The Paulist School: A Hypothesis for Critical Regionalism

Ettore Vadini


At a time when Europe was questioning the Athens Charter during the CIAM (from Aix-en-Provence in ‘53 to the epilogue in Otterlo in ‘59), Brazil, under President Kubitschek and with the founding of Brasilia, was instead consolidating an idea of modernism as the cultural and social vehicle of a grand Republic in search of an identity. This project to adapt Modernism to the characteristics of Brazil, was led, some 30 years prior to Brasilia, by a handful of Brazilian architects, including Lùcio Costa and Gregori Warchavchik with the Manifesto of Rational Architecture (1925), as well as Le Corbusier in the form of lectures (1929) and key projects, such as the New Ministry of Education and Hygiene in Rio (1936).

To this day the inheritances of modern architecture are very much alive in Brazil. They are the cultural paradigms atop which the work of diverse generations of Brazilian architects is founded, including the younger generations. In fact, appearing disenchanted with the globalising products of the archistars, they still manage to promote the lessons of their masters and their pupils: from Costa to Vilanova Artigas, from Lina Bo Bardi to Oscar Niemeyer, from João Filgueiras Lima to Paulo Mendes da Rocha. The legacy of a Modernism adapted to local characters, be they Carioca or Paulist, is still highly visible in contemporary Brazilian architecture. It remains so latent that it appears to protect young architects against the temptations of innovation for innovations sake. In their architecture we can capture the continuation of a phenomenon.

The theme of this review offers a particular occasion for reordering selected events in architecture from the past century, which unfolded between Europe and South America. They are useful for expanding our observation of the panorama of works under the critical notion of “modern architecture and cultural identity”, which Kenneth Frampton referred to as “Critical Regionalism”. Thus they accompany a ‘regionalist’ reflection on the architecture of the Paulist School.

Before advancing any hypotheses, it is worth remembering what is intended by “Critical Regionalism”. We can do this by referring to what Frampton wrote in the original edition of Modern Architecture: A Critical History:

The term “Critical Regionalism” is not intended to denote the vernacular as this was once spontaneously produced by the combined interaction of climate, culture, myth and craft, but rather to identity those recent regional ‘schools’ whose primary aim has been to reflect and serve the limited constituencies in which they are grounded. (Frampton 1980, p. 313)

Thus, rather than the vernacular, Frampton intended instead an architecture capable of reflecting a regional identity (in the world).

What is more, to trace the critical path, I note three effectively related, though apparently autonomous and distant concepts, which will be explained further on.

One: the seven characters, “or rather attitudes” (Frampton 1986, p. 327), indicated by Frampton to recognise the architecture of a regional school[1] appear in absolute adherence with the signs of a precise production of modernist architecture – that of the Paulist School – that I wish to explore here.

Second: after an initial period of “structuring” Modernism in Brazil, which lasted roughly twenty years, from the early ‘20s, and nurtured, in some cases directly, by Le Corbusier and a few local architects, from the early ‘40s an architectural practice began to develop in São Paulo. To use the words of Frampton, «critiques modernization [and, Author’s Note] nonetheless still refuses to abandon the emancipatory and progressive aspects of the modern architectural legacy». This is the practice of the Paulist School, and there is a place built and organised ad hoc where it can still be learned: the Faculdade de Arquitetura e Urbanismo da Universidade di São Paulo by João Batista Vilanova Artigas, a concrete symbol of the Paulist School since 1961.

Third: as Carlo Gandolfi recently wrote in Matter of space. Città e architettura in Paulo Mendes da Rocha, a book that frames the figure of Mendes da Rocha within the Paulist School, «in order to comprehend the conceptual roots of this way of looking at the city and architecture, we must immediately dispel a historiographic and critical misunderstanding that arrives principally from Europe, that of the brutalist label» (Gandolfi 2018, p. 95). A position I fully share.

I will therefore proceed by examining these three concepts in the same number of paragraphs.

The Regionalist Notion and the “Attitudes” of South America

Kenneth Frampton joined the editorial board of Architectural Design (hereinafter AD) in May of ‘62 thanks to Theo Crosby. His first cover was issue was n.8 from August of the same year. The story goes that Crosby, again in ‘62, asked Frampton, in a rather original manner, to step into his position as technical director. This was in part due to the fact that Crosby had been impressed by a few reviews penned by Frampton for Art News, and in part following a suggestion from Monica Pidgeon, the magazine’s historic and respected editor. In fact, in a 1999[2] interview with Charlotte Benton, Pidgeon mentioned that at that time someone had certainly spoken to her highly of Frampton, though she could not recall who. The historian Jorge Otero-Pailos, for his part, observed how at this time Frampton was certainly involved with the group of British constructivists, like Crosby, and that these artists could represent a connection between the two. Frampton had this to say: «It is a sort of enigma for me. While I had met Theo, I did not belong to his circle, and I had never written for his review. What is more, at that time I had written very little»[3].

The direction of AD under Frampton, with a total of 31 issues published between July ‘62 and January ‘65, is bookended by his predecessor Crosby and his successor Robin Middleton. However, it is above all a discontinuity in editorial policy, also considering the short period of time granted him[4]. It would be better to refer to a “suspension”, of the magazine’s traditional content, with respect to the work of those who came before and after him, who instead can be considered similar. Crosby and Middleton, in fact, pushed for the generation of the neo-avant-garde and both had a strong influence through the magazine on a broader architectural culture, offering space for its ideologies and protagonists: the former with the Smithsons, and the latter with Cedric Price and Archigram. Frampton, instead, was primarily interested in “constructivism”, as well as “peripheral” modernism; however, we must be aware of the ideas matured by the young editor after Pidgeon – a figure with the ability to persuade important editorial ‘projects’ such as that dedicated to South America[5] - and in the wake of diverse travels to regions he would refer to as “city states”[6].

Since the early ‘60s, Frampton’s gaze was drawn beyond the confines of Europe. Given the opportunity to restructure AD, he would be the first to implement a practice of innovative ‘encyclopaedic’ editorial policy, as evidenced in his 31 issues traversing the development of modern architecture in peripheral situations in, and outside of, Europe. The “extra-European peripheries” were fundamental to the economy of this contribution as they looked to Mexico, Chile and above all Brazil. Thus, while architecture in Great Britain and the United States was still sufficiently represented in the magazine, under Frampton AD decisively shifted its attention toward continental Europe and Latin America.

Of particular interest here is that Frampton, as editor of AD and thanks to work trips, developed that «desire to resist against the trend to reduce architecture to images» (Hallen-Foster 2003, pp. 35-58) already during the 1960s. Nonetheless, it cannot be said at this time that Frampton’s ‘communication’ had a similar impact on architectural culture to that of Crosby or Middleton, despite the revolutionary nature of his editorial work. What we can say, looking back, is that his brief though intense work was doubtless determinant to the “construction” of the theories of Critical Regionalism.

There are two attitudes, in particular, that mark Frampton’s position on architecture during his time at AD: the importance and the creation of place through architecture and its realisation as a technical undertaking. Place and tectonics are conditioned by the physical nature of a building, by its material strength, by its authenticity. If we look closely, there are characters of a phenomenology rooted also in his limited number of built works, and to the ideas of Hannah Arendt, with whom he shared a bond.

During his time at AD, Frampton was clearly attracted to architecture with a certain structural materiality, often reproduced in black and white photographs, by projects offering social services or pure art, and in which it is clear that the aesthetic is part of the same ethic it expresses. Frampton shared this thesis with Otero-Pailos in 2010: «making buildings where people could pursue aesthetic experiences was an ethical commitment dependent on, and appropriate to, progressive social politics» (Otero-Pailos 2010, p. 183). Frampton never abandoned his ideas, and during the 1960s he also provided space for the enormous technological changes influencing architecture at the time; better yet, after leaving AD to begin an academic career as an architectural historian, he developed the phenomenological principles at the core of the theory of Critical Regionalism. We are speaking of that architecture that never abandoned the vestiges of Modernism, which attributed importance to the territory to be settled, which is presented as a technical undertaking, which is identified with place and with the environment in which it is situated, which accentuates tactile and visual perception, which occasionally presents reinterpreted vernacular elements, «able to escape the optimizing thrust of universal civilization» (Frampton 1986, p. 327).

In 1964, prior to leaving AD, Frampton began frequenting Princeton University, where he continued teaching until 1972. The doors to Princeton were opened to Frampton by Peter Eisenman, following their meeting at Cambridge via Colin Rowe, with whom he would remain in contact. Together with the Argentinian Gandelsonas, they would co-found the review «Oppositions». In 1970, two years before Frampton went to Columbia University, Middleton commissioned Frampton to write the text that would be published ten years later under the title Modern Architecture: A Critical History. A text that, it goes without saying, is now a global reference.

Modern Architecture and Identity in Brazil

In Brazil, prior to the arrival of Le Corbusier, an event that, as Giulio Carlo Argan wrote, «marked an era, as with the arrival of Serlio in France in the sixteenth century, or the return of Inigo Jones to Great Britain during the seventeenth century with the texts of Palladio and Scamozzi» (Argan 1954), the expressions of Modernism began to appear thanks to “Modern Art Week” in São Paulo. The “Semana”, born in 1922 and from 1951 a “Biennale”, proved above all an occasion for discussing modern architecture in Brazil. Some years later, in 1925, a group of young architects, which included Gregori Warchavchik and Lúcio Costa, decided to come together around a “Manifesto of Rational Architecture” promoting the adoption of European functionalist theories. Beyond ideologies, for Brazilians modernity represented above all a revindication of history, that is, a calculated forgetting of a colonial past. And Modernism, with its progressive change, well responded to this revindication.

It is worth remembering that during the 1920s and ‘30s, despite the fact that Brazilian culture was based in São Paulo – Brazil’s most industrialised city – the world of the arts was centred in Rio de Janeiro, the federal capital, and for architecture we can immediately understand why. Rio was home, since 1896, to a course in Architecture at the School of Fine Arts, whose graduates include, among others, Lúcio Costa (1924), Affonso Eduardo Reidy (1930), Oscar Niemeyer (1934) and Roberto Burle Marx (1934): the most famous names of early Brazilian modernism.

Lúcio Costa, who spent his adolescence in Europe, where he fell in love with the avant-garde movements, became a powerful animator of modernist culture after graduating, in Rio. He was so taken by the progressive cause that in 1930, upon being named director of the School where he had studied, he hired all of those architects who, five years earlier, had signed the “Manifesto” with him. In short, it was in Rio, thanks to Costa, that new modern ideals began to spread in Brazil, breaking with the conservative schemes of the Academic world. And his action, despite its brevity, would remain fundamental to the Carioca school. In fact, one year later, in 1931, Costa was forced to leave precisely due to these progressive ideas, which were not shared by national politics.

In 1929 Le Corbusier was officially invited to hold a cycle of lectures in Brazil, initially in Rio and later in São Paulo. On this occasion Lúcio Costa, professor of Architecture, and other Brazilian architects, and his most trusted collaborator Oscar Niemeyer, met the Swiss master, thanks to Alberto Monteiro de Carvalho, the organiser of the lectures. This “contact” would prove highly precious in a short period of time.

In 1936 Lúcio Costa, representing a team comprised of Affonso Eduardo Reidy, Ernâni Vasconcelos, Carlos Leão, Jorge Moreira, Roberto Burle Marx and Oscar Niemeyer, was commissioned by then Minster Gustavo Capanema to design the new Ministry of Education and Hygiene in Rio. Costa, leader of the group, proposed and obtained authorisation to nominate his friend Le Corbusier as a design consultant. The appointment would only last one month, however the project, for Le Corbusier as for many Brazilians, would represent a test bed outside of Europe for the concepts contained in the “five points for a new architecture”. As we know, the Ministry of Education and Hygiene would mark the definitive launch of modern architecture in Brazil. However, what most interests us here is that with this project we can demonstrate how Brazilians needed to adopt the model of Le Corbusier’s architecture, but also to ‘alter it’ to insert the machine à habiter in a tropical country. In short, Le Corbusier’s lesson was flexible and left room for Brazilians to definitively break from their colonial past.

Costa’s work in Rio would be presented to a broader public in 1939, when he, Niemeyer, Burle Marx and Paul Lester Wiener designed the Brazilian Pavilion for the World’s Fair in New York: set among the pavilions of different regimes squaring off against one another in a prelude to the Second World War, the Brazilian Pavilion was like a breath of fresh air for its modern culture. Elevated on pilotis and connected to the ground by a sinuous ramp, the Pavilion was symptomatically organised around a court featuring an exotic garden designed by Burle Marx.

In the 1940s, Brazilian architecture gained even more recognition.

In Europe – where the lessons of the Modern Movement were being lost, lacking, in particular political situations, the premises for an open cultural debate – when the first reportages on architecture in Brazil appeared, after 1945, at the end of the War, all European architects appeared to witness in these works the happy continuation of the experiences that had been so dramatically truncated, enriched by a new language, stimulating and full of ingenious suggestions. (Bracco 1967, p. 35)

A notable visibility came with the exhibition organised in 1943 by Philip L. Goodwin at the MoMA in New York, with a catalogue entitled Brazil Builds. Another important contribution to the spread of the Brazilian style came from architectural reviews. Aside from Lina Bo Bardi’s «Habitat» and Oscar Niemeyer’s «Modulo», I also mention «L’Architecture d’Aujourd’hui», «Progressive Architecture» and «Zodiac». There was however no shortage of criticism, above all from Max Bill who, writing in the «Architectural Review», chastised Brazilian architects for having created a fashion.

All the same, after the Second World War, modern Brazilian architecture, from the Carioca or Paulist school, was appreciated around the world for its capacity to represent local characters and offered a valid alternative to the International Style. These exotic characters intrinsic to modern architecture interested multiple typologies, including public housing, which was already a social issue in Brazil. If Niemeyer at Pampulha confronted services, with the Baile restaurant, the Yacht Club and the Church of St. Francis, it would be Costa who realised an interesting integration between buildings and a park at Guinle (1948-50) in Rio, and later Henrique Mindlin and the Roberto brothers, respectively, with the Tres Leões residences (1951) in São Paulo and Marques de Herval (1956) in Rio, and above all Affondo Eduardo Reidy with the Pedregulho complex (1947-50) and the quarter for state employees at Gàeva (1950-58) in Rio. Each of these projects contains an allusion to tropicalism, thanks also to external landscaping by Burle Marx and murals by Candido Portinari.

The Paulist School as a Critique of Modernisation

At the beginning of the 1940s, Brazilian modernism shifted almost exclusively to São Paulo, if we exclude the period of Brasilia, and if we make a comparison with what occurred in Brazil’s other “cities of architecture”: Rio, Belo Horizonte, Curitiba and Porto Alegre.

In the early ‘40s, São Paulo, where Gregori Warchavchik designed the first modernist homes, including the House in Rua Jtapolis (1930)[7], saw the return of Rino Levi (previously in Rome with Marcello Piacentini), followed by Bernard Rudofsky and Daniele Calabi. These three architects began designing homes based on the patio typology, arranging volumes around an open space with the clear intention of establishing a dialogue with nature[8].

This was also the same time and location of the beginnings of the career of João Batista Vilanova Artigas, a leading personality with an idealistic and socially founded vision. Born in Curitiba, he earned his degree as an engineer-architect in 1937 from the Escola Politécnica of the University of São Paulo. In 1948, Vilanova Artigas was also among the founders of the FAU-USP. Following his early homes characterised by a number of elements of Wrightian inspiration[9], it was the Louveira complex (1946-49) that first saw Vilanova Artigas present architectural-urban innovations of a certain depth, that is, with a public-private spatial continuity between two residential buildings and the street, which became one of the hallmarks of his research. During this period Vilanova Artigas began working with pilotis and long connecting ramps, a theme that can be found in the San Lucas hospital in Curitiba (1945), Czapski House (1949), the Second Artigas House (1949) and Londrina bus station (1950). Even these two elements would play an important in the evolution of Artigas’ architecture, in a more rigorous and monumental manner with respect to Niemeyer, toward an articulation of structural form that dialogues increasingly more with the topography of the site, and which would become the stylistic hallmark of the Paulist School. As Frampton wrote, «What the Paulist School added to this exuberant topographic language was a more tectonically rigorous attitude towards the articulation of structural form» (Frampton, 2010, p. 5).

After a sojourn in the United States in 1947, where he met with exiles from the Bauhaus, Vilanova Artigas initiated an intense activity of writing[10] through which he expressed his convictions on the role of architecture in a capitalist world. In parallel, his design research began to approach structures with longer spans, arriving at the roofs-diaphragms beneath which he developed an entire programme of functions, either public or private. The small scale with urban functions, in a metropolis like São Paulo, is at the base of public structures, such as the Morumbi Stadium (1952) designed with Cascaldi. The Taques Bittencourt House (1959), instead, a patio between two walls in reinforced concrete on four supports, is the archetype of this most important works from the 1960s. Bittencourt House, together with Baeta House (1956), Ruben de Mendonça House (1958) and Ivo Viterito House (1962), other than representing examples of structural minimalism, are also the bases for investigating materials, primarily exposed concrete, toward the definition of the fundamental characters of the School.

Another important figure from the Paulist School is Lina Bo Bardi. A pupil of Gio Ponti, she moved to Brazil in 1946, together with Pietro Maria Bardi, an influential art critic and gallery owner. For Lina Brazil would prove the ideal terrain for a return to primordial values, thanks to indigenous Brazilian culture. Her attention to the material and spiritual culture of Brazil can be considered subversive with respect to the cultural canons of the time: however, this, together with her rationalist background, would allow her to develop a particular sense of the arts, a rational-exotic integration that would henceforth traverse her writing, her artistic and architectural activity, culminating in that “culture as a free choice” found in the museographic design of the São Paulo Museum of Art.

The Casa de Vidro (1951) designed for herself, to a certain degree encloses her new world: organised around a court and set atop a hillside on pilotis, it opens up with its large living room above a luxuriant exotic natural setting, almost embracing it. Bo Bardi contributed to the consecration of the Paulist language with two works: the MASP (1968) and the SESC Pompéia (1986).

The series of schools commissioned by the State of São Paulo in the early ‘60s from a number of architects, including Vilanova Artigas, represented an occasion for developing that hoped for idea of ‘democratic and transparent space’ under one roof. The sequence, large volumes on minimal supports and spaces lit from above through openings in the structural grid, began with the school at ltanhaém (1959), followed by Guarulhos (1960) and culminating with Vilanova Artigas’ most famous work, the FAU-USP (1961). «It is no accident that the most well-known work by João Batista Vilanova Artigas is a school of architecture. Indeed, for him, design, the education of the new generation of architects and political and professional militancy form a unicum» (Martins 2007, p. 33).

All of the characters that distinguish the Paulist School are tangible in this building. It is recognisable as a place of gathering and sharing of ideas. The whole is a paradigmatic synthesis of architecture, engineering and ideological conception; the functional programme of the FAU-USP rests atop the didactic project elaborated by Vilanova Artigas and Flavio Motta for the 1962 Reform. As Paulo Mendes da Rocha stated in a 2008 interview with Guilherme Wisnik, «I see the FAU-USP as the tree of Vieira and I feel myself to be one its fruits» (Wisnik 2008, p. 135).

The recurring elements in the architecture of Vilanova Artigas from this complex period are: ramps conceived as folded floor slabs and solutions to connections, between beam and column, emptied out at the apparent point of maximum tension. He perfected these elements in three sports facilities, all from 1961: the São Paulo Football Club, the Anhembí Tennis Club and the nautical club for the Santa Paula Yacht Club.

While on the one hand the military dictatorship would censor[11] the ideas and teachings of Vilanova Artigas, on the other hand it kept him very busy as an architect, in particular to define a tectonic typology flexible enough to be utilised indistinctly as a large public building, as with the Jaù Bus Station (1973), or a small home, for example Mendes André House (1966), Elza Berquò House (1967) and Martirani House (1969). After all, Vilanova Artigas while «claiming in reviews the need for plans, operative programmes, above all in the field of housing [his works] never renounced the idea that a work of architecture, qualified and autonomous, could have enough inherent value to revendicate situations that instead are to be confronted at another scale and in other terms» (Bracco 1967, p. 76).

Paulo Mendes da Rocha began collaborating with Vilanova Artigas in 1959. With his master he shared the necessity for a compromise between art and politics to favour the modernisation of Brazil. In fact, Mendes da Rocha carried the torch of the Paulist School into the present day, thanks to his numerous projects and activity as a teacher at the FAU-USP. In addition to public works[12], which began with the Clube Atlético Paulistano in São Paulo (1958), of particular interest here are his homes from the 1970s, examples of an irreducible radicality of the Paulist School, as well as paradigms for many generations of architects. They are the series Millàn (1970), Mazetti (1970), King (1972-74), Junqueira (1976-80), and later, in particular, his own home from 1966 which must be observed in order to find a common key of interpretation. At the Mendes da Rocha House, as in those that followed it, the original orography becomes a condition of design, in which an abstract and homogenous volume, apparently closed, drops down to a certain level based on the level of the terrain, leaving the level of entry in a condition of chiaroscuro. Once again, the roof-diaphragm “alla Artigas” which dominates everything, confirms the nature of the site and where precisely the articulation of the base permits a multiplicity of spaces-places for both domestic life, private on one side, and for encounters, open space on the other, as he had been taught by his master.

The reasons why the Paulist School cannot be labelled “brutalist” can be found above all in the text “Os Caminhos da Arquitetura Moderna” by Vilanova Artigas, together with “Le Corbusier e o Imperialismo” from 1951. Published by the Partido Comunista Brasileiro, both texts express the restlessness of the architect confronted with the risk that the Modern Movement was at the service of imperialism. Vilanova Artigas began by affirming that «no form of modern architecture appears absurd and shocking, giving the impression that it was produced by chance and fantasy». He continued: «each school, each trend, is built on a certain number of premises, and the forms of buildings created by architects affiliated [with that school, Author’s Note] are not only the product of their fantasy, but also a logical consequence of these premises». Clearly the 1950s were years of ideological dispute, fought over the body of modern architecture.

From the same text it is also clear that the premises of the “School”, in which Artigas believed, were those of anti-imperialism, activism, to ward off a future with «modern architecture, as we know it» because «it is a weapon of oppression, a weapon of the ruling class; a weapon of oppressors, against the oppressed». At the end, he asked:

what to do? Await a new society and continue to do what we do, or abandon the profession of the architect, for it is oriented in a hostile direction toward the people, and launch ourselves fully into the revolutionary fight? Neither of the two. It is clear that we must fight for the future of our people, for progress and for a new society, putting the maximum possible effort into this mission... we will create a critical spirit to dissipate the good from the useless in architecture. But it is also clear that, as long as we have not established the bond between architects and the masses of people, as long as the work of architects will not have the glory of being discussed in the factories, there will be no architecture. (Artigas 2004, pp. 35-50)

Vilanova Artigas never liked the label “brutalist”, as Wisnik confirmed: «in short, in all of these brutalisms one perceives an expressive reduction of architecture to its tectonic reality, in an aesthetic operation that must be charged with ethical motivations» (Wisnik 2010, p. 12). To ironize on the qualification of the Paulist School as brutalist, made by Bruno Alfieri in Zodiac magazine in 1960, Vilanova Artigas at the 1965 São Paulo Biennale, paying homage to Carlos Millán stated: «the last homes that [Millán] built in São Paulo reveal a trend that critics, above all European, refer to as brutalist. A Brazilian brutalism, one could say. I do not believe this justifies everything. The ideological content of European brutalism is something else entirely» (Wisnik 2010, p. 12).

Nonetheless, Zodiac, which dedicated much of issue n. 6 to the “Rapporto Brasile”, offered Flavio Motta, professor of Aesthetics and co-signer of the FAU-USP reform, the chance to speak, in “Introduction to Brazil” (Motta 1960, p. 61) about the existence of a local production, alternative to the architecture of Rio, and to highlight the figure of Vilanova Artigas. If until this moment Artigas had only received episodic attention from the world of print, he was now the protagonist in São Paulo of an “intense doctrinal activity”. It is interesting to note how various observers, around the ‘60s, began to deal with the architecture of São Paulo with emphasis as a collective and independent manifestation. Luiz Saia, a Paulist engineer-architect, writing in 1959 in Diario di São Paulo, penned an article titled “Architettura Paulista” (Saia 2003, pp. 106-119) in which he praised the existence of a local professionalism born out of the modernist movements.

At the end of the’60s, the growing appreciation for the work of the Paulist School and its legitimate right to represent a national architecture, spurred the work of Paulo Mendes da Rocha, accompanied by Motta’s report, developed for the competition to design the Brazilian Pavilion at the Expo in Osaka. Among various expressions, the project was selected precisely due the School’s language, which offers glimpses of a continuity and a universal interest. One theme, as is evident, is the continuity, or lack thereof, with the Paulist School. In other words, the question of whether we are dealing with an architecture influenced by characters expressed in Rio, or something else. Many critics see a persistence of values, both formal and functional, and place the Paulist School along a continuous line with the development of Brazilian architecture in which it is possible to find regional identities. This continuity met with opposition from the critique made by the historian Yves Bruand, author of Arquitetura contemporânea no Brasil in 1973. At a time when there seemed to appear a certain friction and a rivalry between the two schools, Bruand’s book carved out its own space with an analysis more accepted by critics of the production of the Paulist School. He defined it as ambitious, recognising of references, characterised by a rigorous functionalism, a technical level that aspired to the industrialization of construction and an aesthetic that promotes «strength, impact, mass, weight and violent contrasts» (Bruand 1973). In classifying these works for the first time, giving a set of characters to the “Paulist School”, Bruand already identified a legacy for this architecture in the work of Vilanova Artigas.

In 1986, Marlene Milan Acayaba’s analysis of the architecture of housing from the’40s to the ‘70s in São Paulo shed light on some of the characters of the Paulist School. They are very similar to those listed by Frampton in the chapter titled “Regionalism”. These are the “ten commandments”: the relationship between housing, the landscape and geography, the single block as the ordering element of urban space, space organised around a patio or a central void, independent volumes, generic and industrialised materials such as reinforced concrete, social relations that occur under the sign of new ethic. The critic Hugo Segawa, instead, claimed that

characterising the production of the Paulist School as “Brutalista” forces a relationship of ascendency that minimises the remaining influences or restrictions established by this way of making architecture. It is impossible to compare the austerity of England, a nation suffering the consequences of war and suffocated by the momentary lack of materials, with a nation such as Brazil, which had few technological resources and whose architectural sobriety (not to say “aestheticised rusticity”) derived from the limits imposed by the possibilities offered by industry to civil constructions. In this sense, reinforced concrete and its plastic and aesthetic potentialities (via Le Corbusier) were the most advanced technological front available to Brazilian architects at the time. (Segawa 2013, p. 175)

I am convinced that applying the label brutalist to Paulist architecture fails to stand up either as a precedent, if we consider the historiographic construction of Reyner Banham and the projects contained in The New Brutalism, nor as a parallel phenomenon, if we hold to the distinction of ‘brutalism’ made by many Anglo-Saxon critics – as an exclusively English trend from the ‘60s and ‘70s – and that witticism expressed by its principal theoretician, Banham himself, when he admitted that brutalism was already over in 1966 when his book was printed (Banham 1955, p. 1966).


[1] K. Frampton also explored this theme in the review Perspecta when, in 1983 he published the essay “Towards a Critical Regionalism: Six Points for an Architecture of Resistance”, a text comprised of 6 points based on an alternative historiography, which he himself had initiated in the ‘60s, against the threat of the universalization of architectural language.

[2] Charlotte Benton interviews Monica Pidgeon (9 July 1999), in “Pigeon, Monica (7 of 25) National Life Story Collection: Architects’ Lives”, British Library, Sound Archive,

[3] Presentation by Kenneth Frampton of the Monica Pidgeon Memorial, Architectural Association, 23 November 2009 (

[4] Theo Crosby was technical director of AD for 8 years and 7 months, Robin Middleton for 7 years and 8 months, Kenneth Frampton instead for only 2 years and 7 months.

[5] Between 1962 and ’64 the magazine dealt on different occasions with South American architecture and urbanism, and in particular in Brazil. For example, half of the May 1964 issue was dedicated to Oscar Niemeyer’s work at Brasilia.

[6] K. Frampton, in Architectural Design, January 1965.

[7] Gregori Warchavchik with the House in Rua Jtapolis, highly appreciated by Le Corbusier, would boast the title of “pioneer of modern architecture in Brazil”. Other works worthy of note include the House in Rua Santa Cruz (1927) and Max Graf house (1929) praised by Gio Ponti in Domus 64 from 1933 for «demonstrating the great capacity for adaption of warm countries, and stupendously framing the tropical vegetation».

[8] Rino Levi designed the Levi House, Milton Guper House, Castor Delgado Perez House; Bernard Rudofsky designed the House in Rua Canadá, Frontini House; Daniele Calabi is the author of the Calabi House, Ascarelli House, Medici House, and the Orphanage in São Paulo with Giancarlo Palanti.

[9] The reference is to Bertha Gift House (1940), his Prima House (1942) and Rio Branco Paranhos House (1943).

[10] In particular in three texts entitled “Le Corbusier e o Imperialismo”, “Caminhos do Arquitetura Moderna” and “Uma falsa crise”.

[11] In 1964 Vilanova Artigas was removed from the FAU-USP, together with Paulo Mendes da Rocha and Jon Majtrejean, before being forced into retirement in 1969. Artigas would have to wait for the amnesty, in 1979, before he was reintegrated, initially as an assistant, and in 1984 as a researcher.

[12] His many works include the Brazilian Pavilion at Expo 1970 in Osaka, the Capela de São Pedro at Campos Jordão (1987), the Forma Warehouse (1987), the MUBE (1988), the State Art Museum (1993), the redesign of the Praça do Patriarca in São Paulo 2002.


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