Vernacular Precedent?


De Rotterdam, by OMA (image courtesy Arc Real Estate)


Av. Sao Luis, Sao Paulo, Brazil.

When I first saw an image of De Rotterdam, by OMA, I knew I had seen something vaguely similar before somewhere; an older, more “anonymous” and “vernacular” precedent in a distant metropolis. I just couldn’t remember where, exactly.

Then, lo and behold, while looking through my photo archive today, I came across an image of that memory. The place: Sao Paulo, Brazil (where I was kindly shown around by Alex Pilis as well as Eduardo Aquino). After visiting the Copan by Niemeyer, we wandered into some neighbouring streets to see the surrounding area, and there was this unusual row of buildings which are adjoined up to a certain height and then detached above; a surreal combination of “traditional” row-houses topped off with “modern” free-standing buildings that is surely the result of local building regulations. Gotta love it.

I can’t help but wonder if these buildings –or better yet, the building regulation that shaped them– subliminally influenced the design of De Rotterdam. I doubt it, but you never know. In any case, here’s proof that a local building code and a vernacular architecture can provide high-architectural inspiration. Wait a minute…isn’t that the thesis of Delirious New York? Sigh. It sure is hard to be original these days.


About Rafael Gomez-Moriana

I am an architect, writer and educator. chronicles my architectural making, writing, teaching and curating activity, while is an archive of my writings as well as a platform for venting personal rants and observations. I studied architecture at the University of Waterloo (Canada) and at the Berlage Institute (the Netherlands). I direct the University of Calgary’s architecture term-abroad program in Barcelona, and have previously taught in the Metropolis Masters Program in Architecture and Urban Culture, CIEE Architecture and Design program, as well as at Carleton University and the University of Manitoba.


  1. Nestor Piris

    [image: Imatge inserida 1]

    2017-01-19 14:12 GMT+01:00 Criticalista :

    > Rafael Gomez-Moriana posted: ” When I first saw an image of De Rotterdam, > by OMA, I knew I had seen something vaguely similar somewhere before; > an older, more “anonymous” and “vernacular” version of it in a distant > metropolis. I just couldn’t remember where, exactly. Then, lo and ” >

  2. Yes, REM did go to São Paulo and SP has been a metropolis with hybrid multi buildings since the 50’s when high power developers did commission high power architects. The street of your photo is named Av. São Luis an elite street during the 50’s.
    The building with heavy square window frames was designed by Gregori Warchavchik and if I am not wrong the developer was Moreira Salles.

  3. Rafael Gomez-Moriana

    Thanks, Alex, for that info. Rem Koolhaas has indeed acknowledged being indebted to Brazilian modernism (in an interview I read or saw somewhere), but I sensed he was speaking very generally. The more specific resemblance between De Rotterdam and Av. São Luis is, I would think, purely coincidental.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s