Paulo Mendes da Rocha’s archive is now in Portugal (and not without criticism)

The Brazilian architect donated the 8,800 items of his archive to Casa da Arquitectura, Oporto, stirring harsh criticism. We discussed this with Nuno Sampaio, the director of the Portuguese institution.

Brazilian architect Paulo Mendes da Rocha, soon-to-be 92 years old, donated his archive to Casa da Arquitectura, the Portuguese Centre for Architecture of Oporto. The announcement arrived last Thursday, September 10, 2020. The 8,800 items from the 2006 Pritzker’s studio arrived the same day in Oporto, where Nuno Sampaio, director of the Portuguese institution, welcomed it.

The event did not go unnoticed, especially by Brazilian architects and professors at the Faculty of Architecture of the University of São Paulo (FAU-USP). Mendes da Rocha’s choice aroused criticism, touching on past colonial relations between Brazil and Portugal, and speculations on the role of Jair Bolsonaro’s cultural policies in this affair.

João Batista Vilanova Artigas, FAU-USP University, São Paulo, Brazil, 1961. Courtesy Casa da Arquitectura

Casa da Arquitectura has been working on Mendes da Rocha’s oeuvre and Brazilian architecture extensively since its opening in 2017, from its headquarters, at the former Royal Winery in Matosinhos. Here, in 2018, at the inauguration speech of the two exhibitions “Infinito Vão” and “Duas Casas”, Mendes da Rocha took a stand for resisting the wave of far-right populism at work in Brazil. At the time Jair Bolsonaro was a candidate for Brazil’s presidency.

But, says Nuno Sampaio, “Mendes da Rocha chose the Casa da Arquitectura for the work we do: our mission includes supporting research and spreading the knowledge of architecture not only to professionals but to a wider public.” Sampaio told Domus that the institution’s profile was decisive in the architect’s choice, whose archive will be digitized. Today the Portuguese institution is working on its “second building”, a digital platform where its archives will be accessible for free, as “a window open to global society”.

Opening image: Paulo Mendes da Rocha in his studio in São Paulo. Photo Stefano Passamonti

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