There is a compelling sense of originality, creativity and character to Brazilian design and architecture. The country has a powerful legacy of design history that acts as a sure and solid foundation for future innovators, while the icons of Brazilian design – Oscar Niemeyer, Lina Bo Bardi, furniture designer Sérgio Rodrigues, landscape architect Roberto Burle Marx, and others – stand among the grand figures on the twentieth century international stage. And now a fresh and vital wave of contemporary Brazilian architects and designers are establishing global reputations, reinforcing our perception of the country as a focal point of imaginative creativity.
This notion of creative energy lies at the very heart of the Brazilian success story. It is a quality that one sees again and again across Brazil, from the epic metropolis of São Paulo to the more relaxed ambition of Rio de Janeiro to the capital Brasília – one of the great invented cities of the last century. Along with this energy comes a very particular sense of confidence about the position and direction of Brazilian design and its rich, multicultural identity, which draws upon many different influences yet somehow produces ideas that are distinctly ‘made in Brazil’.
Energy and confidence pervade all sectors of Brazilian design, from its increasingly influential fashion houses to product and furniture design to architecture and interiors. Over the past decades, there has been clear progress in its global reputation, reflected in the rising demand for home-grown talent, both in Brazil and further afield. Throughout the country there is a sophisticated appreciation and understanding of design and its ability to play a key part in the national story, helping to shape a new generation of hotels, restaurants and other enterprises that are now among the best in the world.
The modern Brazilian home is another reflection of the country’s design scene. Architects and designers such as Marcio Kogan of Studio MK27, Arthur Casas and Isay Weinfeld have helped shape a new kind of house, a new way of living, which draws upon Brazil's modernist architectural legacy, while exploring innovative forms and fresh ideas. This new, contemporary home is defined by a forward-thinking approach and an organic character that utilizes the textures of the native timber and stone. Sustainably forested woods, such as ipê and cumaru, lend depth and warmth, while home-sourced stone – from granite and slate to marble, across a vast range of patinas and colours – also feeds into the rich character of contemporary architecture. This is spliced with a detailed understanding of construction and engineering, as well as the possibilities offered by concrete.
A true sensitivity to nature and context infuses the new Brazilian house, together with an easy flow between indoor and outdoor living, with widespread use of verandas and outdoor rooms to make the most of the benign climate. Even in cities such as São Paulo, where space is at a premium, gardens are richly planted, and full use is made of internal courtyards, roof terraces, green walls and indoor gardens. These miniature gardens help to introduce light and air into the heart of the home, but also offer a direct sense of connection to nature, which plays such a vital part of home living across Brazil. A response to context can mean very different things according to location, and this book explores a spectrum of houses from the city to the countryside and along the coast, yet all have a degree of connection with nature, even when they look inwards and onto a courtyard garden.
Flexibility is another key quality that reappears again and again, with choices between inside and outside space and between zones within the home for eating and relaxing. This is characteristic of the relative informality of the modern Brazilian home, with open-plan layouts for multifunctional living spaces combining areas for relaxing, entertaining and dining. There is relatively little evidence, even in larger homes, of a need for more formally defined dining rooms, and if they do exist, they tend to be integrated with other parts of the house, rather than sectioned off. The new house reflects a contemporary lifestyle that has a great sense of allure for everyone, with spaces that are sophisticated and full of individuality, yet are also calming, relaxed, informal, inviting and warm, with a constant sense of connection to nature and outdoor living.
The warmth of contemporary Brazilian architecture stems not just from rich indigenous materials and the natural context, but also from the legacy of the country's great modernists. When you think of the furniture designs of pioneers such as Sérgio Rodrigues, Joaquim Tenreiro and Zanine Caldas, you see work of character, colour and sensuality that uses engaging materials. design classics such as Rodrigues's 'Mole' armchair or Caldas's chaise longue still have pride of place in many contemporary interiors. The sensual curves of a 'Bowl' chair by Lina Bo Bardi or a classic chair by Flávio de Carvalho still please the eye and sit well with the modern spaces created by the designers and architects of today. Contemporary Brazilian furniture – by Carlos Motta, Arthur Casas, Claudia Moreira Salles and Fernando and Humberto Campana – is also highly respected internationally and feeds into the interiors mix.
The buildings of the iconic Brazilian architects of the last century offer, above all, a unique version of soft modernism. Across Latin America, only Mexico can even begin to lay claim to an architectural legacy of anything like the importance of the Brazilian example. While the great Mexican architect Luis Barragán was inspired by the ranches and haciendas of his youth, Oscar Niemeyer found inspiration in the contours and curves of the land and of the body. He was as much a sculptor as an architect, carving space and moulding concrete into sensuous and evocative compositions. His buildings became a symbol of Brazil itself, an outward expression of its progressive identity, as he and Lúcio Costa famously shaped the new capital Brasília in the 1950s and ‘60s.
Niemeyer and Costa were homegrown talents, and so was one of their favourite collaborators, the great landscape designer and artist Roberto Burle Marx. Other heroes of mid-century Brazilian modernism were émigrés, who brought with them a European sensibility and became a key part of the evolving architectural community in the country. They included Lina Bo Bardi, born in Italy, and Joaquim Tenreiro, who came from Portugal. Other incomers included Martin Eisler (Austria) and Jorge Zalszupin (Poland). All became an integral part of a vibrant design community, adding to a culture of experimentalism, infused with an avant-garde element.
In the latter half of the twentieth century, Brazilian architects and designers continued to experiment and push boundaries. Eduardo Longo explored spherical structures with a series of pioneering ball-shaped houses. Pritzker Prize-winner Paulo Mendes da Rocha represented the height of the so-called Paulista School, investigating the possibilities offered by concrete and advanced engineering. Ruy Ohtake took a sculptural approach, creating abstract buildings such as the ark-like Hotel unique in São Paulo, while Marcos Acayaba explored a softer version of modernism in buildings that combined engineering and dramatic forms with strong indoor– outdoor relationships and a sensitive approach to landscaping. Such figures represented the depth and dynamism of Brazilian architecture at the close of the last century.
Now we are entering a new period and one that feels more exciting than ever. The future looks bright for Brazilian architecture and design. The breadth and range are still there, but allied with them is a new confidence and energy. This book celebrates the diversity of new Brazilian design and interiors, from architects such as Kogan, Weinfeld, Marcelo Ferraz and Cândida Tabet to interior designers and furniture-makers, including Motta, Mónica Penaguião and Guilherme Torres. Travelling across Brazil, looking at the work of some of its leading contemporary designers, is to be inspired by the sophistication and imagination threaded through the new Brazilian house.
Find out more about Dominic's coverage of Marcio Kogan's property, V4 House in FOUR's International Architecture & Design supplement 2014. Head to thamesandhudson.com to find out more about the book (price - £24.95).
Images © Richard Powers