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Nature nurtured: Carla Juaçaba Studio, Brazil

Carla Juaçaba exploits lush settings to the full, deploying abundant glazing, simple lines and deftly orchestrating light

Carla Juaçaba Studio has been shortlisted for the AR Emerging Architecture awards 2018

Early sketches, crude mock-ups and unfinished canvases reveal the roots of creativity laid bare, and open up the imagination. Both for the realm of possibilities it suggests and the lack of complexity it presupposes, Carla Juaçaba sees incompleteness as an inexhaustible source of inspiration. Commissioned to design one of the chapels for this year’s inaugural Pavilion of the Holy See at the Venice Biennale, the 42-year-old Brazilian architect reduced her sacred space to a bench in front of a cross, realised out of four 120x120mm polished stainless-steel beams 8m long, elegantly resting on a row of concrete sleepers and reflecting San Giorgio Maggiore’s secluded wooded garden. An exemplar of distilled austerity, the structure awaits light, wind and bodies to enliven it. 

Just like the resourceful design of Cadeira Beira de Estrada (chair by the road) is only fully realised after Lina Bo Bardi is photographed sitting down, on what is otherwise a mere four tree branches held up by a few centimetres of rope, Juaçaba wants her architecture to be brought to life by a human presence. ‘My Venice chapel isn’t just an installation’, she argues, ‘because it welcomes the possibility of an event – and this is what architecture should do.’ 

Carla juaçaba drawings 22

Carla juaçaba drawings 22

04 vatican chapels carla juaçaba © federico cairoli

04 vatican chapels carla juaçaba © federico cairoli

When talking about her work, Juaçaba describes experiential journeys through space and evokes subtle changes of atmosphere. Heavily influenced by the artistic realm, instilled in her from a very young age as she watched her grandmother paint, she is herself an accomplished pianist and laments the unintelligible jargon of architects and the hyper-reality of computer-generated renders that leave nothing to the imagination. Her influences, creative methods, and forms of expression are imbued with poetry, more closely associated with the world of the arts than that of bricks and mortar. Yet the technical pragmatism of construction also dictates her design process, and she insists on sourcing materials from a project’s immediate surroundings – navy ropes for a Venetian bench, or recycled scaffolding for the temporary Pavilhão Humanidade between Ipanema and Copacabana.

Her outlook on landscape is both sensitive and experimental, as shown in Casa Santa Teresa, the latest addition to her portfolio of private houses in Rio de Janeiro’s quieter districts and periphery. Unlike a lot of single-family dwellings in a country infamous for its jarring wealth inequalities, all her residential projects are characterised by their modesty, both in budget and in size – the largest one is 160m2.

Carla juaçaba drawings

Carla juaçaba drawings

Click to download

Nestled in the site’s gentle topography and adjoining a steep driveway, Casa Santa Teresa at first appears unobtrusive and secretive, its narrow entrance-level gallery concealed underneath an articulated shell of milk-glass panels providing privacy to inhabitants. Affixed to this linear backbone, the roof’s segmented steel skeleton then unfolds backwards, extending its limbs and widening its reach out onto the sloping terrain to frame the dwelling’s main living spaces in two discrete volumes. The kitchen, dining room and bedrooms are all gathered together on the upper, entrance level, while the generous double-height living room sits under a single-pitch roof, accessible by both indoor and outdoor staircases. With its lightweight structure, manually operated wooden louvres, and large windows framing the landscape, Casa Santa Teresa is a legitimate child of the deliciously named ‘Tropical Modernism’ – initially intended to be elevated, the house was brought back to the ground due to budget restrictions. 

The play of opacity and transparency turns the house into a lantern at night, and the semi-translucent gallery becomes a shadow theatre, the lush foliage fluttering in the wind overlaid with dark silhouettes moving across the interior. Applauded for the profound ways in which she engages with context, the strength of Juaçaba’s projects also lies in their stark, disarming simplicity.

Architect: Carla Juaçaba Studio

Photographs: Federico Cairoli, unless otherwise stated

This piece is featured in AR November issue on Emerging Architecture and the Netherlands – click here to purchase your copy today

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