/ Oil Endpires


1. Company Town Share
2. Delta City
3. Detoxicity
4. Educational Estuary
5. Transitory City


Phase I of The Petropolis of Tomorrow (Conducted at Rice University, Spring 2012) project examined how these newest findings in the Santos Basin are challenging the notion of land-based urbanism associated with oil production. Several offshore cities are emerging off the coast of Brazil to harvest oil, primarily in response to greater distances — existing out of the feasible logistical range of helicopter transport — of newer discoveries. These ‘floating frontier towns’ (often termed Floating Production Storage & Offloading vessels, or FPSO)2 are hundreds of kilometers offshore, floating approximately a mile over the sea floor. New ‘island hubs’ are being investigated to bridge distances and allow for efficient movement of people as well as storage of materials. These hubs would allow workers to be transported by boat to land, and connected to various rigs via helicopters.

Yet, simultaneously, the oil industry equips these distant frontiers from the coast, producing a new type of company town in service of distant resources. We could call these towns Parasitic Petropolises. Land-based urbanism for refining, processing, supply, and distribution has created a series of logistical nodes along the Brazilian coast. Macaé, located 180 kilometers northeast of Rio de Janeiro along the coast, serves as a major land-based control center for the offshore petroleum industry. Referred to as Cidade do Petroleo (City of Petroleum), Macaé could be termed a Petropolis, or a city developed from the logistics of resource extraction. ‘Booming’ growth, a characteristic of most Petropolises, is easily witnessed in Macaé, which boasts a six hundred percent growth rate over the past ten years. In the last decades, more than four thousand companies have established offices in Macaé. This “black gold” rush accounts for 85% of the oil and 47% of the natural gas output in Brazil.3 While once a quiet fishing village, Macaé now features a city gate in the form of an oil drill several hundred feet tall — a monument to their new prosperity. Macaé is an exaggerated microcosm of the social and economic imbalances in Brazil, essentially creating two cities. While on one hand, many reports claim Macaé to be one of the best cities to live in Brazil, other reports speak to various socio-economic issues. These issues — also referred to as the “oil curse” — include the growth of violent slums, injured workers (with little to no compensation) and increasing widows, and a loss of lifestyle for local fisherman.

Macaé is not a traditional company town, wherein a single company organized the planning, architecture, and services for both the industry and workers. Instead Macaé is a city that has attracted several businesses of a like-type without the onus on individual companies to provide basic infrastructures to employees. Despite agreements that create provisions for the community through four percent of the oil profits, citizens are weary that any money is trickling through the system. With a lack of jobs, several youth are joining gangs within the city.4 “There are two cities here,” remarks Danilo Funke, president of the Commission for Human Rights in Macaé. “On one side there’s a very rich city with a good quality of life. On the other side you have total poverty. It’s all driven by oil. If the money from the royalties of the oil was used well it would be a blessing… There’s a saying in town. The last man hanged in Brazil was in Macaé 100 years ago. He said that the city would be cursed from then on.”5  Beyond the social and economic issues in Macaé, there has also been a lack of public infrastructural investment. For instance, Nova Holanda, a neighborhood in Macaé only has one standpipe, forcing makeshift water systems.6 Other infrastructural projects that are urgently required include the duplication of the highway Macaé-Rio das Ostras, including the stretch that runs through downtown Macaé, extension of water pipeline network and sewage from the city to provide infrastructure for the population, companies and investors, the construction of the port of Sao Joao da Barra, with implementation of rail transport of oil and ore, and the completion of Light Rail Vehicle (VLT), which will allow faster transportation of workers and people at the Macaé region.7 The public investment in infrastructure has been slow, and typically receives more attention when it serves the oil industry.

The story of Macaé is not atypical for new Petropolises. In fact, we could use history to project Macaé’s fate — its boom will likely be followed by a “bust” cycle in association with dwindling oil supplies. This new model of “companies in a town” rather than “company town” questions the models for urbanism related to resource extraction.


The Encyclopedia of Social Sciences’ defines the company town as “a community inhabited chiefly by the employees of a single company or group of companies which also owns a substantial part of the real estate and houses.” During the industrial revolution and the organization of capitalist production, the company town was critical to the growth of the economy. This was largely due to the fact that resources were located far from urban centers, requiring companies to provide amenities (including housing, libraries, schools, etc.) to attract skilled labor. There are three identified periods in the development of company towns in America: from 1800-1873 wherein capitalist organization of production of capitalism coincided with new models of company towns such as Lowell, Massachusetts; the second era -from 1873 to WWI – started with the founding of Pullman, IL (1883) marked by heavy paternalism; and the third period from WWI to the mid-1960s witnessed the “new” company town during Fordism.1

The early company towns were marked by paternalism, wherein individual companies provided amenities to the city as a ‘moral responsibility’ as well as a solution to labor unrest to prevent unionization. Criticism of the paternalism-model included the discouragement of growth and independence, instead requiring continual subservience, loyalty and appreciation to the company.2  The amount of control and benevolence varied from town to town, at the discretion of the individual capitalist. For instance, Pullman (IL), a company town outside Chicago conceived of by George Pullman was emblematic of a highly controlled paternalism – with imposed curfews, banning of liquor and tobacco, and no allowance for ownership of housing. The Pullman strikes of 1894 revealed not only the power of an emergent laboring class, but also offered lessons on how to balance paternalism and employment in company towns. Key to this was how to provide venues of ownership and democratic participation within a privatized model. A new generation of company towns appeared across the United States in the next three decades, which employed designers with specialized knowledge. Architects, landscape architects, and city planners were instrumental in translating new concepts of industrial relations and social welfare into new physical forms.3

For design professionals, the company town offered an ideal challenge to both clearly define the territory of the individual design disciplines as well as test new forms of urban organizations free of consensus-based design decisions. This allowed architects, while working for industrialists, to implement a larger vision of social harmony.4  Clients heavily favored the professional expertise of designers in the 1920s to appease labor problems while attracting skilled workers and avoiding unionization. In a multidisciplinary fashion, architects, planners and landscape architects worked together to produce a series of comprehensively designed company towns.

In 1930, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated that more than two million people were living in company towns. After the Depression, company towns gradually disappeared from the American Landscape due to changes in labor laws.5  Employers began to replace housing and welfare activities with more direct benefits: pension plans, personnel departments, unions, etc.6

In the South American context, one of the most famous (for the wrong reasons) company towns is Fordlandia, conceived of by Henry Ford. Fordlandia was a company town dedicated to rubber manufacturing in the Amazon. Ford established an entire city with full amenities for the 10,000 residents. The downfall of Fordlandia, however, was a lack of knowledge in the local context. This manifested in how the site was addressed; without outside opinions from botanists or geologists, the rubber trees never flourished as planned. Further, as a social experiment, Ford imposed American-style houses and ideals that produced a cultural shock to the native workers. Fordlandia eventually closed in 1945 at a loss. The lessons to be learnt from Fordlandia include the importance of the local landscape (tied to the geography of extraction) and social context. Because the company town attempts to reconcile territorial geography with a local social context, while still providing a particular replicable model, it needs to form complex relationships at various scales.

While company towns are often criticized for their visions of social control, they also provided comprehensive visions of urbanism that merged production with social stability. The Urbanism Committee, set up by the National Resource Planning Board during the New Deal, conducted an exhaustive survey of 144 planned towns, garden suburbs, and company towns. The largest percentage (53.3 percent) of the towns the committee examined was industrial company towns. Using questionnaires, interviews, and site visits; the committee analyzed the physical, social, and economic development of the towns as well as conducting post-occupancy evaluations. The authors concluded that the planned company towns they had studied, in spite of the social and economic restrictions imposed by their industrial sponsors, were successful communities.7  One of the primary reasons for this was a model of urban development on the scale of a micro-city with a single client and vision that allowed for comprehensive design and planning in a multidisciplinary fashion. Further, whether considered paternalism or acts of benevolence, the company town provided and upheld infrastructure for the residents and stabilized amenities across the working class. When comparing this model to cities such as Macaé, the basic criticism against the company town has to be waged against its benefits and more importantly the socio-economic issues emerging in Macaé. In light of a current model of cities saturated with a particular industry that puts little onus on the industry to provide social and physical infrastructure, this studio asks what a private company town could be today. In particular, we will be concerned with:

— How a company town can use its singular design vision while allowing for difference, diversity and openness?
— What urban organizations are conducive to a symbiosis between industry and a robust public realm?
— How can comprehensive planning and design create new relationships between economics, politics, resource extraction and social organizations that would not be possible in consensus based environments?
— How can company towns find a balance between control and choice?
— How can company towns stimulate other economies once resources of the initial industry are extracted?


Company towns often follow a ‘boom-bust’ cycle once resources are exhausted. Their remains are often either abandon or serve as a framework1  for an emergent city that has diversified its economy during the tenure of resource extraction. With the knowledge that these parasitic Petropolises will exhaust their resource dependency in twenty to thirty years, this studio asks how the post-oil city or, ‘oil endpire’ should be conceived. Specifically we will examine an emerging Petropolis — The Barra do Furo Port — and investigate how this city should be designed to account for a symbiosis between politics, economies, ecologies and the post-oil globe. The Campos Basin, a major offshore oil territory, has witnessed a major logistical bottleneck, making the port in service of offshore oil a critical element in the logistical operation. More than a port, this complex is destined to become a Petropolis that is parasitic to offshore drilling and attract thousands of workers.

Most cities in history owe their development to their strategic geographic location and the development of mobility infrastructure. Cities such as Rotterdam, Amsterdam, Genoa, Shanghai, and Boston, flourished as their ports allowed them to become critical nodes along transport networks, and provided a distribution system for goods produced in their hinterland.  In this sense, ports have always acted as gateways for the transmission of people, resources and culture. Ports mark the unique transition between network and node; between urban and periphery; between sea and land; between formalized law and informal process, and between production and consumption.  While seemingly invisible due to their liminal siting, ports have grown into vast landscapes linked to transport hubs and storage warehouses.  Fueled by an advanced age of capitalism, these ports have become efficient urban machines – processing goods and information with great precision and scale. The spatial order driven by the global space of logistics creates a political and social space embedded in global networks yet sited in distinct local geographies. Perhaps driven by the capitalist dream of ever increasing supply and demand, it is the utter mono-programmatic nature of these port complexes that has rendered them susceptible to an instable world economy.  Beyond programmatic homogeneity, megaports are consuming increasing amounts of land and altering ecologies.

Located between the cities of Quissama and Campos, the Complexo Logístico e Industrial Farol-Barra do Furado is a mega-port being developed by Odebrecht, OAS, and Queiroz Galvao. The complex is being formed for shipbuilding and the transport of oil and gases. Located in a logistically opportune node – between the Campos oil basin (75km), Macaé (70km), and the Açu Complex (25km) — this complex will become one of the major logistical hubs for the offshore Brazilian oil industry. A combination of public and private funds is anticipated to create up to 5000 direct jobs and another 5000 indirect jobs, while the construction of the complex alone will require 2000 workers.

The Barra do Furado port complex is part of a new model of Brazilian ports known as “land lord ports” that are not directly located adjacent to an existing city. As such, these ports become the nodal framework for future urbanization but also often neglect their local geography and culture. The Port Modernization Law (Law 8630/1993) in Brazil expanded the possibility to have private-use ports in Brazil that are administered by private corporations. Currently the Brazilian Port system is composed of 37 public ports and 45 terminals for private use.2 Designed for handling and storing goods related to a single company, private ports can be either exclusive use terminals (self-handling cargo); or private terminals which can also move cargo from other companies (this is the case for the Barra do Furado complex). As such, the complex is framed as a critical node within larger international networks; as stated by the local Mayor,  “Ninety percent of the port activity is focused on international trade. Brazil is living a very important development and, increasingly, reaching one step higher in the ranking of the world economy.”3 Simultaneously, however, the area has geological issues due to erosion as well as local ecologies and economies related to fishing. We will take on the design of this company town to account for both its current role as a node in a complex network of oil as well as its post-oil future (beyond the boom). The mixed-use port will be administered by private interests, allowing the studio to formulate models for the new company town for today and tomorrow. Students should consider:

— Reconfiguring the logistics of offshore port operation
— Introduce new (public) program/ participation into the port
— Examine how port infrastructure can be productive to the ecological environment of water/ land
— Introduce the notion of a ‘port city’ into the idea of a ‘city’.
— A model of company town that accounts for the post-oil globe.

Work on the port started in January 2012, with an estimated completion date in 2014 in anticipation of growing exploration in the Campos Basin.


1. Parasitic Petropolis
1 Associated Press “Petrobras raises $70bn in world’s largest share offer”, The Guardian (September 24, 2010), http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2010/sep/24/petrobras-70bn-worlds-largest-share-offer
2 These floating cities utilized new technology that is being developed in research centers such as CENPES, allowing the separation of water, gas and water at the seabed to automate the extraction process. While this in hopes to eliminate production platforms, they still require large amounts of people instigating the design of a new form of water urbanism.
3 Sarah Coursey, “Macaé, Oil Rush Boomtown”, The Rio Times (SSeptember 29, 2011), http://riotimesonline.com/brazil-news/front-page/macae-oil-rush-boomtown/#
4 Jonathan Green, “Gangs, violence, drugs and the promise of untold riches… Britain’s latest offshore Investment: The Brazilian oil boom”, MailOnline (November 13, 2010), http://www.dailymail.co.uk/home/moslive/article-1328470/Britains-latest-offshore-investment-The-Brazilian-oil-boom.html
5 Ibid.
6 Mauricio Savarese, Reuters (March 28, 2008), http://www.canada.com/story_print.html?id=195f461d-47f5-4cdf-888f-99c331edcc09&sponsor=
7 The Locals of Brazil (April 22, 2011), http://www.thelocal.com.br/economic-information/macae-the-oil-city-2/

ReForming the Company Town
1 Margaret Crawford, Building the Workingman’s Paradise: The Design of American Company Towns, (New York: Verso, 1995), 6.
2 Richard Sennett, Authority (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1980), 57-59.
3 Margaret Crawford, Building the Workingman’s Paradise: The Design of American Company Towns, (New York: Verso, 1995), 45.
4 Ibid., 64
5 Ibid., 2.
6 Ibid., 201.
7 Ibid., 204.

Oil Endpires
1 Felipe Correa, “Afterlife Strategies: The Other Post-Oil City” in Volume Magazine (Issue 29, 2011) Rania Ghosn (ed), New Geographies: Landscapes of Energy (Issue 02, Harvard Press, 2009)
2 Rejane Cristina De Araujo Rodrigues and Linovaldo Miranda Lemos, “New territorial dynamics in the Brazilian port system: Logistics networks and local development in Açu and Barra do Furado port complexes”, L’Espace Politique (January 16, 2012), http://espacepolitique.revues.org/index2301.html
3 Campos Farol, Porto Farol-Barra do Furado (February 28, 2012),http://www.camposfarol.com.br/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=46:complexo-farol-barra-do-furado&catid=43:complexo-farol-barra-do-furado&Itemid=61