Isay Weinfeld – interview

The award-winning architect talks transport, Vila Madalena – and Love Story, São Paulo's number-one late-night dive

You moved to these new offices in Vila Madalena last year. Is this the first time you’ve worked in a building you designed yourself? 
Yes. We’d been in the same place, a house, for thirty years before we moved here.

In hindsight, is there anything you wish you’d done differently with the design?
No, it’s great. There’s more space for everyone, and it’s a much more comfortable place for the architects to work in. I think it has an informality about it that’s very characteristic of the neighbourhood – something cool, a bit more relaxed.

What is it that makes it so ‘Vila Madalena’ as a building? 
Everything together. It’s the look of the building and the materials. I’d never design a building this way if it were on Avenida Paulista, for example, or Faria Lima. It’s the style of it and the way it fits into the street – it’s what the building is saying.

This is a lovely location, too, right in the midst of the Vila.
Yes. There are so many neighbourhoods made up of endless avenues of residential buildings with bars on the windows, narrow pavements, cars. In São Paulo, because of the crime problem, there are lots of walls and railings, and that prevents you from having a relationship with the building. There’s also the fact that shops and businesses are set apart from residences. It’s better when things are mixed together – it gives life to the city. It only happens in certain neighbourhoods and it’s happening here in Vila Madalena – there’s a lot of mixed use here.

A lot of people end up having to go everywhere by car in São Paulo – they don’t have much choice in some neighbourhoods.
Yes, because pedestrians have never been made a priority here. It’s the city’s worst problem, in my view – to have prioritised cars over pedestrians. It has become very difficult to live with.

They’re trying to change that now, aren’t they, with this campaign to encourage drivers to make way for pedestrians? And it might be my imagination, but I think it’s getting a bit better. 
Yes, I think it is. It was about time though, wasn’t it? But I think that intervention could be much greater in a city like this that permits so much… You really have to want to do things, and to dare to – there’s so much that needs doing in this city. I think it needs far more intense action.  

Do you mean in transport, or in other things?
Definitely in transport – we need to improve public transport in general. And the more metrô stations, the better – we need as many as possible. It’s fundamental. I live in Santa Cecília, and I love walking around there. But in the rest of the city, if I could get around by metrô – aside from walking, it’s the ideal form of transport.

Centro is a wonderful neighbourhood for exploring on foot. 
Absolutely. And the centre of São Paulo is so lovely. The other day I went for a walk at 7am on a Sunday morning, all around Centro. It was a beautiful sunny morning, and it was completely deserted.

What were you doing out so early?
I went out for a walk with a friend, to get some exercise. We walked all around Centro and went into various churches – I went into the Catedral da Sé, and into some others that I’d never been in before. I went into one where they were having a service just for the Japanese community. We walked all over the city centre, and on the way home, Love Story was still open at 9.45am, so we went inside. 

Really? And did you stay a while – did you stop for a drink?
Yes, we did. It was a sacred and profane Sunday – everything I like best, the two sides of the city. It was a marvellous walk through São Paulo, though there were a lot of homeless people sleeping on the street, sadly. It’s a shame, because the Centro is so lovely. And it has wonderful buidings.

When we spoke before, you told me São Paulo was a city capable of accommodating almost any type of architecture.
Yes. I don’t know whether or not that’s a good thing, but I think it ends up giving the city a personality. It’s an extremely generous city in that respect, for an architect like me – it has allowed me to express myself in the way I like most, and I owe an enormous debt to São Paulo for that.  

By Claire Rigby


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