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Artists fill derelict São Paulo apartment building with installations


Brazilian developer Somauma has converted three floors in the Virginia Building in downtown São Paulo into an installation featuring the work of more than a hundred artists and designers for Design Week São Paulo.

The exhibition, called O Tempo das Graças, is part of a development project that seeks to bring art and cultural activities into the downtown core of Brazil’s most populous city, which has been neglected for decades.

Three floors near the top of the mid-century structure have been filled with a variety of installations as well as gathering spaces such as a fully functional cafe.

Bathtub installation with mobiles above
Over a hundred artists and designers created installations in a derelict building

Curator Cláudio Magalhães told Dezeen that the project was put together around the concept of affection towards spaces.

“The whole idea of an exhibition is to create ‘affection at work’,” said Magalhães through an interpreter.

“The process is richer than the art itself.”

Pink hallway in Edificio Virginia Sao Paulo
The building is in the process of being restored and the design is meant to open up the area to cultural initiatives

According to Design Week São Paulo (DWSP) founder Lauro Andrade, the art project was meant to connect real estate interests with designers in order to regenerate the cultural production of the area as the building is retrofitted to become an apartment block.

References to regeneration can be seen in many aspects of the installations, with art and design filling the literal cracks in the building.

Many of the installations also played with themes of degradation, with found objects and refuse arranged in piles on the floor.

Edificio Virginia
The installations play on the degredation of the building

One such installation, called Fissura, was done in a bathroom by local studios Ponto Rima and Marina Fiuka. The holes in the room and the bathtubs were stuffed with translucent red plastic, while a series of mobiles hang from the ceiling.

Designer Bruno Romi also played with the degradation of the building by filling the fissures in the walls with strands of lights and hanging candles from the ceilings.

Edificio Virginia
“Affection” for spaces was used an orienting design concept

One of the largest installations was carried out by local studios Ruína and Coletivo Avuá, where a number of rooms were filled with figures and objects wrapped in masking tape.

Curator Magalhães and artist Nana Mendes da Rocha also created pieces for the exhibition.

The ground floor of the building has a shop and cafe that will remain after the installation is completed.

Originally created in 1951 by architect José Augusto Bellucci, the Virginia Building was commissioned by the Matarazzo family, known for its industrial conglomerates and building projects during the mid-20th century in São Paulo.

A spokesperson for Somauma added that it was a shame that when the business cores move, older neighbourhoods are neglected, so the company chose to work with designers to come up with ways to “change the situation downtown”.

“Our job is not easy,” Andrade told Dezeen during a tour of the site, “because of crime and people not wanting to come to the downtown region.”

Edificio Virginia
The building will become residential as it’s restored

Andrade said that he hopes the projects and development will show a “material legacy of design week” that lasts long after the installation is torn down as the building becomes residential once again.

Design Week São Paulo incorporates 115 locations all over the city and will run from 11 to 17 March. For more events, talks and showcases in architecture and design, visit Dezeen’s Event Guide.  

The photography is by Mathews Montalvão.


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