July/August 2003


Architecture Dept – Profile


Brazilian architecture has more to offer than Oscar Niemeyer’s concrete dramas – for instance, Mr. Isay Weinfeld’s white summerhouses

text by Carmen Stephan

It is hard to say how many movies came to Mr. Isay Weinfeld’s mind when he made the project of this house. One of them must be a thriller: Going into Bitter’s home, the breath is taken away for a moment. On the place where naturally the lobby should be, all of a sudden there is a 30-meter-length lawn, like a golf course, surrounded by palm trees. Only there ahead after the lawn, the big glazed doors of the house are opened and through them it is possible to hear the noise of the sea. “Like the movies, the architecture has to bring on deep emotions – it can be fear or a smile”, remarks Mr. Isay Weinfeld, the new Brazilian architecture star, recently celebrated in an extensive article of The New York Times. The Bitter family, from São Paulo textile business, dreamed of a house at the green and lush Tijucopava beach; for them Mr. Weinfeld projected a house, which seems an enormous white yacht ready to drop anchor. The Bitters, as well as the movie director, Mr. Hector Babenco (“O beijo da mulher aranha-The Kiss of Spider Woman”), the actress, Carolina Ferraz, and Fernando Alterio, “Mr. Showbiz”, who produces the shows of Caetano Veloso e Gilberto Gil, all of them wanted a house of an architect who knew and understood their world. After all, Mr. Isay Weinfeld directed many movies himself and staged a lot of theater plays. Besides, he also designs furniture and does not avoid the contact with fashion and style: “I am much more interested in what Mr. Paul Smith is developing at the moment than looking at what other architects are building”.

At first sight, Mr. Isay Weinfeld draws attention by his low profile wearing a plaid shirt and a dark sweater.  He is 50 years old and walks silently like as monk – but he does not sneak out. He has a face, which it is hard to forget, a mixture of Jean Reno and El Greco. Mr. Weinfeld lives on the 9th floor of an apartment building in São Paulo, in the middle of the organized chaos. A table from a French palace, fake grass from New York, a Brazilian solid wood closet – the architect has a very diversified taste, however, everything seems to be in the right place, without conflicts. Mr. Weinfeld shows a painting of his favorite artist, Ms. Mira Schendel, born in Switzerland: two white planes and, on a small piece, an apparently without importance black scratch. “Imagine everything that is behind this painting to achieve a so synthetic expression. I try to do the same in architecture”. He projects square pure shapes, wide environments and long halls without knowing where they will take you to. Mr. Weinfeld does not make a minimalism showing off – the purity is just there in his houses. He likes unusual materials, but he only makes use of them when they make sense. At the FORUM brand store in São Paulo, for instance, behind the bar counter, which is across from the top of red-glass mosaic stairs, he built a mud wall similar to the ones that the Indians from the north of Brazil build for their huts. “In his creations, Mr. Tufi Duek, fashion designer and the creator of FORUM, inspires himself in Brazilian typical elements, in Bossa Nova or in Carnival. I wanted to assimilate such reference in this store as well”.

Mr. Isay Weinfeld is a well-known perfectionist. “Upon my clients permission, I deliver the house with everything included, even the switch buttons, then the house is ready, as I see it”. At the Bitter’s residence, the main doorknob has a shell shape, a genuine Weinfeld. As well as in Mr. Fernando Alterio’s residence, the Bitter’s house center is made up of a huge living room with a mezzanine floor from where it is possible to contemplate the movement downstairs. Such idea addresses to Mr. Walter Benjamin, who sees the house as a box inside the world theater, a scenic space. Or, in Mr. Weinfeld’s words, “We are actors in our lives, so we need a filming set. And this place is our home”.

Mr. Weinfeld travels a lot looking for inspiration to projects like this. He’s been to Sweden, for instance, because he only knew the country in black and white by watching several Ingmar Bergman’s movies, and he wanted to know it colored. He traveled to New York just for one night to see the show of Radiohead, the British band he loves. He plans to visit Lübeck, for the reason of Mr.Thomas Mann only. Each one with a proportion, such meetings collaborate in the conception of his architecture: Mr. Isay Weinfeld is always looking for associations, which he applies in his works. Mr. Weinfeld also wants to transmit this kind of perception to the fifteen architects who work in his office: “It is easy to learn the technique in the architecture, but not the view”. One day in his office Mr. Weinfeld played the song “Motion Picture Soundtrack”, of Radiohead, very loudly. “Does it remind you guys something?”, he asked his employees. They nodded their heads perplexedly. For Mr. Weinfeld the play represented the musical transcription of an environment designed by him, a disco with a totally black space, and a lot of small lights behind the colored blocks. “The music has the same colors, the same rhythm as well as in the project”, the architect had noticed.

Under the window of Mr. Weinfeld’s apartment, there is a small park surrounded by tall apartment buildings about to be swallowed by them. “São Paulo is one of the ugliest cities in the world, and this makes it so special”, remarks Mr. Weinfeld, who is son of Polish immigrants. “In this city it is easy to forget that we live in a wonderful tropical country. There is a lot of dirt here and sometimes we face the four seasons in a single day”. Next year Mr. Weinfeld will make a project in Europe for the first time, an exhibitor’s building in Bologna. He thinks the place will not make a big difference. For him the project owner is more important than the place. “An acquaintance of mine is extremely kitsch so he will have a kitsch house”, says Mr. Weinfeld laughing. “A house is the transcription of people’s lives in four walls. For this reason, the architect is just one per cent architect and ninety-nine per cent psychoanalyst.”

For the Italian Rogério Fasano, Mr. Isay Weinfeld can be a hundred per cent architect because they have been friends for ages. The Fasanos are the most famous Brazilian gastronomy family and their restaurants are among the finest in the country. Also in this semester, Mr. Weinfeld and Fasano will complete a sixty-room exclusive hotel in São Paulo. In the last years, they have traveled around the world together in order to buy marbles in Italy and old frames in New York. The hotel lobby will have eighty English style armchairs, two fireplaces and a bar. This space will not be reserved for guests and their drinks only, because the real building function is only revealed when going around a darkened “cabreúva” wood panel behind which there is the hotel reception.

Mr. Isay Weinfeld is having dinner at “Forneria San Paolo”, located on Amauri Street, a project made with Mr. Rogério Fasano as well. “We must have tried about a hundred of pizzas in Italy until find the right one for São Paulo”, remarks the architect, who also designed the lights and helped choose the waiters’ uniform. “Everything must match to make a set”, says the architect. At this moment the song “Karma Police”, of Radiohead begins to play. Suddenly Mr. Weinfeld looks totally absent-minded – he is probably designing the next life stage on his mind.