Focus Work
Fordlândia and Belterra

Focus Work
Pedro Tosatto Siedel

At the beginning of the 20th century the international market for natural rubber boomed as the process for producing synthetic rubber had not yet been discovered. This natural product was used in many industrial sectors. Nevertheless, the most important branch of the rubber industry at that time was undoubtedly the growing US-American automobile industry. However, almost the whole volume of the worldwide supply of rubber in the early 20th century came from British colonies in southeast Asia. Therefore, the business tycoon and automobile pioneer Henry Ford was restricted by the prices for natural rubber, which were stipulated by the British government. In order to get rid of the dependency on the British-controlled prices, Ford decided to establish his own rubber plantations.

For Ford the obvious thing to do was to grow rubber in its natural habitat – the southern Amazon basin. After only a few negotiations in late 1927, the government of the Brazilian state of Pará granted the Ford Motor Company a concession for the free cultivation of around 20,000 km2 of land on the eastern bank of the Tapajós river – a tributary of the Amazon river. In 1928 the Ford Motor Company established an industrial city on the granted land, a settlement which came to be called Fordlândia.

Based on an extensive primary research and translations of sources from Portuguese into German, the first portion of the project investigates the historical background, as well as the political and economic framework, which allowed Ford to establish a city in the middle of the Amazon. In the second portion, the work analyses and discusses the urban organisation of Fordlândia, as well as the various typologies of the prefabricated buildings, which were brought to Brazil from the USA by ship. To study these typologies CAD drawings based on historical maps and plans were prepared. In addition, a comparison was made between Fordlândia and Belterra - another industrial city founded by Ford in the Amazon after difficulties arose in Fordlândia.

In a third and final step based around the primary research and the CAD drawings, the work shows how Ford's principle of the assembly line can be perceived in the different scales of the built environment of the two cities and how architecture served as an instrument to represent economic growth, to achieve political aims, to industrialise, and to colonise areas of Brazil.


Dr. Matthew James Wells