Welcome to the seemingly endless city of São Paulo, the third largest city in the world:
This is a view from Edificio Copan, a Niemeyer-designed apartment building in central São Paulo that dates to the early 1950s. I visited the building with my friend Jonas, a PhD student in architectural history here in São Paulo. Jonas had cleverly arranged an apartment-hunting visit so that we could pop around the building and see about 6 different living spaces!
Edificio Copan has an astounding 1,160 apartments (smack in the middle of the city!) and an internal "street" with 72 businesses, making it one of the biggest buildings in Brazil. About 2,000 residents live here -- so many that the building even has its own postal code, 01046-925. When I visited, it was covered in blue mesh because of loose tiles on the facade. I think they're doing restoration work, too. Let's hope.
In Sampa -- the locals' nickname for the metropolis -- I got to know a different strand of Brazilian modernism than I have seen thus far: the Paulista, or São Paulo-based, school. Paulista architecture is stereotypically rougher, bolder, and more Brutalist-leaning than that of the Carioca architects like Costa and Niemeyer.
I feel so fortunate to have been able to explore some of the fabulous work of Lina Bo Bardi (1914-92), an Italian-born Brazilian who moved to Rio de Janeiro in the 1940s with her husband, art critic Pietro Maria Bardi. The couple took up residence in São Paulo in 1947 when Mr. Bardi was invited to create a modern art museum there.
And here is where they lived... Lina Bo Bardi's "casa de vidro," or glass house, in the Morumbi neighborhood of São Paulo, designed in 1949. This house is visually and structurally lighter than most of her other works, with the main volume of the house hoisted on pilotis and hovering at tree-canopy level that takes advantage of the sloping site. The house pivots around a central void which protects a tree that was existing to the site. I thought the gently arching roof was rather charming, and a little more playful than the strictly flat roofs of earlier 20th-century modernism or Philip Johnson's glass house in New Canaan, CT, an unavoidable comparison.
Lina Bo Bardi also designed the modern art museum that her husband founded, the Museu de Arte de São Paulo (1957-69) known as "MASP." Bardi's building uses a striking structural system in which she "hung" the main gallery volume from the roof, using giant red poured-concrete columns for support. The result of this architectural gesture was the creation of an open public space below the building at street level adjacent to Avenida Paulista, one of the biggest boulevards in São Paulo. Because of this incorporation of public space, the municipal government financed the building.
MASP has two "basement" levels that again take advantage of the sloping site -- though they are full of sunlight and feel integrated with the rest of the building, thanks to a bold red stair that quotes the exterior structure.
MASP has recently restaged Bardi's original gallery design. Instead of mounting the museum's paintings on walls as in a traditional scheme, Bardi created glass easels with concrete bases that are divorced from the wall, revealing both the front and the back of the paintings. The viewer approaches each artwork without any wall text in view, and must circle around the painting to see the didactic panel with artist information.
Currently, there are 119 works from MASP's collection on view in this gallery, dating from 4th century B.C. to 2008. They are arranged chronologically (though Bardi's original scheme arranged works by region or artistic school) to break down some traditional art historical narratives. The layout really invites wandering... I found it almost impossible to view these works in "order" like you would in a typical museum; something ahead of you catches your eye, and you wander toward it.
I visited a third major work of Bardi's in the São Paulo area, SESC Pompéia, a cultural center designed in 1977. The complex is a dazzling combination of theaters, sports facilities, a pool, restaurant and bar, gallery, artist workshops, reading area, and communal spaces for general use. Bardi adapted an existing factory building (the lower brick structure in my photos), and paired it with two large concrete towers that house the sports facilities.
Red details tie everything together -- the old and the new. When I was in these spaces, I felt as though Bardi must have been able to really imagine the experience of being in every little nook of the building -- how it would feel to sit there, what one would see, etc.
Okay, I cannot continue with a post about São Paulo without telling you how great the food in this city is!!! Fabulous food. I had delicious pizza with a new friend Hugo at Veridiana Pizzaria (thanks so much Francesca for introducing us!), fantastic ramen in the Japanese neighborhood of Liberdade at a place called "Lamen Kazu" (yes, it took me a while to realize that this is just ramen with a different spelling), and super creamy pastel de nata, a traditional Portuguese pastry made of egg yolks at Casa Mathilde. Other highlights included finding a Brazilian "diner" for breakfast right around the corner from where I stayed, tasting the supposed best pão de queijo in São Paulo at Lá da Venda, and seeing the myriad of bananas types at a Saturday market in Pinheiros. (I wish some of my food photos were better but we were working with some low lighting here!)
I stayed in a cozy Airbnb in Pinheiros (thank you Nathalia!), a wonderful neighborhood to wander, especially on Saturdays when there is a fun antiques fair. Two things really struck me about the streetscape -- the juxtaposition between the smaller, older buildings and the tall high rises that have been built more recently, and the outrageously cool street art (even if I inadvertently posed in front of a woman's crotch).
São Paulo is so rich with museums and cultural offerings. I toured the Theatro Municipal from 1911, which is modeled on the Palais Garnier opera in Paris. It makes use of some local materials, though, like a regional marble, itupararanga, which has now been completely extracted from the earth, and local woods called pau marfim and peroba rosa, both of which are now also extinct. My guide told me that when from the theater was inaugurated up until the 1970s (!), there were three segregated "orders" of seating -- the closest and best seats were occupied by the coffee barons and politicians, the second balcony level was used by lawyers, doctors, architects, and engineers, and the top level was for teachers, students, and Italian immigrants who had to use side doors to enter the theater.
On my last day in Sampa, I visited Ibirapuera Park, another amazing public amenity in São Paulo. Niemeyer was commissioned to design five buildings here in 1954 for the city's 400th anniversary. A sinuous canopy connects the buildings and serves as a prime skateboard and rollerblade zone! These structures now house the São Paulo art biennial, the Museu de Arte Moderna, and the Museu Afro-Brasil, which had moving exhibitions on the history of slavery in Brazil as well as the art and material culture of Afro-Brazilian traditions practiced today. I am including an image of costumes from the maracatu festival that originated in northeastern Brazil and is now practiced throughout the country. This was a good primer for my trip to Bahia -- more to come soon in a subsequent post!