Sao Paulo: Urban landscaping

27 Nov 2014 by GrahamSmith
Christopher Beanland explores the sprawling city of Sao Paulo and the influences behind its eclectic architecture If you were in Sao Paulo for business and wanted to extend your Brazilian trip across the weekend, you might be forgiven for heading for the beaches of Rio de Janeiro. But if you’re a fan of art and architecture, Sao Paulo is where you need to be. The gallery scene is exemplary, as is the array of world-class buildings, and exploring it all makes for a fascinating couple of days’ break. This youthful, rich, sybaritic city is enormous – the largest of the Americas and one of the biggest on Earth, with a population of almost 20 million. So it sprawls. The historic downtown district is Se, while Avenida Paulista to the south is one of the city’s newer business and cultural zones. The area from Avenida Paulista stretching further south, downhill to the Parque Ibirapuera, is where you’ll find most of the sights – although this is a city of quite loosely defined neighbourhoods. The subway is limited, so taxis can be the easiest way to get around, although be prepared to sit in traffic. Paulistas like to think they live in the New York of South America. Like the Big Apple, Sao Paulo is ethnically diverse. It is home to the largest Japanese community outside Japan, mostly based in Liberdade, where you can get the freshest sushi. Still, it’s the towers along Avenida Paulista that will make you feel as if you’re on Broadway. The street follows a ridge line with skyscraper soldiers standing to attention along it – when darkness falls, the sight is mesmerising. Add in the soaring TV masts and incessantly flashing red lights that warn the helicopters that buzz around the towers like bees to keep away, and it’s almost overwhelming. The best place to see art in the city – and arguably in the whole of Brazil – is MASP, the Museum of Art (1,578 Avenida Paulista; open Tues-Sun 10am-6pm, 8pm on Thurs; masp.art.br). The 1968 Brutalist building itself is the first attraction. Designed by Italy’s Lina Bo Bardi – who loved Sao Paulo so much that she made it her home – it sits on four pillars and looks a little like a robotic shoebox on steroids that’s grown legs. Inside are wonderful works by home-grown artists such as Jose Ferraz de Almeida Junior, one of the country’s leading 19th-century painters, as well as pieces by Constable and Turner. Entry is R$15 (£4), or free on Tuesdays. The subway is also full of public art. Colourful murals decorate the station at Se, while two stops east at Bras is Amelia Toledo’s intriguing Kaleidoscope, a cluster of 25 plates of curved steel and plastic. It was New York’s illegal subway graffiti artists that influenced Sao Paulo's most famous contemporary artists, Osgemeos (the Twins), who have painted everything from a community centre in a Sao Paulo favela to one of Brazilian airline GOL’s B737-800 aircraft. Their work, by its nature, comes and goes, and isn’t always easy to find – sometimes in underpasses, other times on buildings – so check for new work on osgemeos.com. As with Brazil in general, the passion with which people live their lives is evident in Sao Paulo’s bars, and also in the sometimes riotous architecture the city displays. Its buildings are about bluster and boasting – an attempt to build manmade landmarks to outdo Rio’s natural ones. Take the 1961-built Edificio Copan (200 Ipiranga; copansp.com.br) in the Republica neighbourhood, west of Se. It’s a masterly exercise in “big is better” from Brazil’s best-known architect, Oscar Niemeyer, who designed the distinctive buildings of the capital, Brasilia. From above, this bulky bit of concrete Brutalism has the form of a wave. Its 38 floors stretch 140 metres into the sky – yet its shape and brise-soleil sun blinds, which run horizontally along the face of the building, give it an elegance. While mainly apartments, you can linger in the wood-panelled foyer, where there are barbers, shops and a café that serves delicious ice cream. Luz station is also worth seeking out in the vicinity. Designed by Englishman Charles Henry Driver and built by Glaswegians at the turn of the 1900s, its Victorian style and huge size make it a very British-looking addition to the city. It’s this mishmash of styles from around the world – Britain, Japan, the US and the Mediterranean – that marks Sao Paulo’s architecture. There are also buildings from every period – today’s modern city gives way to the older Imperial Portuguese city at Se. The cathedral here is beautiful Gothic, while the handsome old coffee merchants’ offices and banking halls from the late 1800s show how the city made its money, sating the European and North American thirst for a morning cup of coffee. One of the banking halls has been transformed into the Caixa Cultural (111 Praca da Se; Tues-Sun 9am-9pm, free; programasculturaiscaixa.com.br), which stages travelling exhibitions. It recently presented works by the UK’s Banksy. Se is the old money of Sao Paulo, and Jardins is the new. This is the most pleasant part of the city to wander around. From MASP, stroll through the bucolic Parque Trianon, then downhill on Alameda Casa Branca, past hip boutiques, car showrooms, cocktail bars and trendy eateries. Two hotels stand out in Jardins. Both are design gems with excellent food and service. The first is the Emiliano (384 Rua Oscar Freire; emiliano.com.br), housed in a skyscraper that boasts a rooftop helipad to whisk guests to the airport or to a polo estancia upcountry. The other is Hotel Unique (4,700 Avenida Brigadeiro Luis Antonio; hotelunique.com.br). Part of the Design Hotels collection, its rooms and public spaces are pure minimalist class, while the rooftop pool bar is the perfect place to enjoy a cocktail. The building itself – a distinctive silver semi-circle perched on pillars – was designed by Ruy Ohtake, one of the city’s best-known architects. His mother was Japanese artist Tomie Ohtake. In 2001, he built a gallery in her honour, the Instituto Tomie Ohtake, to celebrate the city’s inherited Japanese and Oriental culture (201 Avenida Faria Lima; open Tues-Sun 11am-8pm; free; institutotomieohtake.org.br). Located in the cool Pinheiros district, it’s a riot of deconstructed purple and pink banners. Across from the Unique is Ibirapuera park, the city’s giant green lung, which opened in 1954 to celebrate Sao Paulo’s 400th anniversary. In addition to exploring its lush gardens, you can visit MAM, the Museum of Modern Art, which is located here (open Tues-Sun 10am-6pm; R$6/£1.50, free on Sundays; mam.org.br). It boasts works by Miro, Chagall and Picasso as well as Brazilian modernist artists. The park is also home to the Japanese and Biennial pavilions – the latter another Oscar Niemeyer creation. So, too, is the show-stopping Auditorio Ibirapuera (Avenida Pedro Alvares Cabral; auditorioibirapuera.com.br), which looks like a sideways slice of wedding cake with a red dragon’s tongue poking out. Like Sao Paulo, it’s an attention seeker that you can’t stop looking at. FOOD AND DRINK Terraco Italia Built in 1965, this restaurant in the Republica district features kitsch, gentleman’s club-style décor and has an outdoor terrace overlooking the city 42 floors below – perfect for sundowners. Mains R$80-121 (£20-£30), cocktails R$20 (£5). Open Mon-Fri 12pm-3pm, 7pm-12am (Sat until 1am), Sun 12pm-4pm, 7pm-11pm. 344 Avenida Ipiranga; tel +55 112 1892 929; terracoitalia.com.br Figueira Rubaiyat There’s a huge tree growing in the middle of Figueira, hence the name (it means fig tree). This Jardins eatery is always popular, thanks to the relaxed, outdoor dining and the fish scooped from the Amazon and tossed over the Brazilian grill. Mains R$61-102 (£15-£25). Open Mon-Thurs 12pm-12.30am, Fri-Sat until 1am, Sun until 12am. 1,738 Rua Haddock Lobo; tel +55 113 0871 399; rubaiyat.com.br Mam restaurant Finish your visit to the Modern Art Museum with a trip to its restaurant, which serves a light lunch of Brazilian delicacies such as palm hearts and mashed corn, as well as salads. Grab a table by the window, overlooking the sculptures in the museum’s garden. Buffet lunch R$49 (£12). Open Tues-Sun 11am-4pm. Parque Ibirapuera; tel +55 115 0851 306; mam.org.br Brew Dog Scottish bar and beer group Brew Dog opened its Sao Paulo outpost at the start of 2014 in an old mechanic’s yard in Pinheiros. It’s now one of the hippest places to hang out in the city, offering 15 international beers on tap, including one by Brazilian brewery Way Beer. Drinks R$12 (£3). Open Mon-Wed 6pm-12am, Thurs until 1am, Fri until 2am, Sat 2pm-2am, Sun 3pm-11pm. 41 Rua dos Coropes; tel +55 113 0324 007; brewdog.com
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