Paulo Mendes da Rocha, Cais das Artes and the Paulista Style

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Paulo Mendes da Rocha is one of the most important Brazilian modernist and contemporary architect. Born in Vitória, Espírito Santo, Brazil, he studied architecture in São Paulo and was influenced by one of the creators of the “paulista” style, Vilanova Artigas. Becuase of his works, he received the Mies Van der Rohe Prize, in 2000, the Pritzker Prize, in 2006, and the Venice Biennale Golden Lion for lifetime achievement, in 2016.

The “paulista” style is a subtype of the brutalist style that emerged in São Paulo, Brazil. The architects of São Paulo were against the scuptural language used by Oscar Niemeyer and others architect from Rio de Janeiro. They believed in an epistemology and ethical necessity of showing the truth behind the way a building is constructed, what materials were used and how the edifice keeps itself up. Because of that, they prefer raw and rough materials, like exposed concrete, without any coating.

The peculiarity of “paulista” style in relation to brutalism is that “paulista’ architecture strived for a political change in Brazil. According to Segawa, architects from São Paulo believed that they had a social responsibility that they need to meet when designing a building and that a building can be used as an “instrument of political and ideological emancipation” (1). Because of that, buildings in this style tend to have big open spaces that facilitate the realization of large public manifestations, like the Art Museum of São Paulo (Museu de Arte de São Paulo or MASP in portuguse) by Lina Bo Bardi:

Art Museum of São Paulo
Art Museum of São Paulo

Here we’ll analyze one of Paulo Mendes’ latest works, designed with Metro Arquitetos Associados, the Cais das Artes (or Quay of Arts, in english), located in Vitória, Espírito Santo, Brazil.

The building is made to look like a 150 meters ship anchored in Vitória’s bay bringing art and culture from abroad to the city. This Project consist in a museum and a theater prepared to receive large artistic events. The building is also equipped with bookstores and coffee shops, a place that can’t be missed in an institutional project located in Espírito Santo, since coffee is their biggest commodity(3).


View of Cais das Artes from Vitória’s Third Bridge


View of Cais das Artes from Vitória’s Bay

The building is made of blocks of exposed concrete, following the characteristics of the “paulista” style, and has a big open space on its ground floor. To Blahut 4, the open space is designed to allow people to appreciate the scenic surroundings and historical city, and it can also be used by musicians or artists to show their artwork or for political manifestations.

Complementing the use of exposed concrete, and in accordance with the idea of appreciation of the surroundings, Paulo Mendes also used glass openings to allow people to see the sea. Part of these openings is oriented to the open space on the ground floor, a place that, according to Blahut, “will be a place of attraction in the cultural life of the city” (5).


Interior design of Cais das Artes

We can see by this project, that Paulo Mendes da Rocha is concerned with creating open public spaces that can be used by public manifestations or to help to spread local culture, specially marginal culture. He is also concerned with the epistemological and ethical consequences of hiding or showing how something is built. Because of that, there is a preoccupation is showing the true nature of the materiality of the edifice itself, making buildings seems more simple and rough.

1. Segawa, Hugo (2013). Architecture of Brazil: 1900-1990. New York: Springer, p. 167.
3. ABOP (2015). Espírito Santo. Available at: http://www.abopcafe.com.br/espirito-santo/ [Accessed 12 october 2019].
5. Blahut, Chelsea (2016). Cais das Artes. Available at: https://www.architectmagazine.com/projectgallery/cais-das-arteso [Accessed26july2019]

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