by Almas SadiqueMar 12, 2022
Poland-born, illustrious Brazilian architect Jorge Zalszupin (1922-2020) would have turned 99 on June 01, 2021. Known as one of the most important Brazilian designers of the 20th century, who contributed vastly to architecture, product design and fine arts, his interpretation of furniture design particularly marked an era in the Brazil of 60s and 70s. Characterised by clean geometric lines, organic forms, classic detailing and the impeccable use of hardwood, cane and leather, Zalszupin's critical oeuvre includes pieces designed with architect Oscar Niemeyer on the development of the new capital city of Brasília.
As a tribute to the legend, ETEL (the official editor of Zalszupin’s designs) recently hosted Entre (Tempos), translated as “In between times” – an exhibition inside the architect’s house in São Paulo, a place which he conceptualised himself and lived in for the last 50 years of his life. Striking in the architectural display of voluptuous forms, Jacaradá flooring, sculpted wall niches and curvy ceiling, and interiors illustrated by original pieces by the architect, we explore what went behind this spatial showcase – one that opened the doors of the house to the public for the first time.
STIR speaks with Mariana Schmidt, the co-founder of São Paulo-based MNMA Studio, discussing the idea behind her curatorial interventions at the exhibition. (Entre) Tempos: A tribute to Jorge Zalszupin has been curated by Schmidt along with Lissa Carmona, ETEL CEO.
Edited excerpts from the interview...
Zohra Khan (ZK): Being an architect yourself, what aspect of Jorge Zalszupin's life resonated the most with you?
Mariana Schmidt (MS): It’s a huge opportunity for us as a studio to realise this work as Jorge Zalszupin was a great designer. Although he was not born here in Brazil, he remains a very important figure in the country who initiated the mid-century design movement. I was very touched when the CEO of ETEL, Lissa Carmona, invited me to realise this exhibition and for me this opportunity is particularly special because Jorge had moved to Brazil because of the Second World War and it’s the same with my family as they also arrived in Brazil because of the war. Jorge was a Jewish and my father is a Jewish too, so I really connected with that aspect. I believe it’s very hard when you have to change the country not because you want to but because you need to. Jorge arrived in the same place in Rio de Janeiro as my grandfather and it was the same year, same time, with the same questions and with nothing. Jorge came to Brazil with nothing. There is a phrase in his book,Jorge Zalszupin: Modern Design in Brazil, which became the starting point for this project. He says, “My life is a miracle sequence”.
ZK: Tell us about your curatorial intervention.
MS: The house in which he lived his entire life was one of his own projects. When we started working on the exhibition, I decided not to bring in major interventions. We just wanted to create an atmosphere for the home to shine like a miracle and we chose the best furniture designed by Jorge to manifest it. When he designed products for his company L’Atelier, he used a lot of vibrant colours such as reds and oranges. I decided to put the furniture with neutral aspects to them and I think when we did that, everything became shiny and it helped people understand the materials in the house. I love the floor, it’s a traditional brick very common in Brazil but people don’t valorize it. Jorge used a lot of references from the popular architecture in Brazil. I refer to it as the Caipira because that style is not recognised in architectural schools or in the professional world. It’s just that people in some regions do this kind of architecture without knowing that it is architecture. For me this is very special.
ZK: How has the past of the house responded to the new?
MS:The house has influences from Brazil’s vernacular architecture. The ceiling draws clear references from the Scandinavian architecture of Alvar Alto and it’s particularly striking the way Jorge connected it. When we cleared the entire house keeping only the special furniture, it's amazing how every detail became clearer for people. I believe that more and more people want to experience the house because it is very simple and usual. The way we understand and inhabit architecture is changing, especially because of the pandemic where people had to stay in limited spaces. Now everyone wants to connect with materials, with nature and open spaces. I believe it is a consequence…One enters the house through a very dark and small space but right in an instance everything becomes shiny and open. It’s beautiful how Jorge did this play of spaces, of the bold and the limited.
ZK: The curatorial theme talks about the meeting of times. Could you elaborate this?
MS:The exhibition talks about timeless. You have a past of the house at the very present: spaces, materials, and furniture, but with a new interpretation that is very contemporary, I think of it as its future. When it comes to the future of architecture, we look at the past, create something for the present and think about the future. This house is very contemporary because of its great architect, and its furniture will have the same importance even after many years. I believe Jorge Zalszupin is a legacy. In Brazil particularly, we have a conservatory way of living and it’s amazing how with little things one can provoke a new way of life. This is particularly reflected in the exhibition.
In the projects that I do and also in my way of life, I draw inspiration from essential elements; things which have a history and a connection with nature. In the house we used the furniture designed by Jorge and some objects that he used in his life. We kept little pieces like a small Caipira bench handmade by artisans in Brazil, and a vase from Quilombo (Brazilian hinterland settlement founded by people of African origin). The house also has Mediterranean references in the form of traditional paintings on walls. Jorge has put a lot of styles of architecture in one place and it worked. I didn’t do a lot of things there, I just refined a few.
I am very happy to share that soon the house will be converted into a design institute and that next year we will be celebrating the centenary of Jorge Zalszupin. Studio MNMA will be making little interventions for this institution.
ZK: Are there any intimate references to Jorge Zalszupin’s life that one can witness at the exhibition?
MS:The third floor is Jorge’s private studio and all the archives including his projects and drawings are kept there. ETEL is cataloguing these archives and references for people to get access to this information. It’s interesting how people who were not even from the design or architecture background showed interest in visiting the exhibition and it was rather unfortunate that not everybody could see the place due to COVID-19, and only limited number of people were allowed. Hence, the decision is apt to turn the house in an institute. I believe design and architecture are very elite fields and often times only for the selected few. It’s heartening to know that the house will be open to all, emphasising the importance of culture rather than architecture or design alone.