How about landfilling the Lagoon?


How about landfilling the Lagoon?

Recently launched by Cidade Viva publishers, the book Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas – Uma discussão cententária (Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon – A hundred-year old discussion) brings together already-proposed gaudy solutions to the problem of one of Rio’s main postcards. Among them, the project to completely landfill the lagoon due to the risk represented by the space to public health, and the idea of building wind mills to pump sea water into the geographic accident.


The Lagoon is one of the prettiest places in Rio. However, its environment originally hostile to occupation inspired extravagant ideas over time – including of completely landfilling the area. This is what is revealed in the book which was launched last month. In the book, engineer and ex-president of the State Foundation of Enviromental Engineering Victor Coelho tackles the characteristics, history and studies involving the area in the Zona Sul.

The proposal to end the Lagoon is from 1905. Its author is doctor Saturnino Nicolau Cardoso. For him, the measure was justified due to the location representing a large risk to public health, due to the immense consentration of mosquitos – among other reasons. “Landfilling is easier and more economic than treating the problem, but it is definitively not a solution”, comments Victor. Another unusual project forsaw the construction of 40 wind mills with the aim of pumping sea water into the Lagoon. Suggested by Baron of Tefé in 1880, the initiative also didn’t leave the planning stage. “There was a great bother with the so-called miasmas, which are gases eminating from the Lagoon”, said Victor.

Behind the ideas that cause a strange feeling today, is the challenge represented by the natural dynamic of the Lagoon. To exist, the body of water depends on constant exchanges with the sea. They guarantee the oxygenation and other factors that interfere in the balance of the ecosystem. Without the salty water, the number of algae in the location is growing quickly. The launch of untreated sewage stimulates even more growth, which has negative consequences. The algae consume oxygen to decompose and end up creating a dead layer at the bottom of the Lagoon. When a strong wind or another phenomenon moves the water, the level of oxygen also falls on the surface, killing fish and generating the so-called fish kill. That’s why it’s important to maintain the Lagoon in contact with the ocean.

From rowing to stand up paddle

With close to 2 km squared, the Lagoon is relatively shallow. It’s deepest points only go down 4 meters. “One of them is around the Calombo curve”, reveals Victor. However, the location brings together close to 6 million cubic meters of water. Today, a population of 160,000 people live around the geographic accident. Inhabited by capybaras, egrets and monkeys, the region is one of the cariocas most preferred areas to practice sports. They go from rowing, which starts at 5:30AM, to stand up paddling. Different from beaches, the Lagoon isn’t (and never was) a place to take baths. “This happens because, when it rains, it receives water contaminated by animal feces and other remains”, explains Victor.


In the image from Fon-fon magazine in 1922, construction near the Lagoon

As one may know, the Lagoon was not landfilled. But other less drastic works were done with the aim of facilitating the occupation of its surroundings. The biggest of them dates from the start of the 1920s. Taken up by the firm Lafayette, Siqueira & C, the intervention starting in April 1921 used close to 300,000 cubic meters of stone and more than 2 million cubic meters of landfill to give life to avenue Epitácio Pessoa and a system created to guarantee the circulation of salty water in the Lagoon. Through the project of engineer Saturnino de Brito, the sea currents would enter the body of water by means of a channel on avenue Delfim Moreira, from where they would follow a path that crosses the streets General Garzon and Visconde de Albuquerque. “The idea was that the flux re-encounters the ocean in Leblon, around where Vidigal is. But it didn’t work because the system entrance is constantly clogged by sand”, says Victor.


The channel on avenue Delfim Moreira is already done. It’s all made of reinforced concrete, with powerful steel locks. Vidigal beach is also in full construction, and the respective works are well advanced (…) Thanks to these artificial communications, which man is opening up, the unhealthiness of the Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon disappears completely, whose waters, no longer being a permanent foci of diseases, will always be renewed by the ocean (Gazeta de Notícias, 07/03/1923)


Research shows that the first indigenous groupings in the Lagoa region arose in the 6th century. However, the beginning of the colonization of the area only happened in 1575, with the creation of the D’El Rei Mill in place of the current Botanical Garden. The name Rodrigo de Freitas is a tribute to the husband of Petronilha Fagundes, who married the heir of the lands in 1702. Among the illustrious visitors that the Lagoon has received, is the English scientist Charles Darwin. On June 25, 1832, he described in his diary the charm with the “waters stained purple by the last rays of the twilight.” Some decades later, in 1889, the Wool and Corcovado Fabrics Company factory settled in the surroundings of the body of water, beginning its industrialization. “The Lagoon has already concentrated a large number of laboratories, industries and favelas on its banks,” recalls Victor.

Recent times


Aerial view of the Lagoon from Leblon beach

The current configuration of space begins to emerge in the 1950s, with the closure of factories that existed in the region. In the late 1960s, Praia do Pinto, Ilha das Dragas and other favelas were removed, anticipating the boom in the next decade. In the book, Victor reveals that the construction of the buildings that exist today at the edge of the Lagoon often involved the landfill of sites without the authorization of the city hall. The result was the loss of almost half of the original area of the body of water. “In recent years, pumps and tunnels have been built that have improved water quality,” he says. In addition, the engineer highlights the creation of a control center by Cedae and the daily monitoring of temperature and other indicators by the city as positive measures.

Since the problem of the internal balance of the Lagoon has not yet been resolved, new proposals continue to emerge. One of them foresees the extension of the Garden of Alá canal to the sea, with the deepening of its outline. Another is the installation of four pipes of more than 3 meters in diameter in the same region. The two projects have an objective in common: to inject salt water into the body of water. “Today, investments in this are stagnant. We have to wait for better times for new experiences,” says Victor. Without doing away with the Lagoon, any solution is valid so that Rio has an even more beautiful postcard in the future. – Source (PT)

(One year ago, I was researching the entire past of the Lagoon for a longform article I hoped to have published in a big newspaper, but I only ended up with lots of research and several paragraphs before something more pressing took priority. I look forward to reading this book.)

Comical Inflation – 1952


A shipwrecked person – I don’t understand how you immediately got used to this life!

The other person – It’s cause I came from Rio. There we didn’t have meat, butter, electricity and water, and we were also surrounded by sharks…


The Avalanche

– If he continues digging for HIGH SALARIES, the whole thing will come down!

(the other rocks are high prices, higher taxes and inflation)


– Mister, there’s a Barnabé over there who also wants a raise!

Getúlio – I already raised (prices on) meat, milk, bread, the bus, boats, trams, sugar, butter, coffee and this guy talks to me about a raise?


The Elevator

The attendent – Who wants to go up?

(from left to right – people representing meat, bread, buter and sugar)


In the country of contraband

– They increased the price of a sack of oranges!

– In compensation there’s an abundance of citrus preserves…

(Marmelada is slang for crooked deals)



– Everything is going up! And Getúlio?

– He’s going up too. He’s going to spend the summer in Petrópolis…

Rio Moderno – 1930


“Rio of the 1930s is a city of constant surprises. Its vertiginous progress challenges the most ample perspectives and the most fertile imaginations. We don’t speak anymore of its incomparable natural beauty […] One unique aspect of this progress would suffice to define it: the rapid evolution of our services of telephonic inter-communication. The process of the telephone with an intermediary (switchboard operators) will become inefficient to our needs: thus the installation of the automatic telephone which the Brazilian Telephonic Company is endowing, progressively, every zone of the city. Our images show panoramic aspects of the elegant neighborhoods of Copacabana, Ipanema, Leblon and Gávea where it will be inaugurated, in the days to come, the 7th station of these telephones.”

First, I doubt “every zone of the city” included the Zona Norte. Second, it’s amazing to consider how populated the Zona Sul was in May 1930 when there would have been residents living there who could easily remember the area being practically untouched, a few decades prior.


I’ll leave some jokes of the era, about the automatic phone, from January 1930


The church where sages dreamed of a modern Brazil


Neighbors from surrounding apartment buildings toss empty beer bottles through a gaping hole in the roof of the once-majestic church. Pigeons roam the cavernous nave, their excrement piling up on the floor. A watchman guards treasures from the thieves who prey on the city’s derelict buildings.

The neoclassical Positivist Church of Brazil, with its soaring columns and a cryptic sign above its entrance proclaiming, “The Living Are Forever and Increasingly Governed by the Dead,” was long a captivating sight on Benjamin Constant Street near the old city center.

These days, the crumbling, graffiti-tagged church, whose freethinking founders helped modern Brazil rise from the ashes of an empire, is just another emblem of how Rio de Janeiro neglects its past, allowing grandeur to fall into ruin.

“Congregants once gathered here to debate incendiary ideas originating in Paris, the holy city for the positivists,” said Christiane Souza, 48, the church’s heritage director. “Tragically, our institution now finds itself in a state of neglect, as if history is something Brazil should disdain.”

Read the rest at NYT

Rio Panorama – 1922


There’s a cool panorama in the December 9, 1922 edition of Revista da Semana, showing all the important aspects of Rio de Janeiro at the time. The viewpoint is the tower of the Meteorological Observatory (old Calabouço fort).

Each photo here can be enlarged with a click, including the two page spread as a whole, at the bottom. Additionally, I’ll add another panorama of sorts, this time of Rio’s mountain range from a February 23, 1924 edition of the magazine.




City Panorama – 1922

The circular panorama of Rio de Janeiro, which we’ll reproduce on these pages, is the most important photographic work of its kind up to now, registered in Brazil’s illustrated press and which the editor of photographs of Revista da Semana obtained from the upper platform of Calabouço’s large tower, spinning the camera around the highest building of the city. Our prints, systematically prepared, reproduce the entire panorama of Rio de Janeiro, with the following noted:

1. The old monastery of São Bento. 2. Cobras island, with the metallic naval bridge highlighted among the two numbers. 3. Partial aspect of the Mercado. 4. The Statistics pavilion of the Commemorative Exposition of Independence. 5. The graceful Hunting and Fishing pavilion, distinguished by the Dom João VI galleon in the small bay. 6. The Fiscal island, where one finds the Naval Museum. 7 – 8. The Brazilian battleships Minas Geraes and São Paulo. 9. The tip of Armação, in Niterói. 10. The northern extremity of the shot rock from the landfill at the tip of Calabouço, which projects itself over the sea coupled by the extremely vast area. 11. View of Niterói. 12. Boa Viagem island. 13 – 14. Pico and Santa Cruz forts. 15. Villegaignon island. 16. The shot rock from the landfill of Santa Luzia beach. 17. The extensive conquered area of the sea, with the land taken from Castelo hill. 18. The Exposition’s picturesque restaurant. 19. The Cervejaria Antartica pavillion. 20 – 21. The Lage and São João forts. 22 – 23. Sugarloaf and Urca hill, connected by the famous aerial path.

24. Glória’s beautiful knoll, distinguished by the grand building of the Glória Hotel on the oriental flank. 25. Part of the Exposition’s compound, where, from left to right, the Brahma, Hanseatica and General Electric breweries can be found. 26. Partial aspect of the Amusement Park. 27. The facade of the Amusement Park, a project and construction of professor Sr. Morales de los Rios. 28. Gávea hill. 29. Corcovado, in whose summit the Christ the Redeemer monument is being built. 30. General view of Santa Teresa. 31 – 32. Tijuca and Papagaio Peak. 33. The heavy dome of the Palácio das Festas. 34. The Santa Casa da Misericórdia. 35. The Monroe pavilion, where one can find the offices of the Commemorative Exposition. 36. The back part of the National Library. 37. Castelo hill’s western subdivision. 39. The Palácio dos Estados, seeing the back part of the tower of jewels. 40. The main door and the facade of the Mercado, adapted for the Exposition’s installations. 41. The only tower of the Cathedral and the two colonial towers of the Carmo Church. 42. The towers of the Candelaria church, where one finds the Meteorological Observatory and which served as an axis point for this wide panorama.

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Geological Panorama – 1924



From left to right: Ponte de Guaratiba, Pico da Cabeça de Boi, Ilhas Cagarras, Gávea, Morro dos Dois Irmãos, Pico de Papagaio, Tijuca, (Can’t read it), Corcovado, Morro dos Cabritos, (Can’t read it), Ponta de Copacabana, Avenida Atlântica, Copacabana Palace, Babilônia, Morro do Leme, Pão de Açúcar.

Obviously, there are a lot more than what is listed. For anyone interested in a great documentary series on the geography of Rio (season 1) and Brazil (season 2), look for Sobre Rochas (the latter season can be found on Daily Motion).