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Monday, February 25, 2008

Book Review: Paulo Mendes da Rocha

Paulo Mendes da Rocha by Paulo Mendes da Rocha & Rosa Artegis

Featured twice previously on this weekly page -- as well as this week with his design for a chapel on the grounds of a ceramic factory -- the architecture of Paulo Mendes da Rocha evinces an undeniable quality that comes from the simplest of gestures rendered unabashedly in materials like concrete or steel. His Square of the Patriarch, which graces the cover of this recent monograph on the Pritzker Prize-winning architect from Brazil, clearly illustrates such a stance: a strong belief in Modernism and its ability to transform the city. In most cases, for da Rocha, the city is his native São Paulo, where the above plaza and perhaps his most famous building, the Brazilian Museum of Sculpture, make their home. This book presents roughly 50 of the architect's built and unbuilt projects, almost all within Brazil. Even with the exposure given the architect on his awarding of the Pritzker Prize, many of these projects will be new to those outside his home country.
The presentation of the projects that range from in scale from a chair to a waterfront exhibits the same consistency as the architect's work and style. Beyond the requisite photographs, sketches, models and text descriptions, the hard-line drawings stand out for their spare simplicity and consistency of treatment. These drawings, particularly the plans and sections, illustrate the minimal efforts expended for the maximum effects. In the sections we see the trademark raising of the building above the ground surface to create a sheltered open space and bar buildings that seem to never die of their novelty for the architect. But to boil the architect's work down to formal flourishes would be a disservice, and the essays that da Rocha himself provides, including a post-Pritzker interview, help give the reader some insight into the architect's firm belief in program over form, amongst other approaches to the task of architecture.
The book is split into two volumes. In essence it is an expansion of an earlier monograph, presenting recent works by da Rocha. These later projects, like the chapel, exhibit a willingness to accept small commissions alongside ones that deal with the scale of neighborhoods. It's an ideal position to be in for an architect who could easily be called an idealist.

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