Monday 10 March 2014

New Architecture: Brazil's Casa Cubo by Isay Weinfeld

Brazilian architect Isay Weinfeld's dramatic curving stair that floats above the floor of the mezzanine library. 

A spectacular spiral staircase of Brazilian ironwood is the design centerpiece of architect Isay Weinfeld’s new house and gallery in São Paulo, reports Jeanne-Marie Cilento. Photographs by Fernando Guerra

LOCATED in the fashionable Jardins district, the building is one of four others the architect has designed or renovated in the same street, including the Yucatan House. A modernist and minimalist at heart, Weinfeld uses rich local materials to offset his lean and austere spaces which evoke the stark beauty of Mies van der Rohe's 1929 German Pavilion in glass, onyx and green marble.

Called Casa Cubo, Weinfeld’s new building has white gallery-like interiors to house the owners art collection including the Antony Gormley sculptures suspended from the ceiling. The five life-size nude male figures are cast from lead and fiberglass and hang from the neck ~ the heads seemingly disappearing into the next floor. Created in 1992, Gormley’s work is on show in the specially-designed double-height living room for the first time since the owner’s purchased it.

Passionate collectors of contemporary art, the owners live in one of Weinfeld’s houses further down the street but plan to use this new building for art and design exhibitions and to hold parties and host artists during events like the São Paolo Biennial. 

Isay Weinfeld is a native of São Paulo and has been working as an architect for 40 years. Today, he has a large practice of 30 architects and has worked on some of the city’s key commercial and residential projects and won several awards. It can take up to three years for a project to be completed for clients and Weinfeld likes to form a close working relationship with them. The owners of Casa Cubo commissioned him to design the building for them after he had already designed the renovation of their current house and created a house for one of the couple's parents many years earlier.  

This house has not one but two staircases that appear to float above the floor. The dramatic curving wooden spiral leads up from the mezzanine library to a sitting room and three bedrooms on the top floor. The deep, rich hues of the ironwood are carefully matched and aligned to bring out the grain of the timber. The other angular steel stair is set against one wall of the living room and seems be suspended without any structural support

The extensive use of glass allows the 715 square metre building to feel intimately connected to the lush garden that surrounds the house. The rich, tropical green of the plants and lily pond outside are a foil to the bright, cool whites of the interior. The tall, light-filled living room is the main display space for paintings, sculptures and mid-century design classics including chairs by Alvar Aalto, Pierre Jeanneret and Gio Ponti. The polished concrete floor is covered by a free-form yellow rug designed by Isay Weinfeld.

On the ground level of the house are a kitchen and a dining room and an entrance hall that leads into the main living and exhibition space. The mezzanine library level has a shelving unit that runs along the back wall above a long, low strip of glass next to the floor bringing in views of the garden.

The linear, cubic form of the exterior of the building is divided into three levels vertically and has a graphic look created with glass, concrete panel cladding and bands of wood on the top floor. Buried within burgeoning tropical foliage, the Casa Cubo's restrained exterior gives little away about it's striking Modernist interior or the contemporary art collection it houses. 

To see more of Isay Weinfeld's work visit the studio's website: 

Click on photographs for full-screen slideshow
Antony Gormley's composition of life-size figures male figures hang from the ceiling as an art installation above the living room.

The curving ironwood stairs float suspended above the polished concrete floor of the mezzanine level library.

The top floor gallery with a wall displaying art works leads to a sitting room and three bedrooms to house visiting artists. 

The mezzanine library has long, slender bookshelves above a window that looks over the garden's trees.

A sleek wooden desk offers a space for work, reading and drawing in the library.

The double-height living space with it's mix of mid-century classics by Pierre Jeanneret, Alvar Aalto, Gio Ponti. 

A large sculpture by Tony Cragg sits below the steel suspended staircase and its texture contrasts with the wall of Brazilian ironwood cupboards.

The large living room provides the central gallery space in the house to exhibit art works and host parties for artists visiting the Brazilian capital.

The graphic exterior of the house is created from linear lines and a mix of materials: glass, concrete plaque cladding and wood.

Lush tropical vegetation surrounds the building and gives no indication of the contemporary art and design within the house.

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