Life on the Amazon Waters

"Life on the Amazon Waters'' is a documentary that explores the unique architecture of the riverine communities located in the state of Amazonas, Brazil. Directed by architect Danielle Khoury Gregorio and featuring footage by photographer and videomaker Marcio Isensee e Sá, the film portrays the stilt houses and floating homes of the region, traditional constructions that present simple and ingenious solutions used by local peoples to produce housing in close dialogue with the climate and periodically flooded landscape of the Amazonian river plains. These collective construction techniques, informally transmitted orally and empirically refined over generations, represent an effective response to local functional, social, and environmental needs, being the fundamental expression of the communities' identity and their relationships with the territory.

The production of the documentary aims to value and defend the cultural expressions of traditional peoples living in the floodplain areas of the Amazon Basin, which are essential to Brazil's culture. Even today, stilt and floating homes are extremely marginalized, losing more and more space in Amazonian cities. Riverside houses are often discriminated against and assimilated with precariousness, poverty, and obsolescence. The hegemonic models of building and living invisibilize these traditional ways of life, replacing vernacular constructions with a globalized architecture that denies popular knowledge and imposes a homogeneous model to be replicated without respect or adequacy to local conditions.

The documentary has as its main characters residents, community leaders, and local builders, who tell their story and the story of their homes. Their narratives demonstrate that building stilt and floating homes, unlike common belief, is not an unordered or irrational process. These dwellings are expressions of a material culture that follows precise knowledge and techniques, an essential condition for adapting to the demands of life on the waters. Besides being preserved, these constructions should also teach architects to build spaces in greater harmony with local conditions, as they present specific strategies developed in the need for adaptation to the complex and challenging environment of the Amazon river basin floodplain areas. These strategies enable the production of buildings better integrated into the territory and with a lower environmental impact, generating alternatives to urban solutions, often made with superfluous and generic values.

Supported by the Holcim Foundation, "Life on the Amazon Waters'' was filmed in August 2022, in the floating community of Catalão (Iranduba) and in the stilt communities of Xiborena (Iranduba) and Careiro da Várzea. In addition to showing the poetry, strength, and unique character of riverside constructions, the film presents the riverine man and his relationship with the rivers and spaces where he lives, showing how environmental dynamics guide the socio-spatial organization of the communities. The film is a tribute to riverside culture and architecture, and an invitation to reflect on the possibilities of a more sustainable and territorially integrated architecture.

  • Danielle Khoury Gregorio
    Direction and Research
  • Marcio Isensee e Sá
    Co-direction and Photography
  • Duda Menegassi
    Screenplay and Production
  • Raquel Khoury Gregorio
    Field Production
  • Taiara Guedes
    Sound Recording
  • Rodrigo Savastano
  • Fabrizio Ferri
    Sound Design and Mixing
  • Lowis Bianco
    Sound Design and Mixing
  • Lucas Muniz
    Sound Design and Mixing
  • Samanta do Amaral
    Color Grading
  • Julia Lima
    Motion Design
  • Holcim Foundation for Sustainable Construction
    Sponsoring Institution
  • Project Title (Original Language):
    Vida Sobre as Águas
  • Project Type:
    Documentary, Short
  • Runtime:
    30 minutes
  • Completion Date:
    March 28, 2023
  • Production Budget:
    15,000 USD
  • Country of Origin:
  • Country of Filming:
  • Language:
  • Shooting Format:
  • Aspect Ratio:
  • Film Color:
  • First-time Filmmaker:
  • Student Project:
  • Documentary winner of the IAB-SP Awards 2022 - Architectural Cultures, organized by the Institute of Architects of Brazil
    São Paulo
Director Biography

Danielle Khoury Gregorio.

Architect graduated from the Universidade de São Paulo - FAUUSP (2019) with an exchange program at the German university Karlsruher Institut für Technologie (KIT). During her career, Danielle has received several architecture awards, such as the international Fira Barcelona, Piscina & Wellness Awards in 2017 and the LafargeHolcim Awards in 2021. She has worked in renowned architectural studios such as the Andrade Morettin Arquitetos Associados in São Paulo, the Dutch studio KAAN Architecten and the Weindel Architekten GBr studio in Germany. She also won a research grant from the Holcim Foundation for Sustainable Construction, which allows her to continue studying Amazonian vernacular architecture and its sustainability lessons for contemporary Brazilian architecture. Her research aims to uncover bioclimatic and low impact strategies used to adapt to the Amazon's unique conditions, and to apply them to modern-day housing solutions, offering a framework for culturally sensitive and sustainable projects in local cities, drawing from the wisdom of traditional architecture. This approach represents a shift from the conventional generic urban housing model to one that prioritizes local culture and environmentally responsible building practices. As part of this research, Danielle directed the documentary “Life on the Amazon Waters”, which won an award by the Institute of architects of Brazil. In 2022, she was chosen by Forbes Brazil as a member of the list "Forbes Under 30", in the Architecture and Design category.

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Director Statement

As the director of "Life on the Amazon Waters," my passion is to capture the essence of the unique constructions of riverine peoples in the Brazilian Amazon. The documentary delves into the traditional architecture of these communities, built in harmony with the surrounding environment, which make them perfect for the conditions of life on the waters. They embody a rich history and an invaluable cultural heritage that needs to be preserved and valued.

Our goal is to create a feeling of awe for the Amazon riverside buildings in our viewers, hoping to change the negative stereotypes surrounding this autochthonous architecture. We want to showcase the functionality and sustainability of the vernacular constructions, inspiring people to respect and learn from them. We hope that through this documentary, audiences will gain a deeper appreciation of the traditional techniques that have been passed down through generations, seeing the potential of this knowledge to build a more sustainable and harmonious world. I want to convey this sense of connection and integration with the territory, which is often absent in urban environments. We hope that our film will inspire people to look beyond the conventional views of architecture and challenge our society's current approaches to building and living.

The documentary is filmed in a style that prioritizes an intimate and personal connection with the communities. Local residents are the primary storytellers, sharing their experiences, history, and culture. This allows the inhabitants to tell their own stories in their own words. Through their narratives, we will discover the profound meaning of the house and the relationship of these people with the spaces they live in.

We also use stunning visual images and sounds to transport the audience to the heart of the Amazonian floodplain, creating a sensory experience that immerses viewers in the local culture and environment. We want the audience to become fully absorbed in the beauty and simplicity of these communities.

"Life on the Amazon Waters" is not just a documentary about traditional homes, but a celebration of a way of life that is unique to the Amazonian river plains. It is a film that seeks to document the beauty, creativity, and resilience of the Amazonian riverside communities' traditional culture.