A Visit to Paulo Mendes Da Rocha's Studio

20/07/14 15:58 A visit to Paulo Mendes da Rocha's studio Página 1 de 13 Kimberlie Birks writes on art's interest in architecture and the way that it structures public space Architecture / Design / Art / Products / Domus Archive / Shop Contents News / Interviews / Op-ed / Photo-essays / Specials / Reviews / Video / From the archive / Competitions Magazine Current issue / Local editions Network You
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  20/07/14 15:58A visit to Paulo Mendes da Rocha's studioPágina 1 de 13   Kimberlie Birks  writes on art's interest in architecture and the way that it structures public space  Architecture  / Design  /  Art  / Products  / Domus Archive  / Shop Contents  News  / Interviews  / Op-ed  / Photo-essays  / Specials  / Reviews  / Video  / From the archive  / Competitions Magazine  Current issue  / Local editions Networ k  Your profile  / RSS  / facebook  / twitter  / instagram  / pinterest  / LOVES  A 350 757 personas lesgusta esto. Me gustaMe gusta Since 1928 Search Domus... ItalianoSign up / Log inAuthor Carlos Brillembourg TamayoPhotographyCarlos Brillembourg TamayoPublished22 January 2013LocationSão PauloSectionsArchitectureKeywordsaleijadinho, Alfonso Riedy, Antonio Francisco Lisboa, Biennale d'arte di San Paolo, Carlos Raul Villanueva, Henrique Midlin, Jorge Moreira, João Vilanova Artigas, Lina Bo Bardi, Lucio Costa, Marcelo e Milton Roberto, Mies van der  Rohe, Oscar Niemeyer , Paulistano Athletic Club, Paulo Mendes da Rocha Like on FacebookShare on Twitter Pin to Pinterest Network A visit to Paulo Mendes da Rocha's studio Carlos Brillembourg recounts his encounter with the Brazilian master, still practicingand teaching at 83, firmly convinced that architecture is a sublime statement of human dignity .   Architecture / Carlos Brillembourg Tamayo  20/07/14 15:58A visit to Paulo Mendes da Rocha's studioPágina 2 de 13 Seen from the air, São Paulo seems orderly — a continuous urbangrid that is centered on the two rivers that flow east-west andnorth-south, regardless of the continuous change of theelevation of its many hills. Here, Le Corbusier's urban proposalfor São Paulo from 1929 is stuck in my head. Even the numerousshanty towns seem to have roads and infra-structure for the mostpart. A quick image of the city is impossible. What is striking isthe endless horizon of thirty story buildings placed on thesegentle hills as we drive slowly on the highways towards thecenter of the town. On Monday, September 3, 2012, I call Paulo Mendes da Rocha'soffice and his secretary of many years, Dulcinea, tells me thatPaulo Mendes da Rocha has a full schedule on this very busyweek, which includes the opening of the São Paulo art Bienal.Later that day I meet my friend, professor and historian RuthVerde Zein at an old café near Universidade PresbiterianaMackenzie where she teaches. She calls the Mendes da Rochaoffice and an appointment is settled for 5:30 that afternoon. Paulo Mendes da Rocha is a polite and elegant man. The officespace is an open plan with round circular columns and a steelcurtain wall in a 1940's building near the Praza de la Republicain São Paulo. Our conversation at the conference table shiftedbetween architecture and politics. He took me by surprise when Imentioned the 18th Century sculptor, furniture maker andarchitect Aleijandinho (Antonio Francisco Lisboa 1738-1814). Inhis view, the colonial epoch — including the uniquely BrazilianBaroque architecture — was irrelevant and unworthy. Thosehorrible sculptures made out of wood that is rotten from theinside, he said. Mendes' complete rejection of the value of Brazilian Baroque was heartfelt. It is ironic that Aleijandinhomeans little crippled one . The illegitimate son of his architectfather was trained as an assistant but not recognized in his will.Aleijandinho from Ouro Preto was the architect and sculptor of the most important baroque architecture in all the Americas. Hisarchitecture understood the radical nature of Baroque spaceindebted to Borromini and very different than the planar baroqueof the Mexican or Peruvian with its exuberance of surfaceornamentation. Later I understood why this view expressed byMendes was essential to his view of Brazilian culture. For him,the entire American continent was a frontier of artistic freedom,  20/07/14 15:58A visit to Paulo Mendes da Rocha's studioPágina 3 de 13 removed both from the tragic history imposed by the Colonialenterprise and the weight of European history. Top: Aerial view of São Paulo, Brazil. Above: San Francisco Church in Ouro Preto, Brazil Paulo Mendes da Rocha dismisses architecture concernedwith surface spectacle and the photographic image of newarchitecture . In his working process he works directly in hardline drawings in plan and section that are tested by making handcut wooden or cardboard models. When we discuss hiscelebrated renovation of the Pinacoteca he says, I did nothing, itwas a good building to begin with, I just had to remove some of the decorative layers and then transform the rigid Palladian planby covering the courtyards and introducing a new circulationthat crosses the middle of these voids with new steel walkwaysand an elevator . This is not false modesty but an example of theclarity with which Mendes views the potential of architecture totransform the existing conditions of the site. In this case, a 19thcentury building. Paulo then asks me: Do you like whisky? and as we move to his  20/07/14 15:58A visit to Paulo Mendes da Rocha's studioPágina 4 de 13 João Batista Vilanova Artigas: FAU São PauloUniversity desk area behind the bookshelves, another conversation beginsas he lights up a cigarette and we share some scotch. He tells meabout his father the engineer and how his parents wereintroduced. His father worked on the design and construction of a bridge in Southern Brazil in the first decade of the 20thcentury, all of which was done by oxen and manual labor. WhenPaulo decided to study architecture his father was a well-established engineer who was teaching at the University of SãoPaulo. He did not want to study at the same university where hisfather taught and decided to study architecture and notengineering at the Mackenzie University, a school established bythe Scottish engineers, who built most of the railroadsthroughout the country so their children could learn a professionin a university that was not Catholic. A couple of years aftergraduating, he won the competition for the Paulistano AthleticClub (São Paulo 1958). This building gave national reputation tothis young architect as an innovative and capable of usingadvanced reinforced concrete and steel structures. In this case,using a sculptural concrete base for the amphitheater as theanchor for a steel cable structure that in turn holds the metaltruss roof.At this time, João Vilanova Artigas — ten years his seniorand the most influential teacher/architect/engineer of hisgeneration — invites him through a proxy to be his teachingassistant at the University of São Paulo in FAU. This relationshipof thirty years teaching together was important for both. Onecould argue that the transition in Artigas work from the
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