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Farewell to Paulo Mendes da Rocha

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Brazilian architect Paulo Mendes da Rocha, winner of the Pritzker Prize in 2006 and the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement awarded by the Venice Architecture Biennale in 2016, has died in São Paulo at the age of 92.

Paulo Archias Mendes da Rocha © Marcos Alvez

Paulo Archias Mendes da Rocha was born in 1928 in Vitória, Espirito Santo State, Brazil, and graduated in Architecture and Urbanism from the Mackenzie University, São Paulo, in 1954. Although the school’s tendency was towards a historicist approach to architecture, Paulo Mendes da Rocha, together with a group of students including Jorge Wilheim and Carlos Millan, began to take an interest in modern architecture. In 1955 he founded his office in São Paulo, and from then on, he joined a group of architects who, guided by João Batista Vilanova Artigas, formed the so-called “Escola Paulista“, whose production is characterised by the brutalist use of reinforced concrete and the emphasis on large structural solutions. In 1958, in collaboration with architect João Eduardo de Gennaro, he won his first competition for the Gymnasium of the Clube Atlético Paulistano, a work for which he was awarded the Grand Prize of the Republic at the 6th International Biennial of São Paulo in 1961.

Gymnasium of the Clube Atlético Paulistano © José Moscardi

In the same year he began teaching at the Faculty of Architecture and Urban Planning (FAU) of the University of São Paulo (USP). In 1969, opposed by the military dictatorship, he was removed from his role at FAU/USP until 1980, when, thanks to an amnesty, he returned to teaching until 1998. In 1970 he was selected, along with other architects, to design the Brazilian Pavilion at Osaka Expo, his first international project, followed by many others including, in 2004, the extension and reorganisation of the University of Vigo campus in Spain.

Brazilian Pavilion at Osaka Expo1970

He has worked mainly in São Paulo where he has designed houses, museums and urban spaces, including Casa Masetti (1967), Casa Millan (1970), Casa King (1972), the Brazilian Museum of Sculpture MUBE (1987-1992) and the project for the renovation of the Pinacoteca do Estado (1993-1998), for which he was awarded the Mies Van der Rohe award for Latin America.

Brazilian Museum of Sculpture MUBE © Leonardo Finotti
Pinacoteca do Estado © Nelson Kon
Casa Masetti © Leonardo Finotti

His most recent works include the Cais das Artes museum designed with Metro Arquitetos Associados (2008) with which he has also designed the New Leme Gallery (2012), the Museu dos Coches in Lisbon (2015) and the Sesc 24 de Maio building designed with MMBB Arquitetos (2017). He has also designed furniture objects that have become design icons, such as the Paulistano chair (1957).

Paulistano chair 
Museu dos Coches © Fernando Guerra
New Leme Gallery © Leonardo Finotti
Sesc 24 de Maio © Nelson Kon

Creator of the avant-garde Brutalista Paulista movement to promote the ethical dimension of architecture through the use of simple forms and materials, in 2006 he was awarded the Pritzker price for his profound understanding of the poetics of space and for his architecture of deep social commitment. In 2016 he won the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement at the Venice Architecture Biennale. In 2017 he was awarded the RIBA Gold Medal and in 2021 he was awarded the Gold Medal of the International Union of Architects.

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