How Elohim Barros creates space by creating a place for collaboration

Happyplaces Stories (video)

I was an art director for a magazine for six years. But I like a lot of stuff. I like cooking; I like music. I started a party which I would like to go to, and there wasn’t something like it out there. I gathered with some friends, and we decided to do it. We organise this party for seven years already. So now I am a DJ, not a great DJ, but I am a DJ. And I’m also a designer. We now have this place where we share ideas, designs and friendship with five other people. One of them is my wife who I work with, or have been working a lot with. I met her because I employed her. We have been working and have a relationship since the beginning. And that works fine.

Meeting place

We have built Balsa, which is the beginning of this building here. It all started at the rooftop, in the centre of Sao Paulo which is maybe the best place in town. But is has been forgotten. And it got close to being a ghetto. It did become a ghetto, even being downtown, the centre. But it still lives, and the rent is cheap. This is where we could rent a rooftop and a plan B, which is a place where people could go if it would start raining. The rent was a big issue of course, as always, so downtown would be the place. That’s how we ended up here at the centre, in this building. It was the passion that my wife and I had of working together, we never have problems. And we started to feel that we were wasting too much time in front of the computer although we love it. All I do is to manipulate pretty things, like pictures, letters I like, but it became kind of a dull routine physically sometimes. We started having that problem, and I left the place I worked for, the magazine where I was the art director, and she did too. We have begun working from home, which is good. But sometimes you then work three days in a row in your pyjamas. And things start to get a little mixed up. Life and work. There was one thing that we liked, what we always did, is having people around. We always were party people. Our house was the house people went on a Friday night to have drinks and everything. And when you work in magazines, you have those big editorial places where you have a lot of people you meet. You have friendships if that place is nice so that we missed a lot when we started working at home. So all these things began to make sense in our heads. We said, we don’t need to work for a company, but it would be nice to work with other people. Which was the part we really liked.

At the magazines, you had different kinds of people. People that write, producers, there are different ways of thinking. There are two things. There is Balsa, which was the start-up for these things, which is a place for meeting people. We have a hard time to explain Balsa to other people. Because they want to call it a bar, ‘Bar Balsa’. But it is not a bar; we’re not open every day. We don’t have employees that come every day and make drinks. Most of the days the place is closed. We have parties, events, meetings, gatherings, talks four times a month — once a week. That just because that my wife and I are doing it, because we are producing it, we make the flyer, we buy the beer, we bring it up. It can’t be every day, that would be a terrible routine. People don’t understand that very well; they want to understand and send emails to do events or come here on a Friday night. But then we say we are not open. It is weird, but it is the way it is right now. So there is Balsa, the rooftop, on the fourth floor of the building. And there are three other floors in the building. There were a cd and DVD distributor, a business in decline. The fourth floor was the stock room. But there wasn’t any stock anymore, that’s why we could come in. The third floor started to get empty. The second floor too. The guys came to me and said that they were leaving the building because they weren’t selling any cd’s and DVDs anymore, that they were going to close the business. If we were interested in having other floors or if we knew other people who might be interested and that it’d be good to arrange something kind of the Brazilian way.

So I said yes, I know people that might be interested and that I was interested. We still have the idea of working with design and things connected to design. So we wanted one more floor, but couldn’t pay for it by ourselves. We already had the fourth floor and the rooftop, so we needed more people. So we asked people if they would be interested in coming to this place to work, to share ideas. We mostly asked friends. We didn’t put out a newspaper ad. And people responded, because they also had the same situation, working from home but liked to meet more people. This floor, ‘Líquen’ how we call it, started out as a place where a bunch of friends worked together. A co-working place. But everybody that came was also linked to design at some level. There was this thing we had in common, so it made sense that we could and would do things together. Now, everybody still needs to do their projects to pay the rent, but it is a nice idea that we can also do projects together.

Together

It is about having pleasant people working at a pleasant place on pleasant projects. Something good has to come out of that, right? We just started to do things together, and it feels wonderful. That is the dream we all had. We didn’t even realise that when we started, but that’s the way that things work. For me at least. You start doing things. And you light up a little spark. And you just feed that thing, that fire, that idea and then see what comes out of it. I don’t know what we will do or what we are going to be. But I’m pretty sure that we’re going to have fun in this process. Now, the financial problems are almost over, and people are rounding up their projects. And the focus shifts to the collective. We’re at a good place now. The way this floor works, how Líquen works, is a little bit like how the whole building works. Each floor does something different. On the first floor is an institute connected to a famous street art gallery that is in another neighbourhood, Villa Madalena. It is more of a place for education. We’re on the second floor, and the third floor is Fluxo. An independent media journalist. And Balsa on the fourth floor and the rooftop, a meeting place. So there are very different things happening on different floors, but the idea is to work together the whole building. It’s a process, a hard process. It sounds very easy, but it is not. You have to find out who is going to wash the dishes and who is going to pay the bills. Not everybody wants to do everything. Working with other people is great. But organising it is a lot of work, difficult even. That part is not ready yet. We still have a lot of work to do there. But is has been a lot of fun. Some hard times of course, but it has been nice to walk down the stairs to the ground floor and meet people you know and like. With who you share the same vision, the similar thoughts. I hope it will be fun in the years ahead.