Brazilian design: between classicism and inventiveness

Since the beginning of the twentieth century, Brazil has produced a design rooted in exotic wood, one of its greatest natural resources. Its pioneers applied a modernist conception of design, inherited in particular from European design and the Bauhaus School. However, Brazilian design is not limited to the production of exotic wood pieces with modernist forms in the 1950s and 1960s. Behind the generation of the Campana brothers, who were the first to break with traditional codes, a new generation is designing creative and colourful furniture that reflects the country’s ethnic mix.

Of course, one cannot talk about Brazilian design without mentioning the emblematic figure of the architect and designer Oscar Niemeyer (1905-2012). He is the “father” of the architectural project for the country’s new capital, Brasilia, built in the late 1950s and 1960s. A disciple of Le Corbusier, Niemeyer built some of the most incredible buildings in Brasilia.

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The Palace of Dawn (in Portuguese, Palácio da Alvorada) built in 1957-1958. Architect: Oscar Niemeyer. It houses the residence of the President of the Federative Republic of Brazil.


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Entrance hall of the Palace of Dawn. Inside, Niemeyer used contemporary materials such as concrete, metal and glass.


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Interior of the Palace of Dawn. Niemeyer’s interior design emphasises the transparency and fluidity of the spaces. This spirit is reminiscent of the Barcelona Pavilion designed by the architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe in 1929. Mies van der Rohe was the head of the Bauhaus from 1930 to 1933, an obvious connection for Oscar Niemeyer.


Among the pioneers of design in Brazil, it is worth mentioning three European figures who emigrated to Brazil in the first part of the 20th century. First, Joaquim Tenreiro (1906-1992) came to Brazil from Portugal in the late 1920s. Trained as a carpenter, he created his own company, Langenbach & Tenreiro Ltda, to produce his own furniture. His creations are heirs to the Bauhaus style. He uses Jacaranda wood, the exotic noble wood par excellence from Brazil, and the tradition of caning.

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Furniture designed by Joaquim Tenreiro exhibited at the Joaquim Tenreiro Live exhibition, R 20th Century gallery in New York (2018). Modern and elegant lines.

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Table signed Joaquim Tenreiro, Joaquim Tenreiro Live exhibition, R 20th Century gallery (New-York, 2018).


Another precursor was Gregori Warchavchic (1896-1972). An architect of Ukrainian origin, Warchavchic arrived in Brazil in 1923. He produced some of the most famous pieces of Brazilian design, such as his rolling table and his famous Leque

magazine rack.


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Leque” magazine rack. Design by Gregori Warchavchic, 1928. Warchavchiv’s furniture is distributed by the Brazilian historical furniture publisher Etel.


Finally, Lina Bo Bardi (1914-1982), a Roman architect and collaborator of Gio Ponti, arrived in Brazil in 1946. She left her mark on the city of São Paulo by creating famous buildings such as the Casa de Vidro (the glass house), the Museum of Art (MASP), the SESC Pompeia Social Centre and the Teatro Oficina



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La Casa de Vidro, (1951), by Lina Bo Bardi and Pietro Maria Bardi. The place is now a house-museum run by the Instituto Bardi. Pietro Maria Bardi, Lina’s husband, was for 51 years the curator of the São Paulo Art Museum.


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The SESC cultural centre Pompeia Cultural Centre, nicknamed “The Citadel of Leisure The SESC Pompeia Cultural Centre, nicknamed “The Citadel of Leisure”, was built in São Paulo by Lina Bo Bardi from 1977 to 1986. The place was a former barrel factory. A singular contrast to the Casa Vidro in that it uses concrete architecture.


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The extraordinary architecture of SESC Pompeia


During the industrial boom of the 1950s and 1960s, design was booming in Brazil and the first steelworks were being developed. It was still a time of modernist and rationalist style. Another generation of designers, born in the 1920s, was emerging.

The leading figure of this generation, the designer Sergio Rodrigues (1927), is considered one of the fathers of modern furniture in Brazil. He triumphed on the international scene in 1961 with his solid wood Mole armchair. A year younger, Paulo Mendes Da Rocha (1928), architect and designer, favoured shapes and the use of simple materials. He is credited with many buildings in São Paulo. Michel Arnoult (1922-2005), a Parisian who arrived in Brazil in 1950, became the “pope” of kit furniture, the Brazilian version… His project: to enable the Brazilian middle class to afford beautiful furniture at affordable prices.

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Mole armchair, design Sergio Rodrigues, 1957. The very comfortable seat is supported by adjustable leather straps. The frame is made of Jacaranda wood.


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The Diz Armchair, design Sergio Rodrigues, 2002. Another icon of Brazilian design by the 75 year old master of Brazilian wood.


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The Diz Chair, seen from the back. The chair is made of beech wood or imbuia (Brazilian walnut).


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An emblematic design by Paulo Mendes da Rocha The Paulistano Athletic Club, São Paulo, 1958. For this project, the architect created a classic of Brazilian furniture: the Paulistano armchair.


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Paulistano Athletic Club, São Paulo, Mendes da Rocha, 1958 – © José Moscardi. A monumental structure with a reinforced concrete disc that gives the building a certain lightness.


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Peglev rocking chair, design Michel Arnoult, 1968. An elegant and timeless look. Peglev means “I take and carry”. It stands for design for all and is easy to dismantle and transport.


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Michel Arnoult, Pelicano armchair, 2003. The designer proposes a simple structure, allowing mass production at a reasonable cost and easy assembly and maintenance.


The Campana brothers (Humberto 1953, Fernando 1961) were named designer of the year at the 2012 Maison & Objet show, revealing another facet of Brazilian design to the world. They claim an inventive and joyful design, in which the art of the favelas’ resourcefulness can be found. The opposite of the modernism of their predecessors.

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Armchair Vermelha, design by Frères Campana, 1998 for Edra. An astonishing seat created from 500m of nautical rope on a stainless steel frame.


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The Sushi Chair by Campana Brothers, 2002. Where the art of recycling comes into play… The seat is made of pieces of carpet, rubber, pvc, fabric…


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Back of the Sushi Chair, detail. Design Campana Brothers.


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Fernando & Umberto Campana, Banquete Chair, 2002. A great creativity and a daring design for this assembly of multicoloured plush that serves as a comfortable seat! The Campana brothers often border on the kitsch.


In the wake of the Campana brothers, other Brazilian designers are emerging to propose a more creative and mixed design in the image of their country. Rafik Farah (1958), a graduate of the Faculty of Architecture and Urban Planning in São Paulo, is a jack-of-all-trades. He is a furniture designer, scriptwriter, photographer and graphic designer, and made his mark in 1989 with his Kaeko coffee table.

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Kaeko coffee table, design Rafik Farah, 1989, for Objekto. An original and delicate sinusoidal shape topped with a 10 mm tempered glass top make this table an aesthetically pleasing piece.


Also born in 1958, Lia Siqueira is an established architect and designer, winner of numerous competitions, and has been running the Azul Arquitetura & Design architectural practice in Rio de Janeiro since 1987. In 2010, she surprises with her Volpi library. Made of wood to respect the Brazilian tradition, but with surprising shapes.

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Volpi bookcase, Lia Siqueira, 2010. A sophisticated design that turns a collection of books into a graphic composition.


Rodrigo Almeida’s DNA is the extraordinary cultural mix of his country. Born in 1975, he draws his inspiration from the multi-ethnic roots of the Brazilian nation and, like the Campanas, creates original objects, diverted from their original purpose.

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Africa chair, design Rodrigo Almeida, 2009. For this chair Rodrigo Ameida drew his inspiration from Afro and indigenous cultures.


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Chairs designed by Rodrigo Almeida, in line with the Campana brothers’ art of recovery with a colourful touch of crossbreeding.


Finally, Brunno Jahara (1979) is perhaps the most talented of his generation. Born in Rio de Janeiro, he worked under the Spanish designer Jaime Hayon. Attached to the culture of his country, he works to highlight the natural resources of Brazil with a very tropical touch..

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Neorustica furniture collection designed by Brunno Jahara. Babilonia sideboard (2010).


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Tableware, Batucada collection. Design Brunno Jahara. The term Batucada refers to the percussive sound obtained by the inhabitants of the favelas when they play on instruments made of tin and aluminium pots. A reference to Brazilian popular culture and the art of recycling.


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Brunno Jahara, Multiplastica Domestica series. Multicoloured objects made from plastic bottles and other household packaging.


The future of Brazilian design is assured in a country with a genuine design culture. Brazilian design has progressively emancipated itself from a past attached to the aesthetic canons of European modernism, to acquire a singular identity, reflecting the ethnic mix and the Brazilian art of living.

François Boutard.