Brazilian Museum of Sculpture

Brazilian Museum of Sculpture in São Paulo, Brazil by Paulo Mendes da Rocha, 1988

Paulo Mendes da Rocha's Brazilian Museum of Sculpture in São Paulo, Brazil is a simple yet provocative design that uses a large beam to give the museum a presence, while also fulfilling the need for shade and shelter for the exterior plaza. The architect's sketch, at left (click images for larger and expanded views), clearly illustrates this idea and its focus toward the visitors that use the plaza for relaxation, relief and performances.

The image at left shows the entry to the museum which is actually buried under the plaza. The museum's differing ceiling heights create a stepped outdoor space that is split by the entry fissure. These different heights also accommodate the stepping required to create outdoor seating for the plaza space, giving it a multi-functionality that is usually required for art institutions and their treatment of open space.

An interesting aspect, and possibly unintended consequence, of the raised concrete beam is its framing of the surroundings. Depending on the visitor's proximity to the structure, a short, wide sliver of space is visible between the beam and the plaza surface, and with the dull gray of both the view beyond is emphasized, gaining importance through the visitor's experience. Much like sculpture changes in relation to the viewer, the context is changed by the building's presence and the visitor's relation to it.

Paulo Mendes da Rocha's building was a finalist for the first Mies van der Rohe Award for Latin-American Architecture in 1998, a prize that went to Enrique Norten for a multi-use building in Mexico. The award helped to give exposure contemporary architecture in Latin-American countries, overlooked by most western-focused publications, a condition that is slowly changing as architects like Norten and Mendes da Rocha become more well known internationally.