Archives for posts with tag: Brazil

Building `gallery` shopping centres in the European style was championed in São Paulo from the early 1960s, during the initial `verticalisation` of the city, by Italian architect Ermanno Siffredi.  Others followed suit, and the character of these elegant buildings still holds sway in São Paulo Centro. São Paulo already had a considerable and elegant built heritage.

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Foyer of the São Pãulo Teatro Municipal opera house. Ramos de Azevedo, 1911.

But the shopping gallery projects did not import materials and craftsmen and women wholesale from Europe, as did the Teatro (1903 – 1911) and the Gothic Revival Catedral da Sé (1913 – 1954). The galleries were not stone but ferro-concrete constructions, and some designs were the outcome of architectural competitions. With striking results.

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Façade of Grandes Galerias, Avenida São João 439, São Paulo. Siffredi & Bardelli, 1962

Boldly modern in its sweep and style, the Shopping Center Grandes Galerias nonetheless combines curves and straight lines to good effect, just as the eclectic Art Nouveau Teatro does. The Grandes Galerias were designed by the Italian practice of Ermanno Siffredi and Maria Bardelli, business and personal partners. Since their qualifications were not recognised in Brazil, they were not always named as architects. Brazilian Alfredo Mathias also had a hand in the design – he went on to design the Portal residential complex in Morumbi.

Their effects are achieved with simple devices – linear placement of ordinary light fittings, pale curved facade floors which draw the eye away from the darker faceted standard plate glass windows, the safe yet open galleries which invite a casual shopper to linger on the railing and enjoy the view. And there are more visual delights inside.

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A vantage point for vigilant security

The curves of the façade are carried through into the arcade walk in both horizontal and in ascending vertical planes. The wooden battens  – a favoured decorative element in Brazil – of the façade shop fronts wrap around the mezzanine, spacious despite the intrusive fire system piping.

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Each floor has a distinct pattern for its tiled floor. The demands of commercial advertising may intrude – what IS that on the underside of the elevator ? – and the character of the design may or may not be strong enough to overcome them.

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A visual Babel

The lifts are a case in point. The floor tiles, and the dark facings and stainless steel doors interpolated in the curve of wooden battens, are matched in colour, and contrasted in form. But the ceramic mural of shoppers and their consumer durables above is somewhat lost in the noise of the commercial environment. Let’s take a closer look.

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Fashionable furnishing at its height

Decorative ceramics, household furniture, light fittings and wall coverings are all advertised in a rather more subtle way than today’s retail items. Today the building is known as the Galeria do Rock, and sells skater fashions, T-shirts, tattoos and sports goods, and serves as a commercial music venue for tribute bands. Urban sub-cultures thrive here.

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Sloping access to lower ground floor, original lettering

What we see here under the commercial noise and frankly, the startling poverty of São Paulo Centro today, is the elegance and the real optimism of an earlier age. Today Avenida São João is inhabited by the urban poor and small retailers.

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The facade on Avenida São João from the inside looking out

Hard to believe that in 1978, Brazilian music star Caetano Veloso wrote a song to honour São Paulo – “Sampa” – which has the corner of Avenida São João and Ipiranga at its heart, where Bar Brahma was “a favorite of intellectuals, musicians & politicians in the ’50s & ’60s, with beer, snacks & music”, if Google Maps is to be believed.

 

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Modernist composition, ground floor, looking up

Under the glitz and the grinding poverty, the architecture of the Shopping Center Grandes Galerias is a fading though glamorous echo of that time.

Visiting the Baroque Brazilian city of Ouro Preto – built on the wealth of the gold found locally with iron oxide (‘black gold’ or ouro preto) – you may be directed to one of the museums, the 1784 Casa dos Contos. It’s a museum of coinage and the gold cycle, serving at various times as private residence and tax office, barracks and prison, Government mint and gold foundry, post office and savings bank, and town hall. The building has played a major role in the history of the city.

Substantial Baroque building - with Niemeyer's Grande Hotel behind

Substantial Baroque building – with Niemeyer’s Grande Hotel behind

Ouro Preto – first named Vila Rica or ‘rich village’ – was in its heyday at the end of the eighteenth century the largest city in Brazil, with 100,000 inhabitants. The Casa dos Contos is an imposing building, with some unusual features. The large set of chimneys visible at the rear was installed to drive the fires required for high-temperature gold smelting. Zoom in on the image and you see between the third and fourth windows from the left two large holes made in the wall for ventilation.

Wide enough for a dozen armed mounted men

Wide enough for a dozen armed mounted men

Security was of course tight. One reason for the gold to be smelted and exported under government control was to discourage theft, but it also meant that the Crown could claim its 20% before the smelted hallmarked bars were escorted under armed guard to the coast.

View from the balcony

View from the balcony

It’s an impressive building inside too – wide stone stairs with beautifully carved jacaranda balustrades, and large airy rooms on the first floor overlooking the street, complete with period furniture, decorated ceilings, and bookcases for the Museum archive.

Gracious living on the piano nobile

Gracious living on the piano nobile

But the most remarkable part of the Museum’s collection is in the cellar. The Casa is built, like other Ouro Preto baroque residences, to withstand sudden heavy rainfall on the cobbled hills. Massive freestone pillars support the level upper stories, and the cellar floor is finished likewise in hard local freestone, roughly set edgeways. It was hard going even with trainers on. It slopes away markedly towards the watercourse alongside.

Displayed in the niches of the freestone walls and between the pillars is a collection of eighteenth and nineteenth century household goods – kitchen implements, building tools, farm and workshop repair and maintenance contraptions. The collection was made by a local man who worked as a shoe repairer, developing over years his interest in Baroque daily life. Displayed casually among the household items are branding irons, manacles, wooden stocks, and a large evil-looking mantrap for runaway slaves. In the quietest, most effective way, these objects make clear how Brazil’s wealth was built on slavery, why in this cellar where they lived and worked in the kitchen they also washed their clothes in a crude stone-built laundry, why the ventilation holes in the first floor foundry are narrower than a man. And why a young Ouro Pretan on the street greets his fellow African Brazilian with the words “O, escravo!”

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