On building the Basiliana Library

Photo © Estudio Melancia
In 2012, the firm designed headquarters for two government agencies for the state of Santa Catarina in south Brazil.
Rodrigo Mindlin Loeb, with his former professor Eduardo Riesenkampf de Almeida, designed the Brasiliana Library at the University of São Paulo, which houses the collection of rare books on Brazilian history and culture donated by Loeb's grandparents Guita and José Mindlin.

“My grandparents originally planned a private foundation that would build the library and after 99 years have it become part of the public patrimony. It is a model similar to those in the U.S. But in Brazil, a regulatory change (aimed at preventing the creation of fictitious foundations in order to avoid taxes) demanded that all assets transferred to foundations were to be subject to taxation. This severely limited the incentive to set up foundations, especially in a country where citizens get very little return in terms of public services.

Because of this, the story of our library was unprecedented in Brazil. My grandparents made the donation directly to the University of São Paulo (USP, a public university), with the condition that the school construct and maintain a library within three and a half years.

But after my grandparents signed, the project got caught up in Brazil's notorious red tape and institutional inertia. So we had to overcome this paralysis. We did, but with great sacrifice: a project that should have taken four years ended up lasting 13. Of course, it was worth it, because now we have a home for this wonderful collection. It was a rich and unique experience, but it lasted nine years longer than it should have—a real disincentive to others to follow our example.

I did this project with Eduardo de Almeida, who was my teacher at USP. It was a fantastic experience, though we fought a lot—in a positive way!—during the process. The library contains a lot of Eduardo and the Paulista school of Modernism. But Eduardo was open to other ideas, such as those represented by Louis Kahn's Salk Institute and Phillips Exeter Academy library, and Gordon Bunshaft's Beinecke library.”