Paulo Mendes da Rocha

BRAZIL (1928)

Born in Brazil in 1928, Paulo Mendes da Rocha began his career in Sao Paulo in the 1950s as a member of the “Paulist brutalist” avant-garde. He received a degree in architecture in 1954, opened his office in 1955 and soon after created an early masterpiece, the Athletic Club of Sao Paulo (1957). Civic landmarks, museums, schools, hotels, private houses and apartment buildings followed, and Mendes da Rocha took his place in the pantheon of Brazilian architects, second only perhaps to Oscar Niemeyer, designer of the capital city of Brasilia.


Mendes da Rocha has maintained a private practice, taught at the University of Sao Paulo and acted as President of the Brazilian Institute for Architects. He has received many awards, including the Mies van der Rohe prize for Latin American Architecture (2000), his first international recognition. The award paid tribute to the architect’s respectful renovation of the Pinacoteca do Estado, Sao Paulo’s oldest fine arts museum.


One of the most consistently daring of 20th-century architects, Mendes da Rocha has worked notably in the public realm, creating concrete and steel forms of immense power and grace. For the Brazilian pavilion at Expo ’70 in Osaka, Japan, he balanced a building on a single point of terrain with audacious elegance. The next year, he placed as a finalist in competition for the design of the Centre Pompidou in Paris. Among his widely known built works is the Museum of Contemporary Art (1975) at the University of Sao Paulo, the Forma Furniture showroom (1987) in Sao Paulo and the Brazilian Sculpture Museum (1987–1992). Other projects include plans for the University of Vigo in Galicia, Spain, and the Boulevard des Sports complex in Paris for the 2008 Olympic Games.


In the imaginative modernist spirit that marks his buildings, Mendes da Rocha designed the sculptural Paulistano Armchair (1957) for the living rooms of the Athletic Club of Sao Paulo. Made by bending a single steel bar and attaching a leather seat and back, the elegant sling chair pushes the limits of structural form, yet remains supremely comfortable and functional.


In 2006, Mendes da Rocha received architecture’s highest honor as the Pritzker jury applauded his “deep understanding of the poetics of space” and “architecture of profound social engagement.” Jury Chairman Lord Peter Palumbo added, “Mendes da Rocha brings the joyful lilt of Brazil to his work... never afraid of innovation or taking risks... indeed, a worthy choice.”

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