From Oscar Niemeyer to Guto Requena: A brief history of Brazilian design and architecture
From the Amazon to the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil is vast and complex. Brazilian design reflects this blending of cultures, tradition and nature - from the modern era to the present.
Design of contrast and synthesis
Brazil is a country of contrasts. It boasts some of the world’s most pristine natural ecosystems as well as two of its most dense and vibrant megacities: São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. These contrasting characteristics are evident everywhere, from the ubiquity of Amazonian foods like açai and farofa in the cities to the passion for metropolitan football clubs in even the remotest villages.
Brazilian design became famous around the globe in the mid-20th century with furniture that reinvigorated European modernism. However, contemporary Brazilian design is much more than furniture. As young design star , who has an astronomical media presence in and outside of Brazil (also because of his participation in the popular reality TV show Queer Eye Brazil) put it: .
Three Questions for Guto Requena
Which Brazilian designer have you looked to for inspiration in your work – and why?
Lina Bo Bardi is definitely a big inspiration to my work. She had a very special way of taking a deeper approach into Brazilian culture and bringing it to the forefront of her projects.
Which of your designs is your favorite and why?
It is difficult to select only one child from so many I adore. But is a very special one. It helped me get in touch with so many incredible love stories from different types of people from all over the world. How can we make the intangible tangible? What is the shape of our greatest love story? This project is bigger than even the final story itself, it’s about the process of telling the story and the way people become so emotional during it.
Who are the ‘ones to watch’ in young Brazilian design today and tomorrow?
Daniel Jorge from Salvador, Bahia is a great young designer with a very special approach to his products, inspired by Brazilian-African culture.
Guto Requena, Founder and Owner of Estudio Guto Requena
The most exciting Dance Club at the Summer Games
Guto won an iF DESIGN AWARD Gold for a work he created on the occasion of the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, . Scattered sensors in dance floor capture the beat of the music and the movement of people dancing, which activates the motors of the mirrors on the façade of the building. The result is hypnotizing kinetic architecture which transformed the space into the most exciting dance club at the Summer Games.
A Dialogue between famous Designers and everyday People
In fact, Estudio Requena does create chairs from time to time – but with a twist. The Nóize chair was created by remixing the famous Giraffe chair by Lina Bo Bardi, Marcello Ferraz and Marcello Suzuki with a 3D representation of the sounds of downtown Sao Paulo. The result is a dialogue with the famous mid-century generation of designers and with everyday people on the streets.
The Nóize chair
The Nóize chair was created by remixing the famous Giraffe chair by Lina Bo Bardi, Marcello Ferraz and Marcello Suzuki with a 3D representation of the sounds of downtown Sao Paulo. The result is a dialogue with the famous mid-century generation of designers and with everyday people on the streets.
Short History of Brazilian Design:
How Brazil developed into a Design Powerhouse
Design, like all other aspects of Brazilian culture, is defined by the art of blending disparate traditions and influences to create something entirely new. Brazil not only draws on its own rich and diverse indigenous culture. It is also home to the largest Japanese community outside Japan, the largest German-speaking community outside Europe, and unique cultural artefacts such as macombé and capoeira created by Afro-Brazilians. Because Brazil’s economy was based on timber, minerals, coffee, and sugar until well into the twentieth century, it didn’t develop a manufacturing sector, and therefore a design sector until quite recently. A truly original Brazilian craft industry finally emerged through the blending of European and indigenous artisanal traditions.
The two decades between the end of World War II and the start of the military dictatorship (1945–1964) were a time of extraordinary creative release in Brazil. The Europeans who fled to Brazil after the first and second world wars created and benefited from a unique climate of hope, experimentation, and economic growth. Artists like Tarsila do Amaral and Cândido Portinari, furniture designers like Joaquim Tenreiro and Martin Eisler, landscapers like Roberto Burle Marx and Mina Klabin, and of course architects like Sergio Rodrigues, Rogério Duarte, Lina Bo Bardi and Oscar Niemeyer became the chief protagonists of a uniquely Brazilian design culture.
Lina Bo Bardi emigrated from Italy in 1946 and became one of Brazil’s leading designers.
Modernism, the European movement that sought new artistic forms to keep pace with the transformation wrought by urbanization and industrialization, found a new lease of life in Brazil, producing a more opulent alternative to the cool, linear approaches of European modernists like Marcel Breuer, Arne Jacobsen, and Le Corbusier. Whereas the Bauhaus, Germany’s greatest contribution to modernist design, was assiduous in its pursuit of clean lines and keen to experiment with new materials like plastic, stainless steel, and fiberglass, Brazilian modernism introduced sensuous curves and natural materials like tropical hardwoods, leather, cane, and wicker to create a fascinating blend of art, craft, and technology. Part of this decision was simply practical: in the 1950s, plastic, stainless steel and fiberglass were not available in Brazil, so designers turned to natural materials.
What is Brasília, if not the dawn of a new day for Brazil?
The quintessential symbol and product of this period was the new capital, Brasília, a daring project designed to break free from the faded colonial grandeur of Rio de Janeiro and build from scratch a capital worthy of a nation looking to the future rather than the past.
Image © Ting Chen
President Juscelino Kubitschek captured the prevailing mood of optimism when he said, “What is Brasília, if not the dawn of a new day for Brazil?” Though much credit is owed to the urban planner Lúcio Costa, it was Oscar Niemeyer’s sculptural ensemble of government buildings at its center, which sought to reflect, in the architect’s words, “the soft and sensuous curves of the mountains of my country, the winding curves of our rivers”, that would come to define Brasília. The construction of this uncompromisingly modern city 60 years ago seemed to prove that it was indeed possible to realize the utopian dream of 20th century architects, namely the reinvention of urbanity.
Architect Oscar Niemeyer on Brasília and his architectural designs
Brazilian Design today: Towards sustainability and dialogue
Following the “lost years” of military rule, Brazilians rediscovered their modernist heritage and reinfused it with a new playfulness, exemplified by Estudio Campana, which elevated common, even discarded, materials into classic pieces of furniture.
by Estudio Campana
Image © Mutualart
The Campana brothers also exemplified a new willingness among Brazilian designers to work across disciplines, having expanded from furniture to include, architecture, costume design, jewelry, fashion design and landscaping. In a statement that is both radical and tongue-in-cheek, their recent Cangaço collection is crafted in the style of the intricate leather clothing of the 19th-century Cangaçeiros, roaming bandits that arose from among the exploited peasantry of Brazil’s northeast.
Young Brazilian designers, like their contemporaries elsewhere, are increasingly concerned with issues of sustainability. Precisely because it is renowned for its vulnerable ecosystems whose preservation is essential to planetary health, Brazil is perfectly placed to lead a more circular and economical approach to working with natural materials. Ana Cristina Schneider from Sindmóveis, the union representing Brazil’s furniture designers, notes that sustainability is now one of the main drivers of the industry in Brazil – and not just environmental, but also social and cultural sustainability.