Luanda is an architectural disaster, Interview with Engº Resende de Oliveira

The rupture between the city and the periphery led to the occupation of inappropriate places and in a disorderly manner, which created great difficulties for those who have the responsibility of managing the capital. Who says it is the engineer Manuel Resende de Oliveira, minister of Urbanism, Public Works and Housing, in the first independent Government of Angola.

Engineer Resende de Oliveira highlights some of the main urbanization problems in the capital
Photography: Agostinho Narciso | Edições Novembro


At 82 years old, he reveals himself to be an authority to talk about works in the country, especially in the capital, which he considers an “almost ungovernable” place.
He welcomes, however, the Luanda Metropolitan Master Plan, which he says is a “very valuable instrument”. Interview with the man who arrived in Angola in 1963 and directed the construction of 36 bridges.

What would be the way out, for the planning of the city and to give a better quality of life to its inhabitants?

For Luanda to be ordained, there would have to be a lot of people leaving here, to go live in other places, where they would have better living conditions. Never a compulsive exit, but voluntary, as it is possible to live better in places other than Luanda. I even say that today Luanda is the worst place to live in Angola. It is true that the war was an extremely negative factor, but it does not explain everything. I think that the war and oil were the great evils that Angola had. In relation to the war, there is no need to explain, because it is an undeniable truth. But in relation to oil no longer. Everyone, especially the ruling class, relied on oil to design programs, forgetting everything else: agriculture, fisheries, manufacturing, extractive industries, in short, everything that made Angola a country with an important role in across southern Africa or even across the continent, for its immense potential.

Specifically, how do you describe the various types of construction in the city, especially those that have emerged in recent times?
As far as architecture is concerned, Luanda became a disaster, not only because of the size of the buildings, which didn’t make any kind of dent to me, if the road infrastructure and everything else (basic sanitation, energy and water supply ) had corresponded to the same growth that had the buildings upwards. This was not taken care of. Where there were houses, buildings of 15 to 20 floors appeared; there is no parking space; the communication routes themselves are not sufficient for the traffic that this develops and therefore all this has resulted in a very difficult situation.

What impression do you get when you look at the buildings that appear almost like mushrooms, in different neighborhoods of Luanda?

On the periphery, I don’t think we’re building anything; the centralities themselves are a disaster. I don’t know who had the idea of ​​making centralities, because, effectively, centrality doesn’t work: there is no occupation, the absence of services is notorious, in short, a life that allows those who live there to have a job. This implies moving people to places of employment, which continues to be in “Old Luanda”. We see the chaos that traffic has become for people who live in centralities; people leaving Talatona, Kilamba, Sequele and other places, to take, for example, their child to school, go to the bank or look for other services in the different ministerial departments. A confusion that should be avoided with better planning and better thought work.

Are you definitely saying that centralities do not work in their various dimensions?

Now, what was intended with the construction of centralities? Create housing, housing for people and for what kind of people? Was it that or more than that? Was it thought that the centralities were to solve social housing? There is no social housing on a tenth floor, because the costs of living in a building of 15, 20 or more floors, where the elevators do not work, the water supply, pumping, condominium costs and all this is not thinkable that a centrality can be a place for social housing. Definitely, the centralities are not intended to solve the problems of social housing, they do not have the characteristics to do so. That’s why I don’t dare to idealize Luanda, because, in the state in which it is, a lot will have to be done to make a Luanda, a city of the future, manageable, where there is quality of life, where people enjoy to live. Today, Luanda has none of that. It is so deformed that, to straighten it out, honestly, I think there had to be extremely traumatic operations here and that would cause other kinds of problems, which I don’t know if it was feasible or not to think about it.

Does the engineer know the Luanda Metropolitan Master Plan? Isn’t that the way out of the problems of a mega-city like the Angolan capital?
The Metropolitan Master Plan is, in fact, a very valuable instrument. I’m not saying it’s perfect and I wouldn’t expect it to be either. But it is, in effect, a way of ordering the city. In an area with the extension that Luanda has (and we are talking practically from Barra do Dande to Barra do Kwanza), with the lack of statistical data, lack of technical elements, preparing a perfect master plan or close to perfection was a utopia. This Master Plan has a lot of merit, but it is not perfect and, naturally, like all things, it will have amendments as it develops. It does not address very serious issues such as sanitation in a correct way. For example, concentrating all the sanitation of domestic sewage, in this entire metropolitan area, in two wastewater treatment plants is not a good option for the functionality of the city. To think that all the sewage here will go to Cacuaco and be treated there is not right. Just to send it to Cacuaco, how many lift stations are we going to need? Having a center in Cacuaco and another in Ramiros I think is nonsense.

But is sanitation the main problem for the administration of a city the size of Luanda?
In fact, deficiencies in basic sanitation are a crucial problem in Luanda, not only for the sanitation itself of domestic water, but also for rainwater. Just see what happens when there are heavier rains; see how some neighborhoods of the city are, such as Sambizanga, Rangel, Marçal and many others. Seeing people living with water up to their waists. It is, in fact, difficult, even painful…

In addition to the shortcomings that you point out, what are the other ways to improve quality of life for the inhabitants of the capital city? Are you adept, shall we say, in demolitions?
But this is inevitable. There have to be demolitions, unfortunately. There are constructions in peripheral neighborhoods, where populations used land that was apparently available. But these are water lines that have to be respected, because by covering them with constructions, we are creating problems and not solving anyone’s problems. Not only these constructions, but others that are necessary to clean these water lines and create drainage points, respect nature, which had its working water lines. They were there because they were needed for rainwater drainage. We have four to five story reinforced concrete buildings on top of a waterline and it makes no sense. You have to go down.

But has there been supervision…?
This has nothing to do with supervision, but with authority. That’s right: lack of authority and planning. Either that is a clandestine construction – and the inspection should act – or it is an authorized construction – who authorizes are the departments, which should have denied. It was made much easier; there is influence peddling; there are many interests that sometimes enter into the decision of entities with the power to do so and this leads to authentic aberrations. Even in the body of the city, the so-called lower city, there are buildings that are clearly blocking the development of the city, namely, the opening of roads. These are buildings that were just born, were built recently and should never have been, without first solving the problem of the road network, since, without roads, there is no circulation, there is no mobility, there are no technical networks of sewers and other services. . These buildings came to create more difficulties, but the truth is that they appeared and authorized. An example: What is happening on the slopes of the Fortress of S. Miguel is a crime for the city. It is a crime to have destroyed the Kinaxixi market, to have transformed that square, only to have that set of unfinished buildings appear and I don’t know if they will ever end up correctly. That is of no use to the city. The only use it would have was in the construction and speculation boom, to further enrich its promoters. There was all this and people dreamed that because there was oil and financial resources and it was easy to get money from the bank, they could work on real estate speculation. And the result is this: how many buildings are made and uninhabited? This real estate speculation did not cease to exist.

What is the explanation, strictly speaking, for the existence of such a high number of uninhabited buildings, even in noble areas, such as Talatona, for example?
Not only in Talatona, right here in the city, whoever goes up the road there, there are practically unoccupied buildings. Incidentally, they were never busy, because the promoters were caught up in this crisis. From the point of view of the interests of those who thought of doing real estate speculation, this is terrible, perfectly negative and then has an influence on the rest. These buildings were not built with own capital, but with recourse to the bank and now that the bank pays, which is as it is.

What is the solution for the city’s old buildings, many of which are already in an advanced state of disrepair?
These should be kept. It really is a crime to have destroyed the Kinaxixi market. It was a crime to transform the building of the former Treasury (current Ministry of Finance). A beautiful building that had been, now made of a glass box, with absolutely no aesthetics. The building of the former Instituto do Café, which is now the Ministry of the Interior, is also already “dressed” in glass on all sides, in short, it is not clear why this has to happen! They should be preserved, as is done in other parts of the world.

The requalification of Luanda is a current challenge. Tell us how long should it take?
That is the way, no doubt. I just don’t know how long this will take and what resources it will require. There is no other way; it has to be slow, according to the possibilities, but it has to obey a plan, which can be based on Luanda’s Metropolitan Master Plan. The Master Plan gives us the general lines, but the detailed plans must, in fact, be very well thought out and there must be structures, institutions of the Provincial Government of Luanda.

These structures already exist and, it seems, with some organization…
Of course, these structures exist, but they are empty, because the institutions were dismantled to start having personal wills.
and lines of action in which those who decided on the technical problems in Luanda were not the technicians, but the politicians, who do not understand any of this. The technicians were put aside, because they are not necessary, they even get in the way. See, for example, how a Luanda International Airport is born without anyone knowing. Nobody knew; people knew that there was a project to build an airport when they saw the fences in that area near Bom Jesus, with the walls of the Chinese signs. Only then did people know that an airport was being built. The Engineering Laboratory was not consulted, the Ministries of Transport, the aeronautical authorities were not consulted.

Is it almost unbelievable?
I’m telling you the truth! How does an International Airport appear… It is a political decision, when it should be technical and based on technical studies. Then, yes, things would follow a normal path. And now the result is this: no one thinks about accessibilities, nothing was done about what was thought of and now everything is rushing to make access to the airport. In the meantime, an airport city is planned around it, so people can sleep there in hotels and catch flights very early in the morning.

What is your knowledge of the works that are being carried out in the interior of the country, namely, the centralities?
As for the centralities, I continue to have the same opinion: they are for nothing, they are a problem. I do not conceive, for example, that, in Dundo, there are buildings in the central area with 12, 14 or 16 floors. But who is happy to live in these buildings? They shouldn’t have done that. What they should have done was create housing, but according to the Angolan culture. We do not have a lack of land, we could have buildings of two or three floors, at most, where elevators, water pumps, in short, where everything that is bad would not be necessary. Why, if we are not in China. That might be the solution for them. But the remedy to solve our problems, someone asked the technicians? Nobody asked anything. Of course, we could have buildings with up to four floors at the most, where people can access it more easily by stairs, without the need for water pumps and other equipment. We could have a notion, a dimension that is much more appropriate to our reality and not copy models that may have been very good there where they were created, but that do not adapt here, are not strictly part of our habits. I don’t know who thought of them, who decided, regardless of the quality of the works themselves. There are some with a more or less passable quality, others with no quality at all.

Can poorly executed works go ahead, due to deficient or null supervision?
I don’t want to quote. It is certain that there are works that were carried out by companies and perhaps have been inspected by duly qualified companies and others that were or were not by companies that did not have the quality to be able to carry out this work. Inspection is a poor relative of construction, because there is no notion of interest in its value, as many understand that inspection is a waste of money; that is not needed. Because the idea is this: I am the owner of the work and I want to make a building. If you have a project and a contractor, I do the building. I don’t need supervision for anything. But the problems will appear next: lack of quality, technical networks and the very quality of the construction, poorly made, warped walls, water infiltration and all other evils, perfectly avoidable with proper supervision. It’s a recurring situation. The owner of the work thought of saving money, avoiding paying up to three percent of the value of the work. But it forgot that it could save more, if, in fact, it had an active inspection, capable of analyzing the project, verifying the deficiencies that existed and controlling the work of the contractor. In fact, the developer would save a lot of money, but will spend it next on repairing damage. “Saving” money on inspection, he didn’t earn anything, but this is the established culture: inspection doesn’t matter, it’s not a big deal.

And linked to this, what is the reality in public works carried out across the country?
In public works it is the same thing. We can see what state the roads are in. Really, it is not justified that roads built or rebuilt half a dozen years ago are in the state they are. A lot of money was spent. Some of the contractors who did their job poorly have already left; others are still out there, but nobody asks them for responsibility. However, a road is a public work and, according to the Law, it has a five-year warranty and, during that period, what is wrongly done must be corrected by the contractor. Who asked for responsibilities? Nobody. And the inspection that was there, if it was, what was it doing?

But is the supervision that exists in Angola credible or not?
Many of these inspections were fabricated, they were put there very quickly; companies were set up to which these inspections were awarded. “Import & export” companies, without “know how”, incapable technicians and without any proof of capacity, but they were given works, through the system that is now called “simplified contracting”. A situation with all the condiments for the emergence of many nonconformities in the works. It’s true, I have any work, it’s me who decides who I’m going to supervise – a cousin or a friend – and there’s absolutely no accountability.

Still traveling by road, as in the past? Do you have examples of sections of sections that are examples of what is done poorly?
Not much on the road anymore. Age doesn’t allow it anymore… But I say that there are poorly made roads, like that section that leaves Sumbe for Lobito. Because? Again, lack of supervision. But there are also other well-made ones, like the one between the city of Huambo and Cuito. In general, the roads that were made after the end of the conflict were poorly made. What was necessary, at the time, was to cover holes, to allow the passage. Everything is fine. But it could be much better and the costs we had to fill those holes were almost enough to carry out a rehabilitation capable of still having roads in conditions for safe circulation. There are other roads that are now being built, such as Nzeto/Soyo, Saurimo/Lucapa/Dundo, which comply with the most elementary engineering standards. But I repeat: the importance of inspection must be assumed by authorities and investors as something unavoidable.

Does the Engineering Laboratory fully fulfill its role?
The Engineering Laboratory, due to the reflexes that its performance had in the past, was very limited. His action was not felt, for lack of capacity, lack of means; because it was not necessary, because it was also an inspection body, namely, of public works that, perhaps in many cases, did not matter. The Engineering Laboratory is the main inspector of public works and its action is, namely, to assess the quality, the tests of the material that is applied, final tests, all of that. The Laboratory is a fundamental inspection body. In the last decisions that were taken by the Ministry of Construction, there is clearly the return of the Laboratory to its role that it always should have had and that, for many years, it no longer had. And that is felt today.


Leonel Kassana, March 12, 2018

in, Jornal de Angola