“One never builds something finished”:
the brilliance of architect Paulo Mendes da Rocha
February 4, 2017
“All space is public,” says Paulo Mendes da Rocha. “The only private space that you can imagine is in the human mind.” It is an optimistic statement from the 88-year-old Brazilian architect, given he is a resident of São Paulo, a city where the triumph of the private realm over the public could not be more stark. The sprawling megalopolis is a place of such marked inequality that its superrich hop between their rooftop helipads because they are too scared of street crime to come down from the clouds.
But for Mendes da Rocha, who received the 2017 gold medal from the Royal Institute of British Architects this week – an accolade previously bestowed on such luminaries as Le Corbusier and Frank Lloyd Wright – the ground is everything. He has spent his 60-year career lifting his massive concrete buildings up, in gravity-defying balancing acts, or else burying them below ground in an attempt to liberate the Earth’s surface as a continuous democratic public realm. “The city has to be for everybody,” he says, “not just for the very few.”