After a long day’s journey through the air, when I look out the airplane’s window I see São Paulo looming up. The image is both impressing and disturbing. Gray-white high-rises to the horizon.

By Richard van der Laken

As I fly over the city, the image remains the same: high-rises to the horizon. Quite literally, São Paulo is an urban jungle. It has grown organically and consists basically of one kind of flora only: stones and concrete. A German colleague, designer Sacha Lobe, described the city well after flying over it in a helicopter: “São Paulo has the density of Manhattan and the surface of Los Angeles.” São Paulo is the city of all cities, the giant among the urban giants.

Inevitably you will be dragged along by the dynamics of this city after staying here for a while. It happened to me too, and I became convinced that some day What Design Can Do will land here. The country has an impressive design history with starchitects like Oscar Niemeyer and Lina Bo Bardi, and a large scene of young and strong-minded creatives. The absence of any infrastructure of trade organisations, funds or institutions as we know them in the Netherlands means that the creative Paulistas have to do it all by themselves.

And they do. Take for instance Waldick Jatoba, a proselyte from the financial world who for some years now is convinced of the transformative power of design and art. Jatoba is a respected curator and initiator of art and design projects, including the Mercado, Arte, Design (MADE) fair. Last year Dutch designer Pieke Bergmans was elected Designer of the Year here.

Jatoba is very much aware of the enormous differences within Brazil and the serious deficiency in education. “If we don’t deal with that now, we will never meet the promise Brazil now holds,” he told me. The energy of people like Jatoba is felt everywhere, which left me with the impression that the power of imagination and creativity will turn things around here in the end.

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