17-03-2003
POST SAO PAOLO 6

Modern Paulistan architecture

Fruit of Modernist Thought It was a great experience to study at the Faculdade de Arquitetura e Urbanismo (FAU) where the big modernists from São Paulo were formed. The FAU is fruit of all modernist thoughts and the building where it is housed reveals this. Artigas, who also taught at this school, was the designer of one of the most beautiful architecture faculties. While at the Faculty of Architecture at the Technical University in Delft the Modernist Movement is mentioned in history lectures, here the projects I designed were measured with their thoughts. More architecture faculties exist in São Paulo (around 40.000 architecture students) but the FAU (1000 students) is known as the most difficult to enter because of its quality and historic load.

Brazilianism At the second half of the 20th century Modernism became the ruling movement and thanks to its international character it came to Brazil by means of expositions. Already in 1930, Le Corbusier came for a conference to Rio where he noticed that people living in favelas where the ones with the best view! (statement still frequently used). In Brazil the modernist ideas were mixed with traditional colonial architecture, resulting into Brazilianism. As Lucio Costa and Rino Levi illustrate with the traditional Brazilian sun shading with wooden lattices in many of their projects. In the rest of the world Modernism has had its days because of its idealistic ideas of society and the appearance of climate problems in the detailing. In São Paulo and Rio however, it's beautiful to walk around in some neighbourhoods and to see how modernist ideas still function. Modernists tried to find a way of parcelling the territory keeping the continuation of the ground floor as much as possible. Pilotis work very well in Brazilian weather and it is a pleasant way of blurring the exterior into the interior. Apartments get a royal entrance with often beautiful gardens

Concrete Jungle The eclectic Brazilian Art Nouveau was supplemented by the sober, concrete, sculptural architecture that especially in São Paulo got close to brutalism. In Rio the curves of the nature were more present in the design while the Paulistan architects were more fascinated with the raw materials and big concrete areas. Work from Artigas and Lina Bo Bardi reveal this concretism. In Brazil there is no advanced industrialised production of building materials. Because of the cheap hand labour, it's not a problem to construct with concrete. When you look over the city you see a grey mass of concrete and till now it is the predominant building material.

NiemeyerModernism was a break with the traditional architecture given at the Academy of Arts where modernists as Niemeyer were trained. Drawing a big cross on a square, transforming the traditional implemented lot, was how he got famous and at young age he won the pavilion competition for the Expo of New York. With projects all over Brazil he is especially recognized for his great structures and the way he plays with construction. The structures have to symbolize the technical advance. Construction is still very important at the FAU, more than in the architecture department of Delft. No hip vague concepts, but rather: how do you construct this?? I was lucky to witness a lecture of Niemeyer in São Paulo! With 97 years he still works 7 days a week, and is capable of giving very interesting lectures. Many say he always tells the same, but for me it was the first time. I admired the sketches and straight lines he drew, as well as his humour, relax character and thoughts. He preferred reading a good novel than staying his whole life thinking about architecture. Good friendships are indispensable and enjoying life is what he mostly prefers to do. He still dreams of making a huge concrete slab without any supports, and he never got the opportunity to build with wood. At the end he talked about his new museum in Curitiba, opened in December 2002. His last advice is: "When there is a lack of hope and perspective, revolution is the only solution. Don't wait till the night turns into day: do it now!!"

Anti Post-Modernism Many of the teachers at the FAU are interesting architects who survive designing nicely detailed, almost minimal architecture following the principles of modernism. Modernism is not dead; it is alive and kicking! They despise the post-modern buildings of architects who surf with the private sector and big enterprises making office buildings one more ugly than the other. The roots of modernism revealed against the avant-garde and proclaimed socialism. The ideas behind post-modernism are being attacked, such as the individual values, with buildings that make an own world incorporating all the functions, while the modernists search for collectivism. The name post-modernism is thought as incorrect, because of its total opposite character to the ideas of modernism. It does not recognize the city and the buildings are not adapted to it, something that is totally opposite to modernists thoughts. Using the word 'modernism' makes this movement more beautiful than it is. I was surprised how much the students at the faculty admired and worshipped the old modernists and how the majority agreed with everything proclaimed at the faculty. In Delft we are very busy with the present-day architects and the newest techniques.

Paulistan Architects  Paulo Mendes da Rocha is considered the Brazilian leader of architecture today, clearly marked by modernism. In São Paulo, city where the architecture scene is most active, he wins many competitions and makes renowned projects. I did not get to meet him personally, but I had the chance to visit several architecture offices in the city. Paulo Mendes often works with a younger group of architects called MMBB, who for me are the most promising. It reminds me of Swiss architecture with off course the slight weather difference. Angelo Bucci was my personal teacher and the brain behind this office. He worked for a long time together with Alvaro Puntoni and now they are back together. In an interview with Puntoni I started with the statement that Holland and probably the rest of Europe believed Brazilian architecture stagnated in the modernist era. He felt a little attacked and that made him react with a comparison of the 'shit' that Rem Koolhaas is making, his bad detailed buildings and his absurd theories with the beauty of architecture linked to the principles of modernism, its implantation, the dialog it has with the city and the importance of detail. "If what we do is recognized as modernism, ok, than let it be", he said. Another interesting architect is Marcos Acayaba. Formed at the FAU, he followed the modernist ideas, but tried to break with the rigid brutalist guidelines, using other forms and construction materials. Particular houses for wealthy people are his principle assignments, and he often ends up as the second finalist of competitions. He got internationally famous with a wooden house for a company owner who produced wooden prefabricated construction materials.

Future of the City An inquiry was made between Paulistan architects asking what their dream project for São Paulo would be. Surprisingly 99% of them answered with the proposal of the extension of the metro covering the whole city (one compared to the metro in Mexico city) and many worry about the polluted rivers that cross the town. Plans to clean and revitalize the areas around it are for many hopeful perspectives. A new school has been opened, Escola da Cidade, which has much of the same teachers active in the FAU and seems to be very interesting because of the bigger freedom and better curriculum. The objective is to deal with the centre of São Paulo and to confront the realities of the city. More architects will be put on the market. Still, the loans of architects are extremely low and many survive by supporting and passing assignments to each other. It is an incredible united group of architects I met. My reason for being in Brazil was my exchange to the FAU. Besides the incredible experience of living in São Paulo, I was taught very significant and pure architecture principles, what brought me back to the roots of the contemporary world architecture

Aura Luz Melis