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Brazilian Architecture re-interpreted

Christ & Gantenbein talk about their contribution to the second Chicago Architecture Biennial. Why did they chose to examine an automatic parking garage tower in São Paolo which was built in 1964 by Abelardo de Souza and Bernardo Vaisman?


Text: Christ & Gantenbein – 12.10.2017
Fotos © Christ & Gantenbein


What do you exhibit in Chicago?

Our proposal is part of “the Vertical City / Hypostyle Hall” exhibition. The curator’s brief asked to design a contemporary interpretation of the famous Chicago Tribune Tower project, in form of a 1:24 scaled model. We chose to re-interpret an existing building: the Garagem Roosevelt, an automatic parking garage tower in São Paulo. Many examples of these structures are still to be found in the city. In the 1940’s and 1950’s, they offered a successful solution to São Paulo’s traffic congestion. Built in 1964 by Abelardo de Souza and Bernardo Vaisman, the Garagem Roosevelt is radically optimized: the floor height of its 38 storeys is kept to the absolute minimum, its concrete structural grid becomes thinner towards the top, no fire escape staircase or other non-structural elements comes to disturb the distilled tectonics of the ensemble. Made up of two platforms adjacent to an aperture, the floorplan is as radical as the four façades: two frontal facades are articulated by different structural rhythms. One party wall is fully built out of concrete, while in the other the concrete structure is interrupted by brick infill. One of the four corners is slightly chamfered, grounding the prism within its site: the wild topography of central São Paulo.


How does your project correspond with the motto Make New History?

Make New History declares architecture as a cultural project for infinite timeframes, and hints at the use of precedents in the architectural project. We chose to counteract Loos’ iconic proposal and declare this garage as our “Doric column of the 21st century”. This honest and utilitarian structure appears both as an exercise in fundamental tectonics and as an example of a sort of classical beauty. We choose to learn from the unspectacular and thus our act of design for the Chicago Biennale is to declare this objet trouvé as part of the living legacy of historical architecture.


How is this project related to your work as architects within the office?

The Garagem Roosevelt  is part of a collection of anonymous urban architecture compiled for our research at the ETH Zurich. The tangible result of the typological analysis conducted on eight cities around the world is published in the two encyclopedias entitled Typology: a trove of building types molded by centuries of typological refinement. In our practice, we constantly make use of these types as a tool box for designing, they are a source of references which we can be used for what they are: architectural types. Which means that their primary structure is a canvas ready to be adapted, transformed and improved.  


What do you take along from the Chicago Biennial for your future work?

While strolling through the beautifully curated rooms of the biennale, we were impressed by its capacity to convey architecture, which is in itself a difficult task. The Biennial’s  topic hints at legendary forerunners such as the Strada Novissima, but just as the latter marked a possible tipping point in the history of architecture, this Biennial leaves us with a similar dead-end feeling. Since “now” is not the end of history but only a stepping stone between the past and the future, the architecture that we build today has not only to meet current criteria, but also to engage with the past and to point to the future. But how can methodological engagement with History be confronted with the many a-historical ex-nihilo contemporary structures built around the world? Are we simply too romantic? As much as we are true advocates of history, we wish to address its relevance in a sharp and critical way.


> Find a full review on the Chicago Biennial here.

> Learn more about the extension of the Landesmuseum Zurich from Christ & Gantenbein in our Swiss Performance 2017!

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