The São Paulo home of Julio Roberto Katinsky is a living, breathing masterpiece of Brazilian modernism: all curves, concrete and creeping vegetation.
Brazil’s modern architecture movement flourished in splendid isolation. While Europe was mired in the Second World War, it became the vogue for Brazilian architects to design their own family homes, then invite clients over for a cup of yerba maté to showcase their style. Many such houses were built on virgin plots of land. There were no neighbours or planning issues to navigate. With labor cheap and concrete on tap, the architects could run riot.
Oscar Niemeyer, the architect who built the country’s new capital of Brasília in reinforced concrete, did just that. His Casa das Canoas sums up the era’s groovy simplicity. Curvaceous walls bend free-form with a slab of squiggle-shaped concrete sandwiched on top. European and American architects were shocked, revolted and awed in equal measure. In 1949, fellow brutalist João Batista Vilanova Artigas also designed his own home. Modern materials became the star: bare concrete walls, unplastered stone, raw steel and vast panes of glass, all angled into fabulous shapes barely imaginable outside Brazil.
The home designed by Julio Roberto Katinsky in 1972 followed suit. It was his chance to realize insomniac architect dreams and to solve 20th-century problems of security, privacy and searing South American sun with verve and a truckful of concrete.
Guests enter the Katinsky house through the carport. A street gate is locked behind the vehicle, after which visitors cross a threshold into a display case of Brazilian modernism. This urbanist dream is a vision of unfinished stone. Ceilings, struts and a spiral staircase have been poured to order in the São Paulo suburbs. As with so many contemporary Brazilian structures, a concrete jungle gives way to an actual one. Floor-to-ceiling windows overlook a tangled city garden where gunmetal-gray walls are riven by the emerald-green of rainforest trees.
The tropical climate is both friend and foe. Stone trellises play with the sun’s rays, so that dappled beams of light reach the upstairs study. The bedroom requires no central heating, but it does need louvered panels that swing outside the giant window frame to allay the midday sun. Back downstairs, the living room ceiling extends into the garden to create a portico of deep shade. The property’s cement embrace dispels the fug of the city’s shirt-sticking humidity.
There’s an architectural adage that nothing fades faster than visions of the future. Yet the Katinsky house and its contemporaries have aged well. The movement’s buildings look timeless and definitively unEuropean. In a word, modern.
All words & images via Kinfolk issue 25.
Words: Tristan Rutherford
Photography: Ricardo Labougle
Styling: Leandro Favaloro and Martina Lucatelli