If you drive an hour and a half north of São Paulo and turn off the coast road at Guarujá, you will find the beachfront retreat designed by SP-based architect Isay Weinfeld for an Arab family, who wanted a modernist haven that reflected their Middle Eastern heritage.
A home more than a house. That was the requirement that inspired Isay Weinfeld, São Paulo’s bravest and busiest architect, when he received his brief for the Iporanga house. On first arriving at the residence you wouldn’t necessarily agree that he’d fulfilled the proviso until you step across the threshold.
Outside, with its off-centre white portico and latticeworked first floor, the building dazzles visitors in the strong sun. But, once you enter the house, you realise that Weinfeld’s aptitude lies in creating homely interior spaces within precision-cut modernist cubes. There are lots of right angles and smart architectural details, yet you feel like flopping down and making this home your own.
“I know the clients well, I had already designed their São Paulo apartment when I received the brief for the Iporanga house,” he says. His clients, an Arab family with three children, commissioned him to design their beachfront villa as soon as they had secured the plot.
“They now live in New York so they wanted it to be a place of leisure, somewhere inviting and comfortable, but with modernist principles.” What Weinfeld does well is what he describes as “warm modernism” – simple, stark structures with a beating Brazilian heart.
Located an hour and a half north of São Paulo and below Rio, Iporanga is one of the many private beaches that dot the coast at regular intervals. Guarajá, the nearby village, is known for being a very, very exclusive spot by the sea.The top floor of the Iporanga house is cloaked in Mashrabiya-style latticework, a conscious nod to the heritage of the owners.
“I wanted to create an Arab feel without overdoing the allusion – the Mashrabiya works especially well as a sun screen.” Indoors, he employed warm and natural materials, one of Weinfeld’s trademarks is his extraordinary mastery of wood. In the fireplace at the Iporanga house he worked indigenous Peroba timber into the fireplace and bedroom floors, the downstairs surfaces are hand-hewn limestone. Weinfeld attributes the top notch construction to his trusted building company Fairbanks Pilnik. “We worked from the same page literally from day one. I always work up comprehensive plans, maybe 120 compared to the average 20 or 30 blueprints. Fairbanks Pilnik understand the way I work – builders in Brazil have to work to very high standards and FP are some of the best in the business. Towards the end of a project I’ve been known to spend up to two weeks on site, things can get understandably fraught.”
Weinfeld has successfully carved a niche between awe-inspiring and understated. It is hard not to be impressed by the building, but it’s even easier to imagine a comfortable life under its Mashrabiya wings.
We’ve heard about your films. Tell all.
Before I was an architect I was a filmmaker at the end of the 1960s. I actually won the Brazilian Film Festival with one of my shorts. Cinema has always had a big influence on my life and work. I’ve written a new screenplay and some day hope to make the time to produce it.
So when did architecture make its debut?
I finished with film in 1973 and began studying architecture here in São Paulo before an apprenticeship at Jacob Ruchti’s practice. He was a great Swiss architect working in my hometown and doing unusual things.
How do you keep yourself sharp?
I’m a very curious person and I like to do new things and learn new things. I like to try and make all the projects I take on as varied as possible. I can’t do just one thing. If I take on a project, I like to control everything, from the doorbell to the hinges, this is what challenges me, and makes the project stronger.
So what are you “controlling” at the moment?
Oh, how long do you have? I’ve been designing sets for São Paulo Fashion Week, and a play, I’m also designing an apartment in New York for the Iporanga house family and there’s a hotel in Belgrade.