Housing in Latin America

Brazil is rich or poor country? YES it is… both!
Point mouse cursor on photos to see city / place name.
Brazil rich vs poor Morumbi vs favela Paraisópolis
Morumbi vs favela Paraisópolis Favela da Rocinha

Latin american cities are more denser and the life is cheaper compared with North American cities, but due to rapid and unplanned urbanization, infrastructure is worse, parks and green spaces are scarce. Same problems like in US, lack of public transport, pollution, crimes, corruption and gang life (especially in Mexico). GDP per capita comparison.

Although certain countries in Latin America have high human development index, the income inequality is huge, leading to high crime rate. Large part of population is living in slums, however these slums are built with bricks and living conditions better than in other countries where they are mostly made with cardboard and scrap metal.

Brazil is the most studied country by me outside East Asia, having large amount of apartment buildings.
Mexico is the richest country in Latin America but proximity to United States made it to have highest cost of living.
Argentina and Chile have higher GDP per capita than Brazil, but I do not like their cities, even Buenos Aires and Santiago have too many landed houses and little green spaces.
Bogota have many large-scale apartment complexes (If you love studying apartments).

Housing in Brazil

The only city in American continent which I like is… Brasilia, the biggest planned city of the world, by architects Lúcio Costa and Oscar Niemeyer. It have a large population living in apartment buildings up to 6 floors and much green space.

Construction started in 1956, and the city was inaugurated on 21 April 1960, after 41 months, some people are saying that was built in 3 years, this is not true, the building process continued after inauguration and continues even today. It became the biggest city of 20th century which do not existed at beginning of century. Originally planned for 400.000 people, today houses about 2 million people, but I am not sure if this is the city itself or includes satellite cities too.

Brasilia is also infamous for the way it was planned, a “city of cars”, with free flow of traffic and traffic lights would not be necessary, which served only for a small part of population who owned cars. There are too few pedestrian areas and crosswalks, people had to risk their lives crossing the north-south highway.

Brasilia aerial view Brasilia Monumental Axis

Especially in Brazil, a lot of impressive apartment buildings appeared in recent years in central area of cities on near beaches. I love the buildings individually but I hate the cities as whole. It is an urbanization disaster, apparently there’s no laws to regulate building density, plot ratio and distance between buildings. Apartment towers are mixed with landed houses, new towers were built in front of existing towers, blocking views each other, 20+ storey towers with only 6 meters between main facades, parks are scarce, pollution is common. Rio de Janeiro’s beautiful landscape is destroyed because all hills are covered in Favelas (slums).

Santos city is best example of crowded waterfront. The combination of sandy ground, narrow buildings and digging for foundation of new building, made the city known for leaning towers, seen in this Youtube video. Unbelievable that city authorities allow people to live in dangerous buildings!

You can see many photos with beautiful apartment buildings on Panoramio real estate agent’s pages. Lots of apartments towers are launched every year, “verticalization” is a symbol of progress. Most housing developments are aimed to rich class. Brazil suffer from massive deficit of affordable housing. 30% of its population live in overcrowded slums (Favelas)… and they are building such luxury apartments!?

Sao Paulo launched in 1992 “Projecto Cingapura” inspired from the success of HDB in Singapore, to clean out the slums. Out of 100.000 units planned, 14.000 have bee built between 1995 and 2001 then the project proven to be unsuccessful and has been abandoned, residents did not liked the modern blocks and moved back to slums.

São Paulo skyline
Guarujá waterfront Belem Central

Which is the best city in Brazil?

Very hard decision… the capital Brasilia is the best from most points of view, Sao Paulo have highest GDP per capita but is also one of the most polluted cities in the world, so living in Rio de Janeiro is better (especially in Barra da Tijuca neighborhood which have a HDI 0.970 that is higher than any country of the world), it is also the most visited city in southern hemisphere. Florianópolis is the city with highest HDI 0.905. Curitiba have the best public transport, the Bus Rapid Transit. Various smaller cities got high ranks in terms of quality of life and Human Development Index, because their favelas are outside city limits so do not drag down the ratings.


Brazil has been building skyscrapers since 1930s, Martinelli Building (built 1934, 130 meters), then Altino Arantes Building (built 1947, 161 meters), being also the tallest building outside United States. But the evolution was slow and not much taller buildings were built over next decades.

Presently Brazil does have few hundred buildings over 100 meters, mostly residential, but the tallest, Mirante do Vale (built 1960), is only 170 meters and 51 floors. It was the tallest for 54 years until 2014, when Millennium Palace (177 meters and 46 floors) took the lead. Several taller buildings are under construction as 2018 according Wikipedia.

Sao Paulo is considered one of most vertical cities in the world, having hundreds of residential towers in 20-30 floors range but very few over 30 floors, such 30 floors buildings appeared since 1950s.

Apartment sizes in Brazil increased over the years

Edifício São Vito was built in 1959, 27-storey, 624 units of 28 sqm apartments, floorplan and more info (I do not know if it was an isolated case or apartments of this size were common), evacuated in 2004, demolished in 2011, enough to be vandalized and become the most infamous building in Sao Paulo, but many people still opposed demolition. Bigger apartments were built over years, since 1990s or 2000s more and more developers offer apartments in 200-500 sqm range.

Using real estate websites such as lopes.com, and applying filter by floor area (area util), we can see that most apartments in today Sao Paulo are in 60-70 sqm range, each decile under 60 sqm or above 70 sqm have less and less apartments… about 45% apartments are under 100 sqm, 35% in 100-200 sqm, 13% in 200-300 sqm, 5% in 300-400 sqm, 2% in 400-500 sqm, 1.5% over 500 sqm. This may not accurately reflect real housing stock because the big apartments stay more on websites waiting for buyers. Most apartments have 3-bedroom (60-120 sqm), followed by 2-bedroom (45-65 sqm), then and 4-bedroom (120-200+ sqm), area privativa – including walls and balconies. Some low-cost 3-bedroom have one bathroom while some high-end 2-bedroom have en-suite bathroom for each bedroom.

Most apartments have small rooms inside and big balconies with glass rail, apparently the prestige of building is denoted by length of balcony, a waste of space in my opinion. In some cases, the biggest “room” is the balcony, examples: Verum-Mooca, Stellato Chácara Santo Antônio, Reserva Jardim Sul (I need opinions from local people about this strange phenomenon).

Typical bedroom size is 3.2×2.4 m and bathroom 2.2×1.2 m, the living room can be narrow as a bedroom – 2.4 m (I really hate this). Most apartments above 60 sq m comes with barbecue pit in each balcony.

Another reason for loving Brazil real estate is that most developers publish floorplans (unlike USA), just Google “planta apartamento” and you will see a lot, most floor plans having also dimensions.

Extreme apartments found so far

This 2-bedroom apartment is just 33 sqm (internal area): floor plan.
One of the smallest apartments with 3 bedrooms, just 57 sqm (saleable area): photos and floor plan.
Parque America, 2-bedroom, 55 sqm, probably the smallest living room.
http://www.jetdicas.com/img/fotos/plantas%20de%20apartamentos%202%20quartos%208.jpg – horrible apartment with living room smaller than bedroom making impossible to put dining table as indicated in plan

Terezina 275, 539 sqm apartments, 5 suites (one of the biggest apartment blocks with 2 units per floor).
Riserva Uno, 555 sqm, 5 suites
Parque Alfredo Volpi, 800 sqm 5 suites
Adolpho Carlos Lindenberg, 1200 sqm apartments, 1900 sqm penthouse, 6 suites (the biggest apartment in Brazil).
More to be added!

favela between Copacabana and Ipatema Favela da Rocinha Conjunto Residencial Vila Madalena
Santos waterfront Rio de Janeiro apartments Old building in Fortaleza
Favela do Vidigal Urban density, São Vicente Vista aeria de São Vicente

Housing in Mexico

Mexico City contains huge neighborhoods with tiny identical houses arranged in grid (in newer neighborhoods the grid streets are broken into cul-de-sac). Some kind of public housing called “casas de interes social” but there are also private developments in same style, rows of identical houses.

Most common housing type is terraced houses 3 meters wide and 10 meters depth, with 2 floors and 2 bedrooms. The second densest housing system in the world after Philippines houses (legally-built – no slums), being up to 150 units/hectare, 44 meters between street axes. Some terraced houses are single floor, these being 12 meters depth and just one bedroom. Some neighborhoods feature semi-detached and quarter-detached houses.

Other neighborhoods are composed by dense apartments, 3 to 5 storey, 4 meters between buildings, these reaching 300 units/hectare.

Most houses and apartments are criticized for being too small for people needs, shared walls, poor quality, lack of utilities or amenities, residents travel 1-2 hours to reach workplace. Many owners expanded their houses in front or upwards, sometimes reaching 4 floors (see below photo), destroying the neighborhood beautifulness.

Personally I do not understand what is so bad to have shared walls, many people in Europe and Malaysia live in terraced houses without problems. You can find some floorplans by searching in spanish “planta casa“.

Grid houses of Ixtapaluca Mexico narrow houses

Other stuff

Iquitos, Peru is the largest city in the world that cannot be reached by road. The city can be reached only by airplane or boat, with the exception of a road to Nauta, a small town roughly 100 km south (which is not connected to the country’s main road network). Ocean vessels of 3,000 to 9,000 tons and 5.5 metres draft can reach Iquitos via the Amazon River from the Atlantic Ocean, 3,600 kilometres away.


Page published for first time in 2010 and updated over next years with more information found by me or provided by visitors. Text written by me (Teoalida) and images taken from Wikipedia, Panoramio and other websites. Do you have useful information that worth adding? Did you found an error or have a contradictory opinion? Leave a comment!

8 thoughts on “Housing in Latin America

  1. Hello, I want to congratulate you for your site,it’s incredible that you know how exactly it is. I know the mexican tiny houses (the expanded ones) and I already saw your floorplans and are exatly how you did it, the sad thing it’s that they are not too bad for a small family (parents, 1 or 2 maximum kids) they’re ok, the saddest thing is that how they are not too expensive any person can get one, I mean, people with education,values,good behavior, lives sharing walls with people with the worst way of being ever,so that’s the problem about sharing walls,maybe in Europe there are people with education sharing the walls but in Mexico is 1 in a million with education,and even more in this kind of places,besides, in Mexico there’s no a goverment who cares about its population, theres no rules about garbage,maximun level of sound, parks,trees, delicuense, respect for neighboor house,theres nothing,so people there ruin everything around them, they destroy it if it doesn’t belong to them, so…that’s why this kind of places look that bad, it’s sad but is something that comes from the roots of the country and their way of being.

  2. Hey, Brazilian here.
    The reason for large balconies is that since it’s so hot, people like to stay outside, so, the balcony becomes the living room. Here is an extreme example, my mother-in-law’s house has 110sqm plus a balcony of almost 80sqm, look at the floor plan:

    Regarding bedroom size, it’s regulated by each municipality, so, there are cities where bedrooms need to be at least 9sqm, while others accept 7sqm, or the first bedroom needs to be 12sqm, all others may be smaller.
    There are places where the rooms have minimum dimensions, where I live for example, the kitchen needs dimensions of 2m, you can have a kitchen of 2m x 2m, but not one of 1.8m x 3.5m.

    You can use bribes and have crazy things. I’ve seen car ramps with an inclination of at least 30%, bathrooms without ventilation, and bedrooms of 6sqm.
    People building without a permit or even a floor plan is common in small towns. Contractors buying a plan once and building it again without paying the engineer is also common, if they are caught, they pick some engineer fresh from college and pay him a small amount to pretend he designed it.

    1. Your floorplan is a single-storey house, right? It cannot be called balcony, maybe is a covered porch, and is common for houses. In case of apartments, I see most balconies closed with glass, so what is the point to have a 20 sqm living room and a 20 sqm balcony separated by sliding doors? Wouldn’t be better to not have living room at all, just a balcony?

      Which state require first bedroom to be 12 sqm? I would like to google few floor plans from it and see dimensions of the other rooms.

      Is there a rule that an architectural plan should be use only once?

      1. Yeah, mistranslation there.

        Well, people still watch TV inside, and when it’s raining or at night, they stay indoors, so, they use both the balcony and the living room.

        It’s not state by state, it’s town by town. Não me toque was the town I was talking about, page 30( http://naometoque.prefonline.com.br/wp-content/uploads/sites/12/2016/01/LC-170-Código-de-Obras-consolidado-20151.pdf ). 12sqm for the first, second can be 9sqm, after that 7.5sqm, all with a minimum 2.5m width. Service rooms can be 6sqm with 2m width.

        Regarding architectural plan usage, every time you build, you need a confirmation by the town hall officials, and in the architectural plan you should specify the exact location of the building, so, if you use it again, you must get confirmation again, and should update the architectural plan.

        1. Não-Me-Toque… funny name for a city! Only 15.000 people here and no apartment blocks. Is there any major city over 1 million people which set minimum room sizes larger than most of other cities, so I can search for floorplans?

          Regarding balconies, how about those buildings with a balcony over 10 meters long but less than 1 meters wide? That balcony can be still used for daily activities?

          1. Hi,

            Just an update about the balconies… by the regulations of some cities, If a room has no walls closing it, it´s not accounted in total built space of the building.

            So, if you add a big balcony you can “bend” the rules and have more built space than allowed by the regulations.

            With time, this became a desirable feature in apartments.

  3. I just visited Buenos Aires, this last Christmas. I have no idea where you got the idea that Buenos Aires has little green space. I’ve never been in a city with so many parks and green spaces (yes more so than Singapore although Singapore is increasingly feeling more like a jungle). I fell in love with the countless parks that were very well designed. I will definitely be going back to Buenos Aires!

    Regardless, thank you for all the detailed apartment building layouts.

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