285 Montevideo

285 Montevideo in Belo Horizonte, Brazil by Vazio S/A Arquitetura e Urbanismo, 2011

Since 2006 the New York Chapter of the American Institute of Architects has held a biannual juried portfolio competition "to recognize and promote new, innovative and emerging architecture firms within New York City." New Practices New York (NPNY) exhibitions are now accompanied by New Practices São Paulo (NPSP), which recognizes architects in that Brazilian city "that have undertaken unique and commendable strategies – both in the projects they undertake and the practices they have established." One of the seven winning architects is Vazio S/A Arquitetura e Urbanismo, who are actually located in Belo Horizonte.

In an upper-middle-class section of the same city they inserted an apartment building into a narrow site (12x40 meters; 40x130 feet) surrounded by other residential buildings. The long elevations face east and west, with living spaces and bedrooms facing the former and with kitchens and bathrooms facing the latter. Within the rectangular plan are cut terraces for outdoor dining and as an extension of the master bedroom on the north. The south end of the plan, which faces the street (photo at right), is occupied by the stair and elevator. So the apartments are oriented to the north and east, towards the inside of the block and over the smaller neighbor.

The building is geared towards taking advantage of the strict local building codes, which primarily restricted the height of the building. Floor-to-ceiling heights of 3.5m (8 feet) predominate, but more height can be found within the fifth-floor unit, a special floor with a full terrace on the east side and a larger plan that cantilevers towards the backyard, one place where building code restrictions don't apply. The whole building is propped upon a ground-floor carpark that creates a large roof garden in the middle of the block. The top of the building also features plantings as well as solar panels for hot water.

The most visual interest is created by the cantilevered grilles on the east facade that filter daylight and help give the residents some privacy. These projections are treated in a way that isn't logical or straightforward; they overlap, some are two-stories high, some are capped by diagonal grilles. Behind them are planter boxes whose drainage is expressed in PVC piping that wends its way down the facade. This elevation recalls a project by another NPSP firm, Triptyque Architecture's Harmonia 57, where irrigation for the living wall is expressed. In either case, something that is utilitarian and might otherwise be buried within a wall is expressed, signaling water's role in nurturing parts of our habitats.

Photography credits: Leonardo Finotti, Eduardo Eckenfels, and Carlos Teixeira