“Ever since I moved to São Paulo it had been my dream to live in this building,” says Walmor Corrêa, a visual artist who came to the city from Florianópolis, also in Brazil’s south. “But it was a kind of impossible dream because the opportunity to buy an apartment in this building comes up so rarely. And when an apartment does come up here it is more often than not snapped up by the friends or family of the owner.”
And Corrêa is certainly not alone in having that dream to live in São Paulo’s leafy and discreetly affluent Higienópolis neighbourhood: he is joined by countless other admirers of modernist architecture. Like an architectural arboretum, Higienópolis gathers the luminaries of Brazilian modernism: works by Artacho Jurado, Rino Levi, Franz Heep and Vilanova Artigas stand elegantly on the tree-lined streets.
Just off the Praça Vilaboim, and camouflaged among trees whose crowns reach to the fifth floors, the Edificío Louveira is one of the most iconic creations of Vilanova Artigas, perhaps the most important name in brutalist architecture in Brazil.
The seven floors of Corrêa’s building house 32 apartments. The artist lives in unit 21B with his pug Morena. He had to be quick in deciding when the opportunity to close the deal came along. “The broker called me saying I had 30 minutes to get there, evaluate and make an offer,” he says.
Corrêa found a semi-derelict, abandoned apartment that had been empty for many years due to a long family quarrel. Throughout the next six months he pulled down walls, transformed the maid’s quarters into a bathroom and opened up another room to transform it into a sunny mix of living room and atelier. “I needed a place where I could spend my days working but that was also going to be cosy enough to make me feel at home and welcome friends in the evening,” he says.
An architect by training, Corrêa put himself in charge of the rebuilding project and also the design of the wooden furniture in the living room, kitchen and master bedroom. The wooden floor is original as are the tiles of the main column. Much of the original exposed concrete remains, giving the apartment that familiar grey patina that forms the palette of São Paulo.
From the kitchen window yet more of the city’s tropical charms are on display. Palm trees and neighbouring blocks part to reveal a city landmark of sorts: the antenna of Band TV close to Avenida Paulista. All this is on show from an open corridor that is shared with the neighbours and accessible from the kitchen. This space hosts a bountiful cactus garden and room for bikes, which are essential for the city’s ever-expanding network of ciclovias (cycle paths). The 12-metre-long windows occupy all the walls of the living room and offer a direct relationship with nature; in spring and summer the tips of the trees invade the apartment.
One of the building’s great strengths is its relationship with its urban environment; “I once saw a hummingbird interacting with my art,” he says of the building’s proximity to nature. The interplay between rigid modernist lines and the verdant unkempt habitat gives the apartment a uniquely natural quality, something that for Corrêa makes a lifetime of chasing worthwhile.