Carla Juaçaba on architecture as ‘action over a territory’

Brazilian architect Carla Juaçaba – tipped by Frida Escobedo as one of 25 creative leaders of the future in Wallpaper’s 25th Anniversary Issue ‘5x5’ project – on her work past and present, and building landscapes where ‘nature, design and infrastructure coexist’

Steel cross in a green area
2018 Venice Architecture Biennale’s Vatican Chapel, Holy See Pavilion
(Image credit: TBC)

Carla Juaçaba set up her independent practice in Rio de Janeiro in 2000. Combining design and research, the Brazilian architect has turned her hand to everything from private residences to exhibition design. She also regularly lectures at high-profile institutions such as Harvard GSD, Columbia University GSAPP, and Accademia di Architettura di Mendrisio.

She considers her participation in the 2018 Venice Architecture Biennale with the Vatican Chapel for the Holy See Pavilion her breakthrough work. ‘It was a synthesis of a very old programme: you go to the chapel and you sit to look at the suffering: the cross. Translating a programme into space – this is architecture. And it was totally immersed in nature.’

Vatican Chapel’s Holy See Pavilion in Venice

Vatican Chapel, Holy See Pavilion

(Image credit: TBC)

Carla Juaçaba on what drives her

Understanding how a space can be ‘political, democratic and essential’ is a key driver in Juaçaba’s practice. ‘A phrase by the Brazilian indigenous leader and writer Ailton Krenak, “step gently on the ground”, is on the wall of my design studio at Mendrisio Accademia. Architectural design should be understood as action over a territory. Architecture is not a drawing or a visual composition: each line, idea, or sketch of an architectonic design represents an action, a material transformation, and a geographical transformation. We should work together with other disciplines to build a landscape where nature, design and infrastructure coexist.’

Even though Frida Escobedo and Juaçaba haven’t had the chance to work together yet, their paths have crossed several times – at architecture events and at Harvard, for example. They are currently working on the same project in Switzerland, a Geneva scheme where architects and artists were called to design a series of temporary shelters.

Juaçaba is also currently working on a project with a strong social purpose in Brazil, designing a café, a museum on the history of coffee, and a school in a campus conceived to boost small farming businesses through agricultural tourism. 

frontage of Vatican Chapel’s Holy See Pavilion

Vatican Chapel, Holy See Pavilion

(Image credit: Federico Cairoli)


A version of this article appears in Wallpaper’s October 2021, 25th Anniversary Issue (W*270), on newsstands now and available to subscribers – 12 digital issues for $12/£12/€12.

Meet more creative leaders of the future nominated by architect Frida Escobedo here.

Ellie Stathaki is the Architecture & Environment Director at Wallpaper*. She trained as an architect at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki in Greece and studied architectural history at the Bartlett in London. Now an established journalist, she has been a member of the Wallpaper* team since 2006, visiting buildings across the globe and interviewing leading architects such as Tadao Ando and Rem Koolhaas. Ellie has also taken part in judging panels, moderated events, curated shows and contributed in books, such as The Contemporary House (Thames & Hudson, 2018), Glenn Sestig Architecture Diary (2020) and House London (2022).

With contributions from