Place of Speech

Originally published in Disegno #26 Spring 2020 and online at

“In contrast to the early-20th century skyscrapers of downtown São Paulo, or the gated high-rise apartment buildings of the city’s newer suburbs, Bom Retiro is a squat neighbourhood.

Its shortness should not, however, be mistaken for insignificance. The low- lying district falls in the geographical centre of the megalopolis, just north of Luz station, and owes its morphology to an industrial history that was vital to the development of São Paulo. Old warehouses speak to the role that coffee played in the city’s late-19th century economic boom, while the garment industry that dominated in the 20th century continues to thrive: whole blocks are devoted to stores selling beads, fringing and fabric.

Amidst these markers of industry are symbols of the industrious – those immigrants who alighted at Luz station from the 1880s onwards to profit from the growing coffee market and have populated Bom Retiro ever since. Today, the neighbourhood is home to tens of thousands of Koreans, as well as new waves of Bolivians and Paraguayans, and has housed significant populations of Greeks, Lebanese, Syrians, Italians and eastern European Jews. It is this latter group whose influence, at least on the area’s architecture and design, remains most visible. Along ruas Talmud Thorá and Lubavitch, and their adjacent streets, are synagogues, kosher restaurants and the Casa do Povo…”

Originally published in Disegno #26 Spring 2020 and online at

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