The Work of Arthur Casas
Architects often master one form of expression better than others. Even great architects leave their mark mainly in their country of origin, sometimes never daring to go abroad. Arthur Casas is an exception to both of these rules. He is equally at ease in the areas of residential architecture, commercial spaces, real estate development and design. As he states, “I have a holistic view of my profession, so I like to explore all areas and scales; from urbanism to the minor object design.” He and his team work on both interiors and full construction schemes, crossing another barrier that architects sometimes stumble on. His architectural plans are often dominated by straight lines and long, horizontal construction, very much in keeping with the views and environment offered in places like Rio.
The curves of Brazil, so beloved of Oscar Niemeyer are also present in the work of Arthur Casas, particularly in his interiors and object design. In 2008, he won the prestigious Red Dot Design Award in Germany, for developing creative cutlery and dinner set lines for Riva. He has participated in two Biennials of Architecture in São Paulo (1997 and 2003) and in the Buenos Aires Biennial in 2003 and 2005. Arthur Casas explains, “I was born around the same time as the capital of Brazil, Brasilia. I experienced the best period of Brazilian architecture, when anything was possible for an architect, including designing a whole city – reorganizing the way of life in urban areas. I brought from my childhood and my visits to Brasilia this freedom, and a commitment to modernist principles in my professional life.”
Arthur Casas was born in 1961, and graduated from Mackenzie University of São Paulo in architecture and urbanism in 1983. An overview of completed projects shows the international nature of his endeavor and the scope of his work. By 2008 he had completed prestigious projects abroad, include the Natura Store (Paris, France, 2005); the Alexandre Herchovitch store (Tokyo, Japan, 2007); C-View Bar, Affinia Hotel (Chicago, Illinois, United States, 2008); C-House Restaurant, Affinia Hotel (Chicago, Illinois, United States, 2008); and the Jack Vartanian Store in New York (New York, United States, 2008).
His Kaa Restaurant (São Paulo, 2008) won a 2010 Wallpaper Award for “Best New Restaurant.” Built on a long, narrow, 797m2 site, this restaurant seeks to offer a refuge from the bustling streets of Brazil’s largest city and to bring guests closer to the native environment of the country. A green vertical wall features plants from the Atlantic forest. At its base, a “water mirror” makes reference to the endangered “Igarapés”, or watersheds of the region. A bar divides the space in two, with its generous shelves mounting up to the ceiling with “indigenous original objects that mimic the bottles, cups and books.” The roof of the restaurant is partially made with an automatically opening canvas that allows interior spaces to be transformed into an outdoor urban living room. According to the architect, “the furniture is contemporary and the philosophy of this place is about transporting the urban “Paulista” (i.e. the inhabitant of São Paulo) to a green environment. It is an escape from the chaos.”
Work on retail spaces has been another strong point of the office. The Zeferino Shoe Store on Oscar Freire Street (São Paulo, SP, Brazil, 2008) is a small project (96m2). The architect states, “The tiny width of the lot (two meters) was what gave personality to the project. It forms a wooden box, with ramps, and angled ceilings at the same inclination as the floor. Mirrors gave it a perspective and a sensation of a much bigger space.” The glass façade of the entrance to the store emphasizes this box-like design at the same time as it emphasizes the ceiling height. The transparency of the entrance contrasts with the willfully closed wooden surfaces of the interior. The Mistral Wine Store (São Paulo, SP, Brazil, 2011) is a 100m2 project that invites visitors to discover wines in a continual curve formed of horizontal wooden slats suspended from the ceiling and inclined display surfaces. In 2014, Arthur Casas completed the interior design of the 195m2 flagship store of the Brazilian jeweler H Stern on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. Inspired by the inside of a jewelry box and featuring natural materials such as wood paneling with an emphasis on organic shapes, the store has been received as a tribute to Brazilian modernism,
Residential work has long been a staple of the office. As Arthur Casas explains, “My family name is Casas, which in Portuguese means ‘houses’. I guess I never thought seriously about another profession. I started drawing houses when I was 8 years old and never stopped, maybe it’s what we call vocation.” Such works as the Quinta da Baronesa (Braganza Paulista, São Paulo, Brazil, 2009) give clues to his approach and design method. This 1,576m2 residence is a weekend house for a young couple with two children. Arthur Casas explains, “My intention was to have the house unnoticed from street perspective, therefore the rugged topography of the land was important.” Casas used organic materials such as sustainably produced Cumaru and old bricks recovered from construction demolition. The house is characterized by its numerous openings, the view of the neighboring golf course, and its “interconnected spaces, generous convenience areas and high level of comfort,” according to the architect. The integration of the house into its sloped site minimizes the impression of mass that such a large house might otherwise generate. The architect willfully contrasts opaque wood or brick surfaces with large horizontal and vertical openings.
More recent works such as the AL House (Rio de Janeiro, 2013) emphasize the considerable attention given by the architect to the natural environment and to the choice of materials such as stone mined in the nearby state of Minas Gerais and Cumaru (Brazilian teak) wood. The long horizontal volume of the residence was lifted up to allow the clients to see above a neighbor’s wall and out to Guanabara Bay. Arthur Casas explains “Despite having had much influence from modern Brazilian architecture, the architect who touched me most, especially in the domestic-scale, was Frank Lloyd Wright. He was the one who knew how to work with all scales of projects concomitantly with the same weight and importance.” Set above São Conrado Beach, this residence is located not far below Neimeyer’s celebrated House at Canoas, 1952).
Especially beginning in 2003, Casas placed an emphasis in his work on reducing the environmental impact of architecture. This aspect of his designs is particularly emphasized in such recent work as the Brazil Pavilion for Expo 2015 Milan (with Atelier Marko Brajovic). The 3,672m2 pavilion is based on the “idea of a flexible, smooth and decentralized network, present in every aspect of the building and representing the country’s pluralism.” The architect explains, “The earthly colors of the metal structure highlight this Brazilianess and the gradual transition between inside and outside erase the boundaries dividing architecture and scenography. The metaphor of the net is materialized by a tensile structure that creates unexpected places for leisure and rest. Following the tradition of Brazilian modernism and its pavilions, large runways reinforce the connection between the different spaces.” The construction/deconstruction system is made with prefabricated modules and uses certified and recyclable materials.
The modern approach of Arthur Casas does owe some of its subtlety and variety to his native Brazil, but he has long since shown his capacity to create variety and surprise in his designs. With the Brazilian Pavilion in Milan, he confirms his status as one of the most significant living Latin American architects.
The New Voice of Brazil The Work of Arthur Casas Architects often master one form of expression better than others. Even great architects leave their mark mainly in their country of origin, sometimes never daring to go abroad. Arthur Casas is an exception to both of these rules. He is equally at ease in the areas of residential architecture, commercial spaces, real estate development and design. As he states, “I have a holistic view of my profession, so I like to explore all areas and...
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