The Second Coming
Paulo Mendes da Rocha is practically a god in São Paulo, Brazil-where he just restored a house he'd built decades before.
Raul Barreneche -- Interior Design, 11/1/2011 2:00:00 AM
A weekend escape from São Paulo, the booming Brazilian metropolis of almost 20 million residents, typically involves driving two hours east to the dazzling Atlantic coast or west to pastoral horse country. Houssein Jarouche-
owner of the design emporium Micasa, Brazil's answer to Moss-opted for something closer, a "beach house" in the middle of the city. Implausible as it sounds, Jarouche's getaway is indeed an oasis amid urban chaos. Perched on a 90-foot cliff in a leafy, upscale neighborhood, the house is freestanding, itself a rarity in skyscraper-clogged São Paulo. If views from the living area are of cheek-by-jowl apartment blocks, so what? "I was drawn to the way the house floats above the natural landscape. It's brutalist yet very light," he says. And his unorthodox weekend home is satisfyingly different from his main residence, a sleek, white flat filled with contemporary design and art.
Jarouche, of all people, could appreciate the cliff-top house's impeccable pedigree. Designed in 1969 by Paulo Mendes da Rocha, who went on to win the Pritzker Architecture Prize in 2006 and is now 83 years old, the house is a stellar example of Paulista, the local school of brutalism that he championed in the 1950's and '60's. The original owner was Mário Masetti, a successful civil engineer who clearly admired the structural daring that could elevatea
house above a pool deck and a patio. Mendes da Rocha accomplished this feat by setting a single-story volumeon two massive pretensioned concrete beams, which in turn rest on four chunky concrete pillars. A graceful concrete staircase sweeps up from the pool and parking level to a portico to stop, like airplane stairs, just short of the entry. "The house has an extraordinary structural delicateness and an incredibly precise equilibrium," he says. "It's a union of art, science, and technology."
When Jarouche bought the house from Masetti's heirs, he envisioned bringing it back to its original condition. "Rather than renovating, I was interested in restoring, maintaining everything that was original and rebuilding everything that had been changed," Jarouche explains. And he called Mendes da Rocha, who found his long-ago design in perfect shape except for some mildewed surfaces and general wear and tear. Because he has always run a skeleton operation at his namesake firm, former students typically help him carry out projects, and this time he turned to Eduardo Colonelli's São Paulo Studio of Architecture.
The team installed new glass for skylights and a run of windows that tilt up and balance in place by means of clever engineering and the force of gravity. A basement service area became a photography studio. Outside, the swimming pool was painted black, something Mendes da Rocha had wanted to do for nearly 45 years. Much to his delight as well, Jarouche insisted on remaking the bedrooms' louvered sliding doors in their original wood- they had been replaced with a weatherproof material over time. What needed no refurbishing at all was the Portuguesestyle
patterned floor tile in tinted cement, a typical embellishment found in modest shops, markets, and churches throughout Brazil. "The more you walk on the tiles," Mendes da Rocha says, "the more lovely they look."
Flooring is the only lighthearted moment amid the otherwise tough architecture, brutalist indeed. Plumbing pipes and electrical conduits are exposed. In the bedrooms, freestanding concrete capsules enclose showers with towel racks made of the same copper pipes as the plumbing. Drywall is unseen. For furnishings, mostly from Micasa, Jarouche says he selected pieces that wouldn't overpower: "The house doesn't need too much. It's really about living in contact with the architecture and landscape." That hardly means blend-into-the-background bland, however. Among his livelier choices are a damask-covered Marcel Wanders sofa, a young Israeli duo's cabinet resembling a stack of drawers, and a vintage chesterfield revamped by a Brazilian artist. Despite the house's rigid lines and bare bones, Mendes da Rocha insists it's easy to inhabit: "It's not rigorous. It's very free. You can put a chair here, a bookshelf there. Bring in a piano, whatever you like. Anyone can live there." Perhaps. More likely, his masterpiece will always attract design's most devoted fans.
Photography by Filippo Banberghi/photofoyer.