The Maria Antônia Center is an adaptive re-use project designed by the São Paulo office UNA Arquitetos, directed by Cristiane Muniz, Fábio Valentim, Fernanda Barbara and Fernando Viégas. The Maria Antônia Center is affiliated with the University of São Paulo (USP) and is remembered as a site of contentious politics during the military dictatorship of the late 1960s. The project, then, required that the architects simultaneously perform a technical restoration while participating in the social and cultural mending of a deeply conflicted past.
The design strategy of UNA Arquitetos is one of subtle sophistication characteristic of the second generation of Paulista School architects. Rather than design and insert a new object building (as perhaps Niemeyer might have), the architects utilized the existing urban fabric to catalyze new relationships with the surrounding urban context. Two restored historical structures are linked by a series of exterior public plazas, ramps, and bridges that reconfigure the internal space between the structures and open the previously closed site to the city at large. Further, the project allowed for the introduction of new programs within the Rui Barbosa building, including USP courses, seminar rooms, printmaking, photography, drawing, and painting studios, as well as lending support to the existing USP Theater. The Joaquim Nabuco building houses exhibition spaces, archival research and storage space, a cafe, and a small performance space.
Despite the programmatic complexity, the scale of the Maria Antônia intervention manages to simultaneously maintain the intimacy of a particular place and refer to São Paulo’s broader cultural and historical narratives. The rare balance of weaving a building into urban space is only achievable by architects who are adept at dissolving the boundaries between building and landscape, a practice that the Brazilians know perhaps better than architects who emerge from schools that bifurcate urban design, architecture and landscape architecture. Yet, while UNA Arquitetos has inherited a tradition of integrating architecture and urban design from predecessors such as Lúcio Costa, Affonso Reidy, Eduardo Kneese de Mello and Lina Bo Bardi, they are distinct in that they must also dissolve boundaries while maneuvering within a city that is today devoid of temporal or spatial limits. While many might consider this a daunting task, UNAS seems to uphold it as yet another opportunity to intervene in the urban realm.
Find images of this project by searching the VRC’s online image collection using the search terms “Maria Antônia” in the Subject field and “São Paulo” in the City field.
Photograph by Kristine Stiphany, courtesy of the UTSOA Visual Resources Collection.