Archives for posts with tag: Copan Building

Life in Sao Paulo always seems to be book-ended by tower blocks – unless you live in an expensive suburb like the Jardims, where the height of development is curtailed, or in a gentrifying suburb like the slice between Avenida Faria Lima and the Pinheiros Marginal ring road – see

– where the tower blocks are commercial, not yet residential. In Pinheiros, residential towers are springing up on available plots, though the apartments being sold off plan are not moving as easily as once they did.

A pair of towers face each other …

You notice that in a suburb like Itaim Bibi, which has been developed as a business and residential district for some time, the property owners and their architects seem to be competing for landmark status.

… across the street in Itaim

It becomes a bragging contest, in which money talks.

Itaim landmark not just in its own street, with pretensions to the status of the Copan Building

Close up, it's huge

Close up, it’s huge

The retail branches of banks – they do very well in Brasil on a level of customer service which expatriate Anglo-Saxon customers find surprisingly inadequate – are dotted about the city. Their investment in branch property is modest, but well presented.

Lighting outside bank branch off Rua Henrique Schaumann

The chic boutiques display their wares cautiously for the emerging middle class. You sense a precariousness about their existence which does not seem to be shared by the banks.

Show room dummies on Rua Henrique Schaumann

Alongside, on the hoardings of building sites, street art flourishes briefly.

Next door to the showroom

And in the interstices between developments, the poor make a living.

Catadores – recyclers – are a familiar sight in Sao Paulo, pulling their handcarts laden with metal, wood, or most often cardboard, through heavy traffic. Their efforts contribute to an admirable and economic 76% of cardboard produced by Brasil being recycled. More at

They recycle cardboard, support their childen – the family sleeps behind this fence tonight

The cheerfulness of most Brasilians in the face of such differences in prosperity, whether or not during the traditional season of goodwill, gives one pause for thought, and much hope for Brasil’s future …

Traditional Christmas trees, Sao Paolo style

… even book-ended by such disparities in prosperity. Perhaps that is not the problem we perceive it to be.

Just another tower in Itaim …

… reflecting its neighbour across the street

Lunch at the Bar da Dona Onça on the ground floor of the iconic Copan building in Sao Paulo Centro. Being Saturday, lunch is feijoada, a black bean stew with various cuts of pork – rib, sausage, crackling, ear – and traditional accompaniments like farofa (toasted manioc flour to sprinkle on top), rice and pickles, as well as more unusual accompaniments like banana, mild chili and orange segments, which work well with the heavy fatty cuts of pork. The decor is a stab at period edgy (not original) which works quite well.

Interior of Bar da Dona Onca

But the star of the show is the Copan building, which you see as you approach through traffic, a wave in a sea of rectangles. It’s a huge edifice, 30 storeys at least, with room for 5,000 residents in apartments of various shapes and sizes. Undergoing refurbishment, it’s a recognised architectural landmark by a world-class architect – Oscar Niemeyer – though I have some sympathy with the Paulistano view that “like everything he did, it’s good for taking pictures, but lousy to live in.” (Regina Rheda)

The Copan Building by Oscar Niemeyer from street level

The district around it is full of architectural interest, from the circular tower of the ex-Hilton Hotel …

A hotel, once

… to detailing like this op-art tiling on the alley-way entrance of a neighbouring building.

Down the alley to the neighbours

But the Niemeyer is the Oscar-winning star turn. Gradually abandoned as a central business district and prime residential address in the 1960s, in favour of Avenida Paulista for business and the Jardims for home, it still has the presence to impress, like the Niemeyer-designed Museu de Arte Contemporânea de Niterói in Rio de Janeiro.

Beautiful setting, startling space-age building, Niteroi

That building looks striking, but it doesn’t work well as a museum – awkward entrance, especially when raining, an exterior gallery with blinding reflected light over the water, and artificially-lit gloom in the circular interior – and you ask yourself what the sinuous shape of the Copan means for the internals of its apartments. This is bravura architecture, playing to the strong visual sense of the Brasilian culture, and able to be railroaded through without the hindrance of the cautious UK planning system. Here, function follows form. It says something for the aesthetic sense of Brasil’s elite – not to mention their social awareness – that these are iconic buildings. It’s undeniably and impressively beautiful, and a welcome change from the rectangular.

A hulking beauty

It makes a thought-provoking comparison with what was built 25 years later in Rotterdam: striking and futurisitic, but on a smaller scale, and reportedly more user-friendly. What can Brasil do in the same vein? The next few decades will be interesting …

Architect Piet Blom’s tree houses, 1982

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