The architecture world has lost another luminary in a month already marked by high-profile deaths with news that Brazilian architect and educator Paulo Mendes da Rocha has died at the age of 92. According to ArchDaily, his son Pedro Mendes da Rocha confirmed that Paulo had passed away on May 23 in São Paulo after a battle with lung cancer.
Born in Vitória, the state capital of Espírito Santo, Brazil, in 1928 (when it was still called Victória), Mendes da Rocha would move to São Paulo in the 1950s, where he would remain for the rest of his life. After Mendes da Rocha received his architecture degree from Mackenzie Presbyterian University (FAU Mackenzie) in 1954, he would go on to found his own studio and join, in what the 2006 Pritzker Prize jury, when awarding Mendes da Rocha architecture’s highest honor, noted as the “Paulist brutalist” avant-garde.
A group of high-profile Brazilian architects working in harsh, angular concrete, the Paulista School, with Mendes da Rocha as its highest-profile member, actively worked in contrast against the Rio School and its smooth, flowing surfaces (and Oscar Niemeyer’s work in particular).
Mendes da Rocha would go on to find acclaim for his Brutalist projects in Brazil, helping to rejuvenate São Paulo with sturdy and useful buildings that could be constructed quickly and less expensively than their peers. Of note is the early-career, UFO-like Athletic Club of São Paulo, completed in 1958, that used stark intersections of simple forms (a ring sliced with cantilevering shear walls). The athletic club won Mendes da Rocha international acclaim, and he would go on to become a finalist in the international design competition to design the Centre George Pompidou in Paris. Domestically, he remained prolific, raising the Museum of Contemporary Art at the University of São Paulo, the Saint Peter Chapel in São Paulo in 1987, and more.
Mendes da Rocha was also an outspoken critic of the 1964 Brazilian coup d’état, and he railed against the military’s overthrow of the elected left-wing president and subsequent military dictatorship that ruled until 1985. Teaching as a professor of architecture at the University of São Paulo from 1961 through 1969, he was eventually blacklisted by the government for his views, before eventually being allowed to return in 1980. He would go on to teach for another 19 years before finally retiring in 1999.
Although he rarely built internationally, Mendes da Rocha was recognized for the humanist Modernist spirit animating his work and awarded the previously mentioned Pritzker Prize in 2006. Before that, in 2000, he was handed the European Union Prize for Contemporary Architecture – Mies van der Rohe Award by the E.U. in 2000, the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement at the Venice Architecture Biennale in 2016, and the Royal Gold Medal from the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) in 2017.