While the Portuguese refer to their architectural tradition as “plain architecture” that is effectively glued to the ground, Brazilians created an architecture that, in the modern period at least, can be understood as the opposite of what their former colonizers created: a light, utopian architecture that seeks to detach itself from the ground with buildings that float through the creation of huge spans. The source of this obsession, however, is not just constructive or formal. In modern Brazilian architecture, the release of urban ground floors responds to a desire to build public spaces. It allows public spaces to emerge in cities where formal public spaces are regularly privatized, fenced, and closed to collective interaction. The open and shaded space at MASP (Museum of Art of São Paulo), designed by Lina Bo Bardi (1957-68), provides a prime example of this argument. Here a large square sited on private land is offered for public use by the citizens of São Paulo. In the years since its construction, it has become the most vibrant space for cultural and political manifestations in the city.
Guilherme Wisnik is a researcher in art and architecture, and serves as critic, associate professor, and Vice Dean at FAUUSP (Faculty of Architecture and Urban Planning of São Paulo State University). He also served as Chief Curator of the 10th edition of the São Paulo Architecture Biennale (2013), and curator of the exhibition “Infinite Span” at House of Architecture of Portugal (2018). He has published in magazines such as Artforum, the Architectural Review, Architectural Design, Third Text, Arquitectura Viva, AV Monografías, 2G, Domus, Rassegna, Arch +, Baumeister, Jornal Arquitectos, and Urban China.