CASAMIRADOR SAVASSI is a residential building, with 38 one and two-stories residential lofts in 9 floors. With merely 12.70 meters width, the biggest challenge was designing on such a narrow lot, in compliance with the city’s building design code, and yet committed to a vision of a visceral, intense, living statement of architectural possibilities. We looked for inspiration at fashion design and fabrics, imagining “body envelopes”, covering the building just like an outfit, reshaping the building just as a fine design piece of cloth enhances the body, exposing the best of it.
Architizer chatted with Gisele Borges, Managing Partner at Gisele Borges Arquitetura, to learn more about this project.
Architizer: What inspired the initial concept for your design?
Gisele Borges: Minas Gerais is a state full of mountains and rich in iron ore, gold and precious stones. The colors of the rusty stones are so familiar to us that, as I decided to wear the building with a second “skin”, I recalled the sepia, that earthy red, the ore of my childhood. Something was already drawn in my mind: the “fabric” would now need support, an invisible structure to allow this “flowing dress” to preserve the lightness, barely touching the ground. Well, I grew up delightedly observing and studying Niemeyer’s works, and – couldn’t be different – those images stay there in your subconscious. And there it was, used in many Oscar Niemeyer’s designs, that ingenious “V” shaped pillar, and I immediately knew: CASAMIRADOR SAVASSI’s dress will be supported by a single “V” shaped Niemeyer’s pillar.
What do you believe is the most unique or ‘standout’ component of the project?
The “skin” is, undoubtedly, the element with the greatest impact and the sheere identity of this building, covering without losing lightness and some degree of transparency, a delicate see-through balance. From inside the apartments, the city is denuded through the skin’s transparency, but preserved from outside eyes, thus guaranteeing privacy. The metal skin observes three different perforations patterns, arranged in a seemingly mismatched, asymmetrical, and yet harmonic way.
Hidden behind it, bathroom windows, while extremely large doors and windows have this skin ripped, framing them. This skin provides excellent thermal comfort, since the space between the masonry and the metal skin creates a renewable air mattress, with natural and constant air convection. The technical areas are strategically located behind the metal skin, sometimes invisible, preserving de volume aesthetics.
What was the greatest design challenge you faced during the project, and how did you navigate it?
The biggest challenge was to match the city code constraints and the reduced lot width, among other issues, such as naturaldrainage and sustainability features, for example. The consequence of these constraints is that we would have smaller and smaller floors, the higher the building was. But the logic that prevails in the market is that the higher the floor, the more expensive it is. So we would need to create attractive apartments even with reduced areas. The question, then, was how to improve the perception of these spaces? We adopted two strategies: the use of big (I mean, really big) windows for all apartments, and to design narrow balconies (whenever possible), and trade big windows for – even – bigger
sliding doors, and the city becomes an extension of home, with lots of light and ventilation.
How did the context of your project — environmental, social or cultural — influence your design?
The building is located in a dense, traditional, established neighborhood filled with shops, restaurants, gyms, bank branches, schools, commerce, markets, offices, museums, public library and all kinds of service, all of that on the same block, or within 10 minutes walk. Naturally, streets are crowded, alive and people circulate. So, people who chose CASAMIRADOR SAVASSI are not defined by age, but much more by values, by lifestyle, happily trading huge apartments for neighborhood facility, art, culture, leisure, education and gastronomy, and in a unique building. Knowing that (this consumer profile), we feel encouraged and convinced to propose an architecture as a cosmopolitan and modern life statement, with a bold approach and an innovative design, drawing the attention to the block, both in the real estate market as inspiring renewals in the neighborhood.
What drove the selection of materials used in the project?
The local culture, my childhood, Minas Gerais State history, all together. The iron ore is something deeply rooted in the “mineiro’s” culture. It represents a duality, a blessing and a threat at the same time, ego and alter ego. Is the biggest source of wealth but, at the same time, its exploitation results in environmental impacts of great proportions. However, we cannot close our eyes to its benefits. I wanted to show its aesthetics, its plasticity, its resistance. To counteract this oxidized color, I decided to make concrete moldings in some of the large spans. The plastic of the building is the result of the use of two materials with very striking language, in a very unusual volume.
What is your favorite detail in the project and why?
Its perforated plates, for sure. The steel coils were produced with 60.0 cm width, and minimizing the losses was a necessity. To ensure flatness on the facades, the sheets must have all sides folded, and the 60.0 cm turned into a – kabbalistic, prime – 57.0 cm width. All dimensions of structures, frames and openings are, from that point, multiples of 57. Although the sheets were randomly drilled, the joints would need to be perfectly aligned in order to guarantee the harmony of the volume. So, several studies and simulations were made before deciding for the alignment in the slabs and at the midpoint of each floor. This study ensured that the secondary structure for fixing the plates was optimized and economically viable, with minimal horizontal profiles per floor (the upper and lower profiles also serve for fixing the plates of the adjacent floors).
How important was sustainability as a design criteria as you worked on this project?
Nowadays (and for a long time now), sustainability drives a large part of our choices not only along the development of the works, but since the preliminary design, and into the inception design itself. We knew from the beginning – due to the reduced dimensions of the land – that there would be not enough space for photovoltaic panels or sun heat. We would need to be efficient at the hatchery: avoid heat entering the units at the expense of
treating heat through air conditioning. The skin was fundamental to allow constant ventilation of the masonry sealing the facades, reflecting in milder temperatures internally.
In what ways did you collaborate with others, and how did that add value to the project?
This project had great interdependence between structure and architecture. The final plastic is the result of a marriage between covering sheets, frames and structure. These 3 elements will alternate on the facades with greater or lesser
relevance. It’s like in a song, when one instrument silences for the other to appear. The cadence between presence and absence, done with great respect among the designers, was fundamental to the final result.
Were any parts of the project dramatically altered from conception to construction, and if so, why?
There were no drastic changes. The building has a very strong concept that has remained consistent from start to finish. However, the SAC300 steel specified for the facades releases a rusty water during the first years, until it stabilizes its oxidation and creates a thin layer that will protect the material from deterioration. This rusty water permanently impregnates and stains any surface that has direct contact with it. Faced with this scenario, the entrepreneur decided to exchange the SAC300 steel for painted aluminum.
How have your clients responded to the finished project?
These customers had an active participation throughout the project development. The CASAMIRADOR SAVASSI building was the debut of the CASAMIRADOR Development Company (Architects, themselves) and precisely because it was the first building, it should reflect its essence, the belief that bold architecture transforms spaces into places, and for that beauty must be generous and intense. The developer has a motto that is a provocation to the architects: “finally, the new”. And that’s how we felt compelled to bring something unusual. The result was so satisfactory that we were hired again to design the next 3 buildings for CASAMIRADOR (CASAMIRADOR VIA LACTEA, CASAMIRADOR CATARINA and CASAMIRADOR UNO).
What key lesson did you learn in the process of conceiving the project?
This project demanded – real – freedom of thought and creativity, while demanding in-depth knowledge of legislation. A superficial analysis of the city codes and its constraints and restrictions takes, invariably, to standardized volumes, reflecting the plot geometry, merely in compliance with legal parameters. Our purpose, from the beginning, was that we would move away from this obvious “equation” to make room for a unique, conceptual and disruptive design, with consistent values. And this does not mean excesses, on the contrary: the result is a simple – basic – volume, few materials and relevant elements with a strong identity, uncomplicated, easy to understand, easy to read, easy to like.
How do you believe this project represents you or your firm as a whole?
We believe in beauty, that harmonious buildings make a kinderplace, and that a set of them makes a good neighborhood, where one establishes connections with their place in the world and bonds with those who live there with them. We believe that not everyone likes to live the same way, that the architecture of a building can improve a street, a neighborhood and even a city. We think this is the real architecture. It’s what inspires us and it’s how we help transform what’s around us.
How do you imagine this project influencing your work in the future?
This project is one of the rare cases where we were free to propose something new, rather than strictly following what is being requested. We know that not every client has this openness to unconventional, less routine ventures. As a consequence, it requires more research, more depth on materials, construction and systems.
The legacy of this project for our office is, by far, a huge know how, and lots of learning. The certainty that architecture alone does not stand still, because it must be thought (and done) in a multidisciplinary way. To know that quality architecture and design have great – and real – impact in economics and greater profitability for investors.
And, last but not least, that beauty is fundamental.
Is there anything else important you’d like to share about this project?
Before breaking the ground, there was a store, and for 10 months, this house was an art gallery, and hosted more than 50 events, from paint exhibition to photograph exhibition, literature and poetry lectures, music shows. Among those exhibitions, lectures and shows, the building’s 1:43 scale model remained exposed and architects were hired to present the building to curious buyers and investors. These events attract that target audience identified in the qualitative research. And so, between one event and another, all 38 apartments were sold.
Credits / Team Members
Architect and Design Principal: Gisele Borges Architect and Design Coordination: Ulisses Mikhail Itokawa Collaborators: Helena Hostalácio, Iara Pimenta, Mariana Correa, Manuela Fratezzi, Luiza Menicucci, Carla Medina, Fernanda Maia, Gabriela Jacobina and Victor Lamounier.
Consultants: Acoustics: Opus Acústica Air conditioning and Exhaust: Protherm Structure and Foundations: Bedê Consultoria e Projetos Facade, Windows and Frames: Aludesign Frames and Glass for Architecture Containment and Foundations: Geomec Engenheiros Consultores Building Systems: Projelet Projetos e Sistemas Prediais Ltda
Products / Materials
Metal Facade: Aludesign Esquadrias e Vidros para Arquitetura Carpets: Interface Elevators: Thyssenkrupp Elevadores Windows and Frames: Aludesign Esquadrias e Vidros para Arquitetura Linings: Knauf Containment and Foundations: Protender Serviços de Contenção Furniture: Cultivado em Casa Finishes: Portobello Draining Floor: Drenopav Doors: Pormade Crockery and Metals: Deca Structure/Constructive System: In-place molded structure with ribbed slabs Glasses: Cebrace Art Works: Weber Pádua, Marcos Breder, Thales Pimenta