Rio de Janeiro
It was while visiting Rio de Janeiro in 2007 to celebrate the 100th birthday of his friend Oscar Niemeyer that Richard Meier met the clients who would commission his first ever project in South America. Now, nine years later, with the completion of Leblon Offices, for Brazilian investment firm Vinci Partners, the Pritzker Prize–winning architect has delivered a sleek, sun-drenched building whose white aluminum-louvered facade perfectly captures the tony beachside ambience of its well-heeled Leblon neighborhood. At its rear, a concrete volume stands in dialogue with the best of Brazil’s modernist tradition.
The major challenge for the design team was to maximize a tight site in a densely occupied part of Rio, home to some of the country’s most expensive real estate, without sacrificing light. Many neighboring buildings, which only receive natural illumination through their front windows, are notorious for their gloomy rear interiors. The solution was to pull the building away from the site’s back party wall, where there is a small service volume that houses the elevators and stairs. The clever move allows daylight to bathe the rear of the main building, making the 70,000 square feet of mostly open-office workspace significantly more attractive. It also creates two internal courtyards on either side of a bridge that connects the seven-story building to the rear service component and gives it a permeable quality that captures the spirit of Rio’s outdoor ethos.
“The company is avant-garde in the way it does things,” says Meier. “They are very open and wanted a building that had the spirit where people communicate easily, where they are able to take an interest in each other’s work and improve their own. They wanted a building that facilitated this openness and communicated the transparency that they foster.”
The front, concrete-framed building is clad in white aluminum and a combination of transparent and translucent glass. This material treament contrasts with the beautifully raw, exposed concrete of the rear volume, which was inspired by the abundant use of high-quality concrete in Brazilian construction. Initially, the bridges connecting the two parts at each level were to be of glass in order to accentuate the permeability gained by opening up the back of the site. But that plan fell foul of Rio’s labyrinthine zoning and fire codes. Instead, they are made of concrete and clad in the same dark Brazilian granite found throughout the interiors, whose floor-to-ceiling glass provides generous views onto the courtyards. The walls of these protected spaces are shrouded by vertical gardens that echo the ever-present tropical vegetation found in the city beyond and make them welcoming spots in which to relax. The plantings, installed by specialists from São Paulo, also define a distinct transition between the aluminum-and-glass volume and the concrete one.
If refined concrete is the star of the rear of the building, the front facade’s louvers take credit for having a dramatic impact on Bartolomeu Mitre Avenue, one of the neighborhood’s main thoroughfares. They determine the public face of the building while creating privacy for its occupants and shading from Rio’s abundant sunshine. This urban gesture is further enhanced by a series of terraces, which allow for a direct connection between tenants and the street.
A double-height main lobby is integrated with the entrance to the building’s three-level subterranean garage, which makes for a practical if somewhat awkward introduction to the interior. But this leads to a more intimate second, ground-floor lobby and meeting space for anchor tenant Vinci Partners. Here Meier’s discreet, clean lines perfectly offset an elegant spiral staircase, which grants visitors access to meeting rooms on the floor above without having to return to the elevator bank in the main lobby.
The five top levels all employ the type of open floor plan favored by investment firms around the world, (with one level hosting perimeter executive suites enclosed in glass). As the entire main volume is supported on just four columns, each floor enjoys an expansive, uninterrupted sense of space. The open plan also provides the flexibility required by the client, which is leasing several floors to other boutique investment firms. From the elevators, visitors can access the main volume from the left or right, providing the potential for easy subdivision.
The building’s overall effect is a successful series of contrasts—between front and rear, aluminum and concrete, public and private—that are unified by a ferocious attention to detail, evidenced by such features as the beautifully lit back staircase. Here, in what would in many buildings be a little-used emergency fire escape, the exposed concrete walls are studded with glass tubes that let daylight from one of the courtyards penetrate the vertical circulation, transforming it into another social space. With the completion of Leblon Offices, Richard Meier has most sympathetically introduced his signature style to South America.
Richard Meier & Partners Architects LLP
Personnel in architect's firm who should receive special credit:
Managing Partner: Richard Meier, FAIA, FRIBA (Registered Architect)
Architect of record:
Structural Consultant: Projest Consultoria e Projetos
Acoustical Consultant: Traço Verde
Construtora Santa Isabel
75,700 square feet
Masonry: Architectural concrete
Metal/glass curtain wall: Clear glass, laminated glass 12mm
EIFS, ACM, or other: ACM 4mm Color Pure White – Alucomaxx
Curtain wall: Curtain Wall, stick frame system, powder-coated aluminum in white semi-Brilho - RAL 9010
Other cladding unique to this project: Unitized aluminum louvers as screen, powder-coated in white finish, semi-Brilho - RAL 9010
Stone “white dolomita”
Metal frame: Powder-coated aluminum in white, semi-Brilho - RAL 9010
Glass: Clear glass, laminated glass 12mm
Insulated-panel or plastic glazing:
Entrances: White Aluminium RAL 9010
Metal doors: White Aluminium RAL 9010
Wood doors: Wood/MDF painted white lacquer RAL 9016 (interior doors)
Sliding doors: Sliding door at main building entrance
Fire-control doors, security grilles: Handrail, stainless steel, brushed / Grille customized, White Steel RAL9010 / Fire-control door, White Steel RAL9010
Special doors: Turnstiles, glass & stainless steel, from KABA Charon
Acoustical ceilings: OWA acoustic panel premium - OWA PLAN - 1200x2400mm / OWA acoustic panel Bolero 62.5X62.5MM
Paints and stains: Coral
Special surfacing: White back-painted & transluzent glass panel wall main lobby, ground floor
Floor and wall tile: “Preto Extra Michelangelo” Sandblasted Granite, with water repellent sealer from Espirito Santo - Santa Leopoldina region
Resilient flooring: Raised Floor System - Tate
Raised flooring: Bathrooms in Corian white (walls and sinks)
Special interior finishes unique to this project: Bathrooms in Corian white (walls and sinks)
Reception furniture: Reception Desk:
Elevator Lobby: Xbm Alogatmo – Artemide
Elevators/escalators: Spiral Stair:
Stone flooring “Preto Extra Michelangelo” Sandblasted Granite, with water repellent sealer