The personal collection of one of the leading names in Brazilian architecture has just been shipped off to Portugal: UIA2021RIO Honour Committee member Paulo Mendes da Rocha has donated some 9,000 items – including his drawings, maquettes, photographs and sorted documentation – to the Casa da Arquitectura architecture centre in Matosinhos.
This decision caused a variety of reactions. Some Brazilian professors, researchers, architects and students lamented this loss, claiming that it would be harder to access these items, with adverse effects on studies and research projects. Mention was also made of the culture drain currently faced by Brazil.
However, the Casa da Arquitectura promises that these materials (which consist of some 6,300 drawings, 3,000 photographs and slides, 300 publications and maquettes prepared for over 320 projects) will be catalogued and digitised. From next year onwards, this collection will be available virtually, and will be available for exhibition in other countries from 2022 onwards.
In an open letter, the Executive Director of the Casa da Arquitectura, Nuno Sampaio, announced the intention of drawing up institutional cooperation protocols with Brazilian entities, in order to offer access to this collection and encourage exchanges.
Coming out in support of Paulo Mendes da Rocha, artists, architects and curators – many of whom are speakers or contributors to UIA2021RIO – signed a manifesto, which is published in full below.
Architect and Professor Paulo Mendes da Rocha proffers an invitation to reflect on whether a pyramid “is the stone, or the idea that it has been there for more than 5,000 years. Which lasts longer: the stones or the ideas?”
His personal decision to donate his collection of documents to the Casa da Arquitectura architecture centre in Portugal – thus ensuring its preservation, with free public access to this documentation – shows us that this is the way: in our integrated world with instant communications, it is ideas that must be acknowledged and preserved, and it is knowledge as a whole that will lead us to the future.
Looking beyond respect for the freedom to select the final destination of his personal collection, we believe that it is vital and urgent for us to recall, at this time, his notable track record of example, resistance and humanity in his professional life, his teachings and his political stances.
Long before the issue of colonisation was placed in the centre of discussions, as has occurred so pertinently of late, Paulo was already expressing his views on the problems arising from its persistence among us.
Long before contemporary international critics began to investigate building defunctionalisation and urbanisation, Paulo was already embodied in a democratising tradition of Brazilian architecture building “significant but nameless spaces” as defined by Flávio Motta.
Long before the tough times through which we are living today, Paulo saw his rights suppressed (together with Artigas, Maitrejean and so many others). Banned from the São Paulo University Architecture and Urban Planning School (FAU-USP), he wisely returned there and re-signified his teaching activities (and the School itself) during the years that Brazil was rebuilding its democracy.
The time has now come when he decided to open up his ideas to the world, with the same generous and democratic vigour and imagination as always. Opening up the world everywhere and for everyone, this is a great gesture that does not undermine the importance of all Brazilian institutions, suffering so severely during this sad time as culture is being dismantled in Brazil. This effort to save his work may be viewed as part of the resistance against this dismantling process.
This is why we express our full confidence in the accuracy of his decision, underpinned by all the other correct decisions he has made in his life. We believe that leaving his collection with the Casa de Arquitectura architecture centre is a civilisatory action that rises above historical issues, buttressing supranational links while strengthening the ties between Portugal and Brazil, as a project pursuing a fairer world that is better for all.
We close by borrowing an introduction to Paulo that was written by Flavio Motta almost fifty years ago – and is still perfectly up to date.
Paulo Mendes da Rocha battles this immobilism [of man faced by things] with the flair of the artist, the Brazilian and the architect that he is. He also allows us these skirmishes insofar as they are of interest to man. Not only does he allow them, he stirs them up even beyond national boundaries, for historical rather than geographical reasons, seeking time that was not lost, but rather taken away.
Flavio Motta, Textos Informes, 1973
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