Firms Still Moving Forward

Brazil Builds was the title of the Museum of Modern Art’s famous 1944 exhibition on Brazilian modern architecture, a show that offered a promising design panorama at a dangerous moment in world history. Today, the world faces a different kind of moment, but one similarly shadowed by economic fear. In Brazil, architects are trying to maintain a steady perspective—neither optimistic nor gloomy.

Prosperitas Building in São Paulo, by Aflalo & Gasperini
Rendering courtesy Aflalo & Gasperini

After growing by 5.3 percent in 2008, Brazil’s GDP will increase just 2.7 percent this year, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit. Seen from the U.S., that number looks pretty good. In Brazil, economic instability and its aftereffects are no novelty, and most people have perfected the art of dealing with crises and moving on. Local architects report some recent setbacks on projects, but no sense of paralysis. “Even though we’ve had to make some adjustments, we’ve managed to keep our team working,” says Roberto Aflalo Filho, a partner of Aflalo & Gasperini, a São Paulo firm with almost 100 architects on staff. Having weathered economic storms in the past, even the most successful Brazilian firms remain small compared to North American practices and they have learned to be flexible, growing and shrinking with each financial tide.

Jorge Konigsberger, a partner at K&V Architects, another prominent São Paulo office, notes that “the cascade effect that will follow this interruption in new projects will reach the market only in the second half of 2009.” K&V and Aflalo & Gasperini are betting on a joint venture project in Dubai, and are working for international investors in Brazil.

Small and midsize firms, which are less involved in commercial projects, are doing okay. For example, Fernanda Barbara, a partner at UNA Arquitetos is relying on institutional work; his Bandeirantes Metro Station in São Paulo is set to start construction soon.

Luciano Margotto, a partner at Nucleo de Arquitetura looks at the recession and says, ”Here the crisis is not too tough since the euphoria was never too great.” While working on a variety of building types—such as hospitals, schools, institutional buildings and houses—his firm recently won, with architect Alvaro Puntoni of Grupo SP Architects, a competition for the new headquarters in Brazilia of SEBRAE (a national organization that provides support to the development of small and medium enterprises). Construction is scheduled to begin in 2009.

Mario Biselli, a partner at Biselli & Katchborian Architects, expresses a contained optimism. He acknowledges that some of his firm’s commercial real-state projects have being postponed, but reports that other clients have not been affected by the recession yet. His firm won a competition for the new Florianópolis International Airport in Santa Catarina State and the project is set to start construction in the few months. He also expects his Pimentas Sports and Cultural facilities in Guarulhos, in the São Paulo metropolitan area, to begin construction soon.

Even outside São Paulo, architects seem to be moving forward with most of their work. For example, Gustavo Penna, the director of Penna Architects in Belo Horizonte, says that his office of about 25 architects has had only one project recently discontinued.

Read more about conditions in South America in our November 2008 story, "Architects Head South to Weather the Economic Storm."