October 08th, 2003




The most fashionable architect in the city, the one who hates the ostentatious luxury and loves the daring, the simplicity and the refinement, is crazy for movies, music, house of birds, cracklings, sugar cane spirits and flying saucers

text by Maria Rita Alonso

Let us walk around Jardins-district. Everybody knows that English brick facade and 23-floor building with a classical clock on the top. It is Fasano Hotel. Right ahead, among the sparkling show windows of international brands, there is a nearly 10-meter height yellow big wall and a dark entrance hall differing from the neighborhood. We are talking about Chocolate Club, a new meeting point of fashion victims. Some steps ahead is Forum store, which was built with the same straight lines, wide spaces and unusual materials — mud wall for instance. Places like these, which help frame the city cosmopolitan face, have no ostentatious luxury, shine or new rich qualities. However, they are all fancy, elegant, sophisticated, contemporary. They are just like the architect who designed them. In English cashmere sweaters and dark clothes which do not draw attention but which are high quality and quite expensive, the São Paulo resident Isay Weinfeld cultivates a style at once simple and refined, as well as he loves eating cracklings (in unknown bars of Rio district of Lapa) and drinking sugar cane spirits (certainly, a fine low-production sugar cane spirit, which costs up to R$ 250 the bottle).

Now he is making the scenery of the 26th São Paulo International Art Bienal, which is opening for the public on the next 26th with the participation of 135 artists from 62 countries. Isay took charge of the giant work of fitting their paintings, pictures, sculptures, videos and equipment on the three floors of biennial exhibition building. “My goal at the exhibition is to disappear, to make nobody notices I was there, because the works are the most important”, said he, who saw himself on the holophotes again, as soon as he took charge of it. He assures he dislikes that. Behind his discretion, however, there is a conceited man. He has reason for that. Isay Weinfeld, 52 years old, is a great architect, and his creations spread around the city more and more and bring amazement. “His work reflects a knowledgeable person who loves eating, traveling, listening to music and enjoying life”, said the restaurateur Rogério Fasano, his friend and client. They both know each other very well. There were eight years of being together and eight trips abroad in search of furniture and objects to compose the family’s hotel. With Iranian rugs and French leather armchairs spread along the lobby, the place has become the meeting point of famous and powerful people.
There inside we have Baretto, the most elegant bar of São Paulo, made up of rustic peroba floor and walls covered by corduroy and the Fasano restaurant, installations of which are so sophisticated as well as the menu and the wine cellar. “At the age of 14, a Portuguese teacher taught me that the most important in a text is the start, to grab the reader, and the end, as the last impression remains”, says Isay. “This changed all my life and my architecture.” What he searches in every project is a shocking entrance door. He left this trace at Fasano as well as at Disco nightclub, in the district of Vila Olímpia, where at the arrival, the visitor finds a tunnel of colorful pastilles and optic fiber brilliant spots. The history repeats at the door “Open Sesame” of Chocolate Club, on Oscar Freire Street. Upon crossing that door, after a dark hall, there are palm trees, beach sand and beams of natural light reflected on the Portuguese white mosaic wall.
“Isay is very curious and knows everything which is new in music, movies, fashion, and plastic arts”, states the director of Rio art Giovanni Bianco, responsible for the last show of Madonna. Accredited by specialized press, foreign journalists are always looking for him. On his meeting table there are 35 decoration and architecture foreign magazines with articles about him. The pages where he is mentioned are marked with yellow post-its. “A German photographer, amazed at Isay’s architecture, grabbed the pillar and said that he did not want to go away from my house anymore”, reveals a neighbor from the district of Alto de Pinheiros, which, like most of his clients, avoid to show up.
His signature in a project is golden. It can be free of charge for a friend or it can cost more than R$ 50,000. “For him, the most important is the aesthetics, not the costs”, says a client. “My projects are like “haute couture”: it has the face of the one who orders”, states Isay, who chooses the people he works for. “It is not the money which moves me.” He is known as snob in groups of millionaire São Paulo natives after saying no to some of them. To accept an order, it is necessary to have with the client what is called aesthetic affinity. “He is hard: at first he did not accept the work but later on he thought it over and accepted it.”, says the actress and journalist Marília Gabriela, who bought the apartment located above hers, in the district of Jardins, to tear down the concrete slab and turning them into a mega duplex . Gabi and Isay had a year of works and problems, but everything ended up well. He got along better with the mayor Marta Suplicy. Although he is not an adept of PT party, he restored her private office at Banespinha building and charged — he just does not say how much.
One of his current favorite works is a house which he calls naturalist and which he projected in the district of Jardins, with a hall of stones which seem to fluctuate in a water mirror, rustic floor and eclectic furniture amassed by the family for ages. Isay thinks the work helps fall one of the labels which people put on him — the minimalist architect. There is another one, which he hates as well — the fashion architect. He thinks nonsense to compare him to Oscar Niemeyer, who he is far from being an admirer. “Architecture is not sculpture”, he usually says. But who compared they both? The New York Times: the most influential American newspaper, in a one-and-a-half page article about him. His professional admirations are the Japanese Yoshio Taniguchi, who is in charge of the expansion project for the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York, the Italian Lina Bo Bardi, author of Masp (Museum of Art of São Paulo), and the São Paulo native Marcio Kogan, with whom he made several partnerships. They have never been partners but they have already exhibited works with funny urban criticisms. One of them is a road complex, which would link 23 de Maio Avenue to itself, and another is the Road Triumph Arch. The pair has also made movies. Together, they’ve written and directed fourteen short and one long movie: Fogo e Paixão (Fire and Passion), of 1988, with Fernanda Montenegro and Giulia Gam in the cast.
“Isay is seen in different areas with the same irreverence in a lot of humor”, says the movie director Hector Babenco, for whom Isay projected his house and office. Son of a Polish immigrant who arrived in the district of Bom Retiro, worked as a street peddler and could be the owner of a textile industry, Isay studied at Colégio Rio Branco and graduated in Architecture and Urban Design at the Mackenzie University. Separated, he has been living in the same apartment in the district of Higienópolis for 25 years, with his daughter, a 22-year-old actress, for whom he usually prepares dinner. Cooking is just one of his passions. He is interested in UFO studies, he believes in flying saucers and collects houses of birds. Once a week, he finishes office work in the middle of the afternoon to study music. He can play the violin and is learning the piano. He enjoys modern erudite music, the cool jazz of the veteran singer Blossom Dearie, who he considers a female João Gilberto, and especially the melancholic rock of Radiohead. In  two-day trips, once he went to New York and another time to London just to see shows of his favorite band. At the age of 18, he had the same impulse. After having amazed at the movie Wild Strawberries (1957), of the Swedish Ingmar Bergman, he asked his father for money to visit Stockolm. “I had seen the movie so many times that I was surprised when I arrived there”, Isay remembers. “I thought the country was black and white like the tape.”