In memoriam: “All space must be attached to a value, to a public dimension. There is no private space. The only private space that you can imagine is the human mind.” Said once the late Paulo Mendes da Rocha, considered one of the greatest architects of the 20th century. The architect passed away of lung cancer on May 23, 2021.
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Paulo Mendes da Rocha received some of the most important accolades, including the Pritzker Architecture Prize, the Nobel equivalent for architecture. Among his most famous buildings, mostly in his native country, are the Contemporary Art at the University of São Paulo, the Brazilian Sculpture Museum, and the Athletic Club of São Paulo.
After graduating in 1954, he opened his own studio the following year and, at the age of 29, he completed his first important commission: the Athletic Club of São Paulo, a futuristic super-thin halo made from reinforced concrete and steel that seams to hover the ground thanks to six chiseled, angular blades.
As his carrier kicked off, he was then considered part of São Paulo avant-garde, known loosely as creators of the Paulist brutalist architecture – a label he most recently rejected. Among his most widely known built works is the Brazilian Sculpture Museum, a non-traditional concept of a museum nestled partly underground in a garden in São Paulo. He made bold use of a giant concrete beam on the exterior that traverses the site.
His Forma Furniture Showroom in the same city (1987) is considered an icon of his approach to architecture. The front has a window that spans the length of the building, opening the building to the cityscape, a recurring theme of his work. St. Peter Chapel in Campos do Jordão, Brazil, 1987, was designed around a central cylindrical concrete column representing the saint’s role as a pillar for Christianity.
His renovation of São Paulo’s oldest Fine Arts Museum, the Pinacoteca do Estado, in 1993, affirmed his understanding and respect for Brazil’s legacy. The basic structure of the nineteenth-century building was restored with some striking new functional additions.
In 2002, Mendes da Rocha revitalized a square in the heart of São Paulo called Patriarch Plaza, adding an enormous steel canopy that appears to float over the square. Among his few international projects are Portugal’s National Coach Museum in Lisbon, 2015, the Brazilian Pavilion at Expo ‘70 in Osaka, Japan, and the master plan for the Technological City, part of the University of Vigo in Spain.
The late architect taught for many years at the University of São Paulo and contributed to the professional community through his work as president of the Brazilian Institute for Architects. He has lectured extensively throughout South America and Europe.