Ten years ago, the architectural practice Metro set up its small studio in the tiny neighborhood of Vila Buarque, nestled between República and Higienópolis. Today, it forms part of a cluster of some forty architectural practices operating out of the same city block, including Una, Piratininga and MMBB, not to mention the mighty Paulo Mendes da Rocha and even the Instituto de Arquitetos do Brasil.
‘We were the first to get here, and it was still quite dangerous then,’ says partner Martin Corullon. ‘But since then, more have poured in and the area has adapted to serving architects. Now, there are a few specialised print shops, for example.’
It’s not the only way Metro has been blazing trails in São Paulo. With a full ten years in operation under its belt, it’s one of the senior members of the troupe that headed to New York for the New Practices exhibition, and has had a hand in some of São Paulo’s most interesting projects. And it’s set to move on soon from its ‘artisanal’ roots, says Corullon, to expand to bigger things.
Expansion aside, Metro has been working since the start with the superstar architect Paulo Mendes da Rocha, and although one especially eye-catching project for the New York competition was a museum of chocolate for Nestlé just outside the city, in Caçapava, the most anticipated work on the drawing board – indeed, under construction – at the moment is the recreation of Galeria Leme in Butantã. The slick art gallery is being rebuilt in almost exactly the format as the original stripped-down, concrete-heavy space just a few minutes’ walk away, which is to be demolished to make way for an office block. The new gallery is expected to be ready by January.
Metro first worked with Galeria Leme in 2004, when they created an annex. The studio is in its element working in the art world: ‘We come from a background of art exhibitions and creating settings for art,’ says Corullon, ‘just as much as we do from a background of straight architecture.’
Their collaboration with Mendes da Rocha has meant, they say, that they can search for ‘contemporary solutions without abandoning the modern architectural tradition’ – an ethic that puts them more in line with São Paulo’s Modernist roots than some of the other whippersnappers on the scene. But they, like others, are excited about the changes in architecture that are accompanying Brazil’s transformation more generally.
‘In the last few decades, and especially after the ’60s and ’70s’, says partner Gustavo Cedroni, ‘we began seeing a stronger, more impressive output.’ More recently, he says, ‘many studios are managing to achieve results at a very high levels of quality’ – producing works that run against the grain of the sometimes cookie-cutter, bottom-line-focused styles you see in much of the city – ‘and the market is beginning to value that’.
But getting mainstream Brazilian society, and particularly the state, to get behind the kind of refined and imaginative work agencies like Metro do will be essential, says Corullon, if the studio is to realise some of its future ambitions, such as working to improve the city’s transport problems, and work more with public property. There is, he believes, reason to be optimistic: ‘There’s a debate going on in São Paulo at the moment that is really allowing us to bring our outlook to the city’s current problems,’ says Corullon. ‘It’s a dialogue with society.’