanks for putting this up. Do you have any information on the construction methods for this? I read somewhere that they’re successful in keeping costs down because it was pre-fab construction. Do you have any information about this?

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