Inside the "Marconi" squat, a building constructed in the late 1930s. Around 400 people live in precarious conditions and wait for a resolution from the local government to be relocated or for these buildings to be transformed into public housing. (Javier Alvarez)

Inside the building, every space has been redesigned into bedrooms or common spaces. Most of these structures are former office buildings that have been abandoned. (Javier Alvarez)

Last fall, The Washington Post partnered with Visura in an open call for submissions of photo essays. The Post selected five winners and three honorable mentions out of almost 300 submissions. We are presenting one of the honorable mentions today here on In Sight: Javier Alvarez and his work “Predio.”

Sao Paulo, Brazil, is one of the world’s most populous cities. The city is also the capital of Sao Paulo state, which in turn is the country’s most populous and wealthiest. Sao Paulo attracts a lot of visitors to enjoy its many monuments, parks, museums and galleries, and it also is home to some of the country’s largest skyscrapers. But like any large urban area, it has economic disparities that spur people to find ways to eke out a dignified existence — for instance, by inhabiting Sao Paulo’s many abandoned buildings.

Alvarez has always been drawn to big cities. In 2010, he visited Sao Paulo while attending a photo festival there, and during that time became drawn to the city and wanted to work on a project there, he says. Three years later, he returned to explore the city’s inhabitants squatting in the abandoned buildings. He ended up documenting life in one in particular, the “Marconi” building. Alvarez says that at the beginning of the project, “I literally knocked on the door and introduced myself because I wanted to know about the inhabitants and how they came to squat in these massive buildings in the middle of the city.”

The project was particularly poignant for Alvarez because, he said: “A couple of months before my first visit to Brazil, my own family was evicted from our apartment in Chile due to financial struggles. So when I saw that places like this exist in the middle of a city and people actually fight for this cause, I just wanted to learn and get in.”

So Alvarez ended up in the Marconi building, documenting the lives of 400 people squatting inside 13 stories of what had been an office building in downtown Sao Paulo. Alvarez immersed himself in the building’s life, saying, “During this process, I became part of the community while I was living there — for periods of six to eight weeks at a time, sometimes two are three times a year.”

What he found were nearly 400 people living as squatters, hoping for a dignified housing solution. It was a place where “the notion of home … becomes fleeting because of memories and expectations of a more stable future … a place where life stories share common experiences of nostalgia and loss.”


What was once a lawyer's office is now is a space for a family of four. (Javier Alvarez)

A small collection of family IDs and portraits decorate a room in an attempt to keep the space as personalized as possible. (Javier Alvarez)

This family, seen during their first weekend in the squat, had left their farm in the south of Brazil. (Javier Alvarez)

The inside patio of the Marconi squat. (Javier Alvarez)

A man falls asleep in his bedroom. (Javier Alvarez)

Once a building is "squatted," people must wait for a 72-hour period until police are no longer allowed to carry out evictions. (Javier Alvarez)

A stroller sits on the building's eighth floor. Since most of the squats are downtown, recreational spaces for children are reduced or dangerous. (Javier Alvarez)

The Marconi building has been occupied for at least six years, awaiting a resolution that could officially change its status into subsidized housing. (Javier Alvarez)

A man carries a bag of oranges. (Javier Alvarez)

A birthday party for one of the children who live in the squat. These special events are celebrated by the entire community. (Javier Alvarez)

Retrofitted spaces are often compact. What was once a lawyer's office is now a space for a family of four. (Javier Alvarez)

A man rests in his room. (Javier Alvarez)

Brazil's most-populous city, Sao Paulo has hundreds of uninhabited properties and millions of displaced people living in the streets. (Javier Alvarez)

In Sight is The Washington Post’s photography blog for visual narrative. This platform showcases compelling and diverse imagery from staff and freelance photographers, news agencies and archives. If you are interested in submitting a story to In Sight, please complete this form.

More on In Sight: