Chaotic, and with a reputation for violence, São Paulo is one of the biggest cities in the world, and widely regarded as one of the cultural capitals of South America. While it doesn't have a huge reputation for architecture, that's beginning to change, and it's the very edginess of the city that's inspiring the architects, designers and artists who live and work there. StudioMK27‘s beautiful block of concrete brutalism, Micasa Volume B, is one, prime example. The building is an annex of an existing furniture showroom—Micasa—and was built to house that store's Vitra collection. Micasa Volume B expands the floor space of that existing building out into a stunning, uncompromising structure that showcases the store's colourful furniture in a kind of furious harmony. Come with us, as we take a tour!
Construction in Brazil's urban centres commonly involves building what are called 'puxadinhos', or annexes, often from disposable materials like wood or tin. These extension annexes to existing buildings are illegal, or questionably legal, but they are an informal solution for low-income families who need more space, but don't have the money to invest in a complete renovation or the purchase of another, larger property. In latter years, the 'puxadinho' culture has been adopted by city architects in Brazil to create an official programme for construction: building on the already built. Micasa Volume B takes as its inspiration the 'puxadinho' culture, both literally (it's an extension) and as a starting point for its design.
A small tunnel connects the entrance to the Micasa annex with the showroom of the original store. The interior of the annex is open plan on a grand scale, and was designed to provide a large and dynamic space to house the store's VITRA showroom. Built using traditional materials executed in a traditional way, Micasa Volume B recalls the artisan processes of informal urban construction in Brazil, as well as modern Brazilian buildings; modernist projects in a brutalist style that was reinvented south of the equator.
The building's façades are finished in an unusual way, using exposed, reinforced concrete. Where usually concrete blocks would be smoothed off to create a smooth finish, here they're left random and almost chaotic.
Lit from below, the variable texture of the unsmoothed concrete casts a patchwork of shadows on itself.
Many of the big design decisions were made at the worksite itself, with the builders taking part in the creative process. For example, the external wall made of wire mesh—leftover after all the concrete had been poured—was a touch decided at the time of construction, transferring an element of the creative process to the builders. This delicate steel mesh, placed vertically, functions as a light filter for the large windows.
Quite deliberately, traces of the building's construction were left in situ, creating a sort of exposed archeology of the building: the “x’s” of the tape on the new windows and, on the inner walls, the workers’ notes on the project. The interior walls aren't plastered or finished, and there is no paint: the raw texture of the concrete provides the finish. The finished building displays, then, all the phases of its construction; they are marks of the building’s recent history that are left behind to speak for it. The idea was to echo the ever-present 'archaeology' of modern Brazilian cities, where layers of the past—of buildings built upon buildings—are always very close by.