Friday, November 23, 2007

São Paulo

São Paulo is immense. The scale of the city is breathtaking. It is not only the largest city in Brazil, but all of South America and even the Southern Hemisphere. I figured that with a population of 12 million, surely there would be some great buildings to see...and the city did not disappoint.

Lina bo Bardi's SESC Pompei was my favorite. Bo Bardi converted an old drum factory in the city into a cultural center. It is a great example of adaptive reuse. The project houses multiple gym spaces for the neighborhood children to play, a pool, a modern art museum, a small theater, public art studios, a cafe and small restaurant, and public spaces to congregate and contemplate. Beyond the pictures in my slide show below, there is a good slide show that shows architectural details on here.

Another Bo Bardi project that we visited was the MASP (Museo de Arte de São Paulo). A much earlier work by Bo Bardi and equally interesting. This building while not my favorite aesthetically, solves an interesting urban problem. The site is located at the head of a park which has a wonderful view down a hill in very dense part of the city. Most of the schemes submitted for this project ruined both the visual and physical connection to this space. Bo Bardi's scheme elevated part of the building to span the site and the remainder was built into the hill below. This maintained the visual connection down the hill and the space beneath her suspended volume became an extension of the public park space. The covered area is used to have outdoor concerts in the rainy season. A former professor of mine, Zeuler Lima is currently working on a book about Lina Bo Bardi. He is a noted Bo Bardi scholar and recently won the Bruno Zevi Prize for a paper he authored on her. Keep an eye out for the book if you are interested in learning more of this under appreciated figure of Brazilian modernism.

One of the most impressive buildings in São Paulo is certainly the architecture school FAU USP or Faculdade de Arquitetura e Urbanismo. Designed by Vilanova Artigas this building is a pinnacle of Brazilian modernism. An gargantuan open air concrete building circulates the students with large ramps and houses them under a seemingly endless ceiling. The space, while impressive seems like a terrible place to study. The large open areas with drafting tables in rows for hundreds of meters makes me one think of the Orwell's 1984. That being said the space is a sight to see.

We saw a few projects by Paulo Mendes da Rocha. His MUBE (Museu Brasileiro da Esultura) is an interesting sculpture museum which reminded my of Bo Bardi's MASP. The buildings share Brasilian architects love of large spans. Mendes da Rocha's work is all over São Paulo. We saw a renovation he did to the Pinacoteca do Estado. This is arguably Brazil's most important art museum. Mendes da Rocha converted the building from an old art school into its current state. The building, like Bo Bardi's SESC shows once again that wonderful architecture can be created from old buildings.

I've left him last, but one can't speak about Brazilian architecture without talking of Oscar Niemeyer; he turns 100 on December 12th by the way. He has many important projects in São Paulo including Ibirapuera Park and the Copan Building. We visited both, but I'll leave some explanation for future posts. Well, that's it for my summary of São Paulo. We'll complete our Brazilian tour in Rio de Janeiro next time.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Niemeyer Briefly

It has been a long week here in Buenos Aires. A presentation on Juan Kurchan and Jorge Ferrari Hardoy's 'Los Eucalyptos' apartment building kept me very busy. I hope to turn it into a post sometime in the near future. But continuing with the Brasilian theme, I found some interesting and very funny stuff on Niemeyer that really must be passed on.

First off, this article by David Underwood. Popular Culture and High Art in the Work of Oscar Niemeyer is a must read for every architect. It is a sobering reminder to good intentioned architects and Niemeyer fans alike. My favorite quote from the article is:

"Workers housing and popular housing are terms that indicate capitalist discrimination. They represent demagogic and paternalistic objectives that don't attend to the scale of the misery. In fact they aim to prolong the existing situation, to peripheralize the faveldos from the most valuable areas, to bury them in these horrible ghettos called conjuntos proletarios, or under pretext of security and ecology, to turn the shanty areas to real estate profit."

Next I'd like to share two videos on Niemeyer. I found these on the Architectural Videos Blog which occasionally has some interesting stuff on it. The first video is brilliantly produced, the music really adds a whole new dimension to his architecture. The other is unfortunately in Portuguese but still worth a watch. It shows the elderly master at work.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007


Brasilia was the first stop on our three city tour of Brazil. A tour which provided us with material for months of posts. We'd like in our next couple posts to do an overview of each city (Brasilia, Sao Paulo, and Rio de Janiero) we visited and then we'll come back in the coming months to do some more in depth coverage on specific subjects. This post will mark the first of what we hope will be many with some photos contributed by photographer Lloyd Paul. Thanks for the contribution Lloyd.

Lúcio Costa and Oscar Niemeyer created something here. Something....
I have to say that had I not spent the last two years in Architecture school, I'd have a very different opinion of this place. I think this change of opinion is a bad thing. I'll spare you the philosophical dribble and just say that Brasilia is an architectural Disneyland. That being said, it makes a perfect subject for this Blog. While visiting Brazil's capital city, I couldn't help thinking how we would present this place. The quantity of buildings to cover is vast. Many of them however serve a singular simple purpose and don't require much explanation, others are much more intricate. So the challenge, a single blog post, and an entire city.

This is arguably the first complete 'modern' city fully planned and executed. 2006 marked the 50th anniversary of Brasilia's birth. It was the vision of one man and executed primarily by only three designers. The visionary was Brazil's President Juscelino Kubitschek who hired Lúcio Costa as the Urban Planner. Costa in turn brought on Oscar Niemeyer as chief architect and Roberto Burle Marx as landscape architect. At the satellite image scale, the city appears like a bird with it's wings spread bordered by the huge artificial Paranoá Lake. At this scale it is hard not to compare Brasilia with its sister city to the North, Washington D.C. Monumentality is the name of the game when designing capital cities. Down at the human scale, one tends to feel like an ant walking exposed in a world of giants ready to stamp their feet down. Walkability is not a term that one would associate with this city. But I guess that wasn't really the point.

Oscar Niemeyer must have really had fun designing this city. His buildings are often very well executed, but one can't help but think he was like a kid in the sandbox when coming up for a strategy to design all the commissions on his plate. There are some circle buildings, some rectangle buildings, some pyramids, and sometimes a combination of the list. All buildings of course had lots of really cool spiral ramps or stairs. It's hard not to sound like a kid when describing these structures. But beyond their simple classifications, Niemeyer's work is much more elegant and sophisticated. His understanding of the limits of reinforced concrete are tested in each building. Stay posted in coming weeks for more specific coverage on Niemeyer buildings in Brasilia and beyond. In the mean time here is a Flickr slideshow from the Oscar Niemeyer Group.