We were surrounded by buildings and traffic as we made our way down Paulista, but I couldn't help but grin as we weaved among the masses. After all, this avenue is the backbone of a metropolis with 22 million people, making my hometown of Mexico City appear like a little town. Soaring over a dordle grassy plaza was Lina Bo Bardi's glass-and-concrete prism for the So Paulo Museum of Art (MASP). The pyramidal FIESP Cultural Center, designed by architect Rino Levi, sat casually back among the erect buildings of its neighborhood. Next door, the sleek Paulicéia building by French émigré Jacques Pilón and Italo-Brazilian Gian Carlo Gasperini (who also built the homes of Levi and Bo Bardi) contrasted with the stealthy horizontal stripes of the Torre Paulista by José Gugliotta and Polish-born Jorge Zalszupin. Perhaps no other city on the planet displays such a brazen commitment to the present day.
At the 22nd Semana de Arte Moderna, precisely a century before my arrival, modernism made its first public appearance. It is widely believed that the week-long celebration of Brazil's 100th anniversary of independence from Portugal, which included the participation of authors, musicians, and visual artists, was the impetus for the country's modernist movement. Anita Malfatti and other now-famous painters who used Cubist abstraction and Fauvist vibrancy to represent Brazilian topics were included in the exhibition.
In 1928, the modernist poet Oswald de Andrade, born in Sao Paulo, Brazil, proclaimed, "Cannibalism alone unites us" as the first line of his seminal "Manifesto Antropófago" ("Cannibalist Manifesto"). In terms of society, the economy, and philosophy. It was a slyly self-deprecating cry for help that summed up the current Brazilian identity: an insatiable hunger for foreign culture and an irreverent disregard for convention.
Scarpa and I stood atop Paulista and peered into a canyon of concrete and steel below us. The skyscrapers sprung out like fangs along the boulevard; some were planned by foreigners, while others were created by Brazilians of second or third generation. The metropolis was a yawning maw that swallowed up the light and the rain and the people that continue to pour into it every day.
So Paulo is the most gorgeous city I've ever seen, although that statement isn't without controversy. Having read the flippant opening line of a New York Times travel article from 2007 that said that Brazil's financial capital "may be the ugliest, most dangerous city you'll ever adore," I went into my first visit in 2011 with some pretty strong biases. My first stop was to the Farol Santander's observation deck, a hulking white riposte to the Empire State Building in the city's historic center, an area crammed with Neoclassical banks and Art Deco buildings, many of which are in disarray. Below me, the city spread out like a savanna of concrete, its buildings emerging from a maze of crowded streets. When seen from above, the city of So Paulo seemed dull and chaotic at the same time.
So Paulo, like many large Latin American metropolises, has been steadily expanding away from its historic center over the past several decades, first to the north and east through middle-class neighborhoods like Bom Retiro and Moóca, and then to the south through the mansions of Jardins, a wealthy district below Paulista. The wealthiest people in Sao Paulo sometimes commuted out of the city to more wealthy suburbs in search of a more luxurious lifestyle. They moved into bland high-rises in lush districts and spent weekends at the new Palácio Tangará resort in the tranquil Parque Burle Marx forest. At the hotel's beautiful restaurant, Tangará Jean-Georges, created by Jean-Georges Vongerichten and led by executive chef Filipe Rizzato, guests may sip cocktails by the pool or enjoy a meal prepared by the hotel's own culinary team.
But now the city's focus is returning north, to the revitalized areas around the Praça da Repblica. The city's revitalizing downtown is reflected in the rising allure of the brand-new Rosewood So Paulo. The hotel, located in an Italianate mansion that served as the city's principal maternity unit for 50 years, is a genuine temple to Brazil's sensuous mid-century style, and every inch of the building shines with exhibits by some 57 modern artists from throughout the nation. The hotel's bars and restaurants, Rabo di Galo for live jazz and Taraz for pan-Latin cuisine, attract the city's well-heeled at night, filling the drive with BMWs and glittering heels.
Gentrification of Brazil's major cities, like that of many other countries, has brought into uncomfortable focus long-standing inequalities in Brazilian society, such as those based on race, class, gender, and sexual orientation. Vila Buarque, Santa Ceclia, and the Repblica are all places where these flaws are on full display, but so are many opportunities. A group of locally owned companies debuted in a repurposed, long-abandoned building next to an elevated motorway in Vila Buarque in July 2021. Chef Pablo Inca, who hails from the Andean highlands of Argentina, uses indigenous ingredients like okra, beans, and offal—all of which have been shunned by high-end chefs and their patrons for quite some time—in his meals at Cora, a rooftop restaurant.