Concrete in Sao Paulo – the city as an organism


Sao Paulo is the biggest city in South America, with 1521,11km² and 12,8 million people. The city was founded in 1554 by Jesuits, but had its biggest growth from the midst of the XIX century, due intense immigration from Japanese, Italians, Spanish and Lebanese. The city grew like an organism, attracting people and life from different parts of Brazil and outside. This ever expanding cosmopolitan offered opportunities and upgraded lifestyle for its people, a constant pendulum of migration and its reverse. Although the city had urban planning and expensive European like architecture, it grew too fast with an enormous variety of cultures, this way Sao Paulo is extremely diverse in its architecture and even on urban planning.

The most interesting architecture style came in the midst of the XX century, with the studies and application of reinforced concrete. The material became a style which was applied to various important constructions around the city. Concrete became the emblem for the have’s and the ‘favelas’ in return of the ‘have nots’. Definitive architecture styles corresponding to the material were imagined by renowned architects like Oscar Niemeyer there by building some of the most famous symbols of the city.

MASP (1947-1968, Lina Bo Bardi)

Designed by the Italian architect Lina Bo Bardi, MASP (Museu de Arte de Sao Paulo) is one of the biggest landmarks in the city. Located in Avenida Paulista the museum was designed for not only the purpose of exhibiting art, but also as a space of learning and gathering, as it presents some workshop spaces inside and outside with a free ground floor of 74 meters between the columns.

PC: Capital News

Ibirapuera Park (1953, Niemeyer)

The Ibirapuera Park is one of the biggest symbols of the city and it was proposed in 1951 for the 4th century anniversary of the city, in 1954. For such a celebration Oscar Niemeyer designed a group of 5 buildings united by a light and curvy marquee. A row of columns with a fluidic roof connects the 5 pavilions giving shade and protection to pedestrians. It automatically becomes a community space encouraging interaction with people as well as light and city.

PC: Archdaily

PC: Archdaily

The OCA (1954), as it is popularly called, is a reinforced concrete shell on top of the exhibition center. The concrete dome does not touch any of the 4 pavements, which are connected through a winding ramp.

PC: Archdaily

The Industry Palace (1954) is the current headquarters of the Sao Paulo Bienalle. The building stands out due to its large and pure volume and how light it looks at the same time, due to the retrieving ground floor. Another element that stands out is the brise-soleil that creates different patterns on the facade. This brise-soleil is the climatic response of the building – the hot tropical climate of Sao Paulo is tackled well by this passive cooling and breezy design.

PC: Archdaily

The Oscar Niemeyer Auditorium (1950-2005) has a clean trapeze shape made of reinforced concrete. Something that makes this building different from any other are the details in red. Mainly a Fire-tongue located at the entrance of the building. The narrative of this structure is to clearly declare Concrete as a powerful material, capable of achieving concepts in built, no other material has been able to capture. It is a bold admission of power with a material.

COPAN (1957- 1966, Oscar Niemeyer)

Another landmark made by Niemeyer is the COPAN building. With its distinct curvy shape and remarkable height Niemeyer designed the concrete building also for the 4th century anniversary of the city. COPAN is the largest reinforced concrete building in the country, with 115 meters height, 32 floors, and it was designed to be the Brazilian Rockfeller center, a cultural space, but at the moment it was built the real estate market had more priorities. The building today is a great example of a mix-use, as the ground and first floor are commercial, some floors are offices and others residential with different sizes.

PC: Arquivo Arq

Centro Cultural Sao Paulo (1975, Eurico Lopes and Luiz Telles)

The CCSP is an example of a democratic space as people from all around can enjoy the free areas as they please. The building was designed in a horizontal format, making it possible for it to disguise in the landscape and create several interesting spaces, including the main library which has strong ramp elements, that lead the visitors up and down to the gardens, theatre, exhibition and workshop space. The structure is a perfect example of hybrid, as the columns are metal made and the beams, walls and ceilings are concrete.

PC: Arquivo Sao Paulo


Praça das Artes (2006-2012, Brasil Arquitetura)

Located at the heart of Sao Paulo the Praça das artes is the new training space/school for musicians and dancers that work at the Municipal theater by its side. The school is designed in consideration with existing movement patterns of the people. The building users are as important the stakeholders as the pedestrians of the adjoining street for whom a special shortcut through the built has been created to facilitate their daily movement as well as increase interaction of the students with people and in so doing the people with children.

The building is made of concrete on a wooden mold, so it gives the textures and it was also made in different colors. But the most impressive aspect is the different windows and shapes, as from the outside you can’t figure out the different spaces and from the inside it creates fun shapes and different lights.

PC: Archdaily

PC: Archdaily

Sesc 24 de Maio (2017, Paulo Mendes da Rocha)

Sesc (Serviço Social do Comércio) is a private organization focused on the well being of the population, providing services linked with health, education and culture. Today Sesc has more than 350 units all over the country. In 2017 was opened on the street 24 de Maio unit on the heart of Sao Paulo. Made by the brutalist architect Paulo Mendes da Rocha it is made of reinforced concrete with exposed materials and structure. With a free ground floor, accessible vertical circulation (through ramps) and a swimming pool on the roof the Sesc is an example of cultural building, democratic space and structure engineering.

PC: Archdaily

PC: Archdaily

PC: Archdaily

In conclusion Sao Paulo grew and developed different styles and techniques of reinforced concrete throughout the years, but always being able to surprise and innovate. It has become a sought after destination for jobs, education and markets as also for tourists and migrants. The urbanscape of the city is etched with examples from famous architects who have in these endevors redefined the use of materials all over the world. In these efforts, we can study the early on experiments with concrete and the fearlessness of its use. Yet, we find materials and sites to be restrictive in present times even though several more leaps in technology have been made. It is through the study of these fearless designers, that upcoming ones can shed their inhibitions.

Rafaella Volpe
Guest Author: Rafaella Volpe

A Masters in Architecture student at the University of Liechtenstein, Rafaella is keen on making bold statements with her designs. She becomes a part of the architectural research and in turn lets it become a part of her in the form of built. She loves music and dancing and has been published in several architecture journals.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here