Sunday 11 November 2007

Sao Paulo – a tropical New York

Sao Paulo is hectic and fascinating. With approximately 12 million citizens (20 millions in the lager metropolitan zone) the city is the largest in the southern hemisphere. It is a compound of cultural and ethnical amalgamations, that fully lives up to its reputation as a tropical New York.

In the middle of this New York is Sao Paulo’s central park; Parque do Ibirapuera. With its two square kilometers of recreational space, the park is a vital green lunge in the city’s pulse, used on a daily bases by the Paulistanos (the city’s inhabitants),which often have their lunch breaks in one of the many small cafés, while school classes are walking hand in hand through the parks impressive museums.

The Ibirapuera Park was opened in 1954 as celebration of the 400-years anniversary of Sao Paulo. For me, as an architect, being in this park is like stepping into an architectural hit-list; buildings by Oscar Niemeyer and Hélio Uchôa, landscape designs by Burle Marx. One architectural pearl after another are tied together by the Grande Marquise – a gigantic concrete roof construction, which creates amazing outdoor spaces, limited only by the parks tropical plants and the green lawns, where skaters, ice-cream stands, playing children and smiling Paulistanos confirm the Brazilians warm and hospitable reputation.

The 7th Sao Paulo biennale of architecture will open tonight, in one of the most remarkable exhibition halls an architect could ever hope to have his works exhibited in; Oscar Niemeyer’s Cicillo Matarazzo Pavilion. It’s an impressive power demonstration, where repetitive and potent concrete constructions, supplemented by details almost marginal in their design, creates spatial precision and astounding facade esthetics.

Focus is not on the sophisticated and superficial, but on the modernistic simplicity and almost brutal architecture, that really becomes this exhibition building. If you’re not already left breathless by the beauty of the surrounding park, I’ll guarantee you stepping into this building will make it happen. It is as if the simplistic repetitiveness of the building collects vast amounts of energy, just to release it all at one precise location; the amazing system of ramps and balconies that with typical Niemeyer shapes in black and white, leads the visitors through the buildings 30.000 square meters of exhibition space.

And it is within this framework that the Danish contribution to the biennales of Venice and Beijing currently is visiting Sao Paulo. It seems so obvious that Co-Evolution, a project about sustainable urban development in China, developed through intercontinental collaboration between four young Danish architectural offices and four Chinese universities, should visit the second largest city in the world; a city that just as Shanghai and Beijing, severely struggles with our common global and climatic challenges. Co-Evolution is not only relevant in a Chinese setting, as all the projects four parts foremost shows approaches towards sustainable urban development, that can inspire development in China as well as in South America.

During the last three days hectic build up period I have wandered around in the exhibition building, watching the national contributions gradually taking shape. It is of course a little early to comment much on their content, but so far both the variety and the quality of the presented projects strikes me as rather high, and works to emphasize this biennale’s reputation of being second only by the Venice biennale when it comes to importance. Based on this I believe that we can be pleased and satisfied with the Danish contribution – between the many panels and models that shows the different countries architecture as well as architects, Co–Evolution stands out as a philanthropic contribution trying to inspire architects to play an active role in shaping a common sustainable future

As I’ve already said, the biennale opens tonight. The Danish contribution is in place, and we can use the rest of the day to visit Lina Bo Bardis art museum (MASP) in Avenida Paulista, and to see her conversions of an old steel basin factory (Pompeia) into a sports and culture center (SESC). Tonight I will head on to the biennale and Oscar Niemeyer; not only to the building but also the special exhibition that has been set up under the Grand Marquise. It seems evident to celebrate an architect that has his 100-birthday this December and actually still is active! - That, I’m looking forward to.

Sao Paulo, 11. november 2007

CEBRA_Kolja Nielsen

(Kolja Nielsen is a partner of the architectural office CEBRA, which together with COBE, TRANSFORM and EFFEKT are the four Danish offices contributing in the CO-EVOLUTION exhibition)

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