An Architect Reframes the Narrative of a 1940s Apartment for a Writer Couple in São Paulo

An Architect Reframes the Narrative of a 1940s Apartment for a Writer Couple in São Paulo

At the iconic Louveira Complex, an exemplar of Brazilian modernism, local architect Ana Sawaia bravely plays with space, color, and pattern while honoring the past.

On a tree-lined block in São Paulo’s Praça Vilaboim quadrant is the Louveira Complex, a pair of Brutalist concrete apartment buildings that stand as living monuments to Brazilian modernism. With facades in distinctive yellow and red, the 1946 structures exemplify designer João Batista Vilanova Artigas’s rational yet artistic sensibility. When Brazilian architect Ana Sawaia was approached to renovate an apartment in one of the buildings, she was apprehensive. "It was a huge responsibility to interfere within Artigas’s architecture," says Sawaia.

Sawaia found encouragement from her clients, who also shared a deep appreciation for Artigas and his Louveira collaborator, Carlos Cascaldi. "The clients are a couple of writers, one of whom is also a musician," shares Sawaia. "Like me, they are great admirers of Artigas, and we elaborated many details of the project together."

The overarching design approach was to make the space function for the couple’s life today while still referencing the past with details authentic to the building. "My wish was that when people entered the apartment, they would feel like they were at the 1940s Louveira," explains the architect. 

To start, Sawaia reimagined the floor plan by removing interior walls to enhance the flow between public and private spaces, a process that was "carefully dealt with in order to respect the original aesthetics and design of the building," she says. In particular, new concrete partitions close off the kitchen, but clerestories rise to the ceiling to maintain a sense of openness and connection to the rest of the home.

Sawaia conjures Artigas’s particular brand of Brazilian modernism with a playful mix of colors, patterns, and vintage furnishings. Window frames were painted the same ochre yellow as the originals, and wooden perobinha taco floor tiles inspired by the originals create a parquet pattern in the living and dining areas. Matte green porcelain tiles in the kitchen are the same shade as those used in the Louveira’s exterior common areas.

To accommodate the clients’ massive collection of books and CDs, Sawaia designed a bookshelf for the entry hall, as well as large built-in metal shelving for the office area, which spills out into the TV room. "The couple had their hearts set on these two existing rooms coming together to form a larger room," says Sawaia. "They inspired me a lot with their books and songs, motivating me to make their interests more apparent in the décor and layout."

Throughout, Artigas’s midcentury design sensibility served as a north star for Sawaia’s new insertions. In the guest bathroom, sunny yellow tiles are arranged with patterns inspired by a residential floor plan that Artigas designed but never built. The primary bath includes a reading area, indoor garden, and a dry sauna. The closet, located between the bedroom and the bathroom spaces, separates the two areas using only free-floating cupboards.

All told, the project gave Sawaia an even deeper appreciation for the Louveira. "I quickly realized that all the elements in the apartment were already there, it was simply up to me to put the pieces together to compose a new space for the residents," says Sawaia. "The goal was to enhance the existing architecture, staying coherent with the precious base. The building was made in 1946, but it still feels so current today."

Related Reading:

Greenery Breathes Fresh Life Into a Brazilian Midcentury

A Deteriorating 1950s Apartment in São Paulo Gets Revamped and Greened-Up

Project Credits:

Architect of Record: Ana Sawaia / @Anasawia

General Contractor & Civil Engineer: RG Plan Engenharia

Structural Engineer: Paulo Camerini

Landscape Design: Miti Garden

Lighting Design: Reka Iluminacao

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