The Brazilian architect Paulo Mendes da Rocha died in 2021 in Sao Paulo, the city where he settled with his family in 1940, and where he produced most of his work. Two years earlier, he donated his archives to the Casa da Arquitectura in Porto, Portugal, a young institution which has proven, in fifteen years of existence, all the seriousness and loving care with which it treats its object. Located in Matosinhos, a seaside town adjoining Porto, where the great Portuguese architect Alvaro Siza was born, where he built his first houses and some of his most famous creations such as the Tidal pool and the Boa Nova tea house, it organizes regular visits, architectural tours and exhibitions, manages various archive collections. In particular those of Eduardo Souto de Moura, another great Portuguese architect, and the Brazilian urban planner Lucio Costa (1902-1998).
The exhibition that the Casa da Arquitectura is dedicating today to Paulo Mendes da Rocha is precious in more than one way, among other things, because it allows us to become familiar with this work rooted in a distant territory that combines raw concrete the most massive, the roughest, with a relationship to vegetation, to light, to the elements, of a very tropical sweetness, and an absolute refinement in the treatment of metal, wood, of the smallest finishing detail… It is presents, moreover, as an invitation to get to know its author, free spirit, epicurean at heart, whose words, as idealistic as they are determined, saturate the space on the ground floor, where a swarm of small screens suspended broadcasts a selection of talks he gave at different times in his life.
If Paulo Mendes da Rocha elected the Casa da Arquitectura to house his archives, it was because he had a certain grudge against the institutions of his country, and particularly against the University of Sao Paulo, which dismissed him from his post as teacher in 1969, at the same time as about sixty of his colleagues, because of his commitment against the military dictatorship. The episode, pivotal in his career, which undoubtedly constituted a brake on his career, structures the exhibition, the curatorship of which has been entrusted to Jean-Louis Cohen and Vanessa Grossman, a tandem of architectural historians to whom we owe the creation, in 2014, then in 2016, of the French pavilion of the Venice Biennale and the exhibition “AUA, an architecture of commitment, 1960-1985”, at the Cité de l architecture and heritage, in Paris.
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