Brazilian design: between classicism and inventiveness

Brazil has produced since the early 20th century a design rooted around exotic wood, one of its greatest natural resources. Its pioneers applied a modernist conception of design, inherited in particular from European design and the Bauhaus School. However, Brazilian design is not limited to the production of exotic wood pieces with modernist forms in the 50s and 60s. Behind the generation of the Campana Brothers who first broke the traditional codes, a new generation is designing creative and colorful furniture that reflects the country's ethnic mix. Of course, one cannot talk about Brazilian design without mentioning the emblematic figure of the architect and designer Oscar Niemeyer (1905-2012). He is the "father" of the architectural project of the new capital of the country, Brasilia, built in the late 50s and 60s. A disciple of Le Corbusier, Niemeyer built some of the most incredible buildings in Brasilia.

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The Palace of Dawn (in Portuguese, Palácio da Alvorada) built in 1957-1958. Architect: Oscar Niemeyer. It houses the residence of the president of the Federative Republic of Brazil.

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Entrance hall of the Palácio da Alvorada. Inside, Niemeyer used contemporary materials such as concrete, metal, and glass.

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Interior of the Palace of Dawn. The interior design intended by Niemeyer gives pride of place to transparency and fluidity of space. A spirit not unlike the Barcelona Pavilion designed by architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe in 1929. The latter headed the Bauhaus from 1930 to 1933, an obvious filiation for Oscar Niemeyer.

Among the pioneers of design in Brazil, it is worth mentioning three European figures who emigrated to Brazil in the first part of the 20th century. First, Joaquim Tenreiro (1906-1992) who came to Brazil from Portugal in the late 1920s. Trained as a carpenter, he created his company, Langenbach and Tenreiro Ltda, to produce his own furniture. His creations are heirs to the Bauhaus style. He uses Jacaranda wood, the exotic noble wood par excellence from Brazil, as well as the tradition of caning.

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Furniture made by Joaquim Tenreiro exhibited at the Joaquim Tenreiro Live exhibition, R 20th Century gallery in New York (2018). Modern and elegant lines.

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Table by Joaquim Tenreiro, Joaquim Tenreiro Live exhibition, R 20th Century Gallery (New York, 2018).

Another precursor: Gregori Warchavchic (1896-1972). An architect of Ukrainian origin, Warchavchic arrived in Brazil in 1923. He produced some of the most famous pieces of Brazilian design, such as his rolling table or his famous magazine rack Leque.

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"Leque" magazine rack. Design Gregori Warchavchic, 1928. Warchavchiv's furniture is distributed by the Brazilian historical furniture publisher Etel.

Finally, Lina Bo Bardi (1914-1982), a Roman architect who collaborated with Gio Ponti arrived in Brazil in 1946. She was to leave her mark on the city of São Paulo, creating famous buildings such as the Casa de Vidro (the glass house), the Museum of Art (MASP), the SESC Pompeia Social Center or the Teatro Oficina.

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La Casa de Vidro, (1951), by Lina Bo Bardi and Pietro Maria Bardi. The place has now become a house-museum managed by the Instituto Bardi. Pietro Maria Bardi, Lina's husband, was for 51 years the curator of the São Paulo Art Museum.

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The SESC Pompeia Cultural Center nicknamed "The Citadel of Leisure", made in São Paulo by Lina Bo Bardi from 1977 to 1986. The place was a former barrel factory. A singular contrast with Casa Vidro to exploit a concrete architecture.

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SESC Pompeia's extraordinary architecture.

At the height of the industrial boom in the 1950s and 1960s, design was booming in Brazil and the first steel mills were developing. The era was still one of modernist and rationalist style. Another generation of designers, born in the 1920s, was emerging. Figurehead of this generation, the designer Sergio Rodrigues (1927) is considered one of the fathers of modern furniture in Brazil. He triumphed on the international scene in 1961 with his solid wood armchair Mole. A year younger, Paulo Mendes Da Rocha (1928), architect and designer, favors forms and the use of simple materials. We owe him the realization of many buildings in São Paulo. Michel Arnoult (1922-2005), a Parisian who arrived in Brazil in 1950, became the "pope" of kit furniture, Brazilian version... His project: to allow the Brazilian middle class to afford beautiful furniture at affordable prices.

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Mole chair, Sergio Rodrigues design, 1957. The very comfortable seat is supported by adjustable leather straps. The frame is made of Jacaranda wood.

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The Diz Armchair, Sergio Rodrigues design, 2002. Another Brazilian design icon made at 75 by the Brazilian wood master.

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The Diz Armchair, back view. The chair is made of beech wood or imbuia (Brazilian walnut).

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An iconic achievement of Paulo Mendes da Rocha : the Paulistano Athletic Club, São Paulo, 1958. For this project, the architect created a classic of Brazilian furniture: the Paulistano armchair.

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Paulistano Athletic Club, São Paulo, Mendes da Rocha, 1958 - © José Moscardi. A monumental structure with its reinforced concrete disk that nevertheless gives the building a certain lightness.

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Rocking-chair Peglev, design Michel Arnoult, 1968. An elegant and timeless look. Peglev means "I take and carry". Championing a design for all, the piece is easily disassembled and transported.

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Michel Arnoult, Pelicano Armchair, 2003. The designer proposes a simple structure, allowing mass production at a reasonable cost and ease of assembly and maintenance.

Considered designer of the year at the 2012 Maison et Objet show, the duo of the Campana Brothers (Humberto 1953, Fernando 1961) reveal to the world another facet of Brazilian design. They claim an inventive and joyful design, where we find the art of the favelas' resourcefulness. The opposite of the modernism of their predecessors.

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Armchair Vermelha, design Campana Brothers, 1998 for the publisher Edra. A stunning seat created from 500M of nautical rope on a stainless steel frame.

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Sushi Chair by Campana Brothers, 2002. Where the art of recycling... The seat is made of pieces of carpet, rubber, pvc, fabric...

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Back of the Sushi Armchair, detail. Campana Brothers design.

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Fernando and Umberto Campana, Banquete Chair, 2002. Great creativity and daring design for this assemblage of multicolored plush that serves as a comfortable seat! The Campana Brothers often border on kitsch.

In the wake of the Campana Brothers, other Brazilian designers are emerging to offer a more creative and mixed-race design that reflects their country. Rafik Farah (1958), a graduate of the Faculty of Architecture and Urbanism of São Paulo, is a jack-of-all-trades. At once a furniture designer, screenwriter, photographer and graphic designer, he came to prominence in 1989 with his Kaeko coffee table.

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Kaeko coffee table, design Rafik Farah, 1989, for publisher Objekto. An original and delicate sinusoidal shape topped by a 10 mm tempered glass top make this table an aesthetically successful piece.

Also born in 1958, Lia Siqueira is an established architect and designer, winner of numerous competitions and has been running the Azul Arquitetura and Design architecture agency in Rio de Janeiro since 1987. In 2010, she surprises with her Volpi library. Made of wood to respect the Brazilian tradition, but with surprising shapes.

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Volpi Library, Lia Siqueira, 2010. A sophisticated design that turns a collection of books into a true graphic composition.

Rodrigo Almeida's DNA is the extraordinary cultural mix of his country. Born in 1975, he draws his inspiration from the multi-ethnic roots of the Brazilian nation and like the Campana, creates novel objects, diverted from their original purpose.

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Africa chair, design Rodrigo Almeida, 2009. For this chair Rodrigo Ameida drew his inspiration from Afro and indigenous cultures.

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Chairs made by Rodrigo Almeida, in line with the art of recovery of the Campana Brothers with a colorful touch of mestizaje.

Finally, Brunno Jahara (1979) may be the most talented of his generation. Born in Rio de Janeiro, he worked under Spanish designer Jaime Hayon. Attached to his country's culture, he works to highlight Brazil's natural resources with a very tropical touch...

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Norustica furniture collection designed by Brunno Jahara. Babilonia sideboard (2010).

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Dinnerware, Batucada collection. Brunno Jahara design. The term Batucada refers to the percussive sound obtained by favela residents when they play on instruments made of tin and aluminum pots. A reference to Brazilian popular culture and the art of recovery.

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Brunno Jahara's Multiplastica Domestica series. Multicolored objects made from plastic bottles and other household packaging.

The next generation of Brazilian design is assured in a country with a true design culture. Brazilian design has gradually emancipated itself from a past attached to the aesthetic canons of European modernism, to acquire a singular identity, a reflection of ethnic mixing and the Brazilian way of life.

François Boutard.

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