Paulo Mendes da Rocha

Perhaps you know Paulo Mendes da Rocha for his Paulistano chair and would like to learn about his architecture. You have come to the right place, in this article you will learn about his most important works and his design Philosophy.

Paulo Mendes da Rocha was awarded with the Pritzker-price in 2006 as well as the Golden Lion in 2016. He is known for transforming the city of São Paulo and creating valuable urban space. His architecture is characterized by the use of raw concrete, simple geometric forms and bulky, yet elegant masses.

What works did Paulo Mendes da Rocha build?

This is a brief overview over some of his most popular works.

Paulistano Athletic Club | 1961

Sketch House a pillar of Paulistano Athletic Club

This work was Mendes da Rochas first competition he won which made him famous overnight. The structure convinced because of its light load bearing system with the contrast of a heavy framework of concrete. The form is not some fancy expression of art but a result of structural logic. The six supports hold the concrete ring by leaning away from it, thereby pulling the steel cables to tension. By lifting up the outer shell of the building, he creates a public space that joins the interior and exterior under the elevated ring, creating an interesting permeability of the structure.

king house | 1973

Sketch of James King House

This house is located in a rural area of São Paulo and seeks to inhabit the landscape without disrupting it. Floating on eight columns, the house takes up a very small footprint on the plot. An inner courtyard is the central space for everyday circulation around which the main living room and kitchen is wrapped.  The iconic staircase leads down to the garden, with a characteristic blue stripe on the façade next to it.

Chapel of Saint Peter | 1989

Sketch of Saint Peter, Paulo Mendes da Rocha

The space of this chapel is organized around a huge concrete column in the center of the structure which holds the roof. This column can be seen as a symbol of Saint Peter´s role as a foundation of Christianity. Beneath the roof, a two story glass façade creates a light shell around the interior. Above the water at ground level, there are three concrete slabs, hovering at different levels. The architect´s intent was to create optical illusions of the water with shape that would work well in combination to this.

Museu Brasileiro de Escultura e Ecologia (MuBE) | 1995


The central idea of the project is to keep the whole site open for pedestrians while at the same time placing a museum on the site. Paulo Mendes da Rocha achieves this by placing the museum underground. He creates a symbolic gesture by placing a long concrete beam, which can´t be accessed, above the entry of the museum to inform the visitors where they need to go. The space is shaped not only by Mendes da Rocha, but also by the implementation of plants and vegetation by Roberto Burle Marx, the landscape architect. This creates a strong visual contrast between the grey concrete, the reflections of the water and the geometrically organized plants next to it.

Mendes da Rocha about Education and teaching

When talking about teaching architecture, he thinks it can only be educated not taught. Some people design better naturally, this can´t be taught but construction and principles can be. You can only educate the students about the fundamentals; the rest is up to their efforts.

The Design Philosophy of Paulo Mendes da Rocha

Paulo Mendes da Rocha believes that architecture can´t be observed on the individual level, but one needs to see the larger urban context. He is frequently honored for his great implementation of an architectonic object into the city of São Paulo. He often achieves this by leaving the ground floor open for circulation by pedestrians. He argues that the city is always changing so his architecture needs to make room to allow this change.

For him, great architecture doesn´t originate from the use of powerful forms. He therefore looks to find shapes that work, not necessarily challenge the existing ones.

Brazilian Brutalism

Like many of his contemporaries like Lina Bo Bardi and Joaquim Guedes he is associated with the architectural style called Brazilian Brutalism. He defined the so called the Brazilian Paulista school which is known for using the simplest of materials and forms – blocks of concrete.

Mendes da Rocha refuses the categorization into a Brazilian brutalist movement. He believes that the conditions of gravity, water and sun are similar everywhere on the planet. Therefore, in his opinion, the architecture he and his colleagues built are not specific to their country, even if everyone is so obsessed with fitting their works into this box.

What is Architecture?

In describing what architecture means to Paulo Mendes da Rocha, he draws a parallel to poetry. Just as you don´t need to invent new words to make new poets, you don´t have to invent new forms and materials to design new architecture. In this way, architecture is much like a language: the important thing is the organization of the words that are being used. He advocates for a distinctive use of technical knowledge in each and every new case. This is much more important than showing off some new material or form.

Architecture is about responding in the right way to a given place. This requires problem solving and rational thinking. It is important to avoid destroying a space by thoughtless design.

He argues that architecture is a form of knowledge. It requires a sensibility to see nature in a human way and discover truths and secrets about it. Architecture exists because nature is not enough form humans. As humans we need shelter, a place to live at.


As we have seen, Paulo Mendes da Rocha uses rough concrete forms to create space for the inhabitants of the city, thereby creating valuable places in an urban context.

If you have found this article helpful and would like to learn more about architecture and design, check out this article about Pezo von Ellrichshausen on my website, I promise you won´t be disappointed.

Thanks for reading

~ Julian

Sources used to provide this overview:

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