Brazil’s long-established agency for the preservation of culturally significant sites and buildings, the Institute for National Artistic and Historical Heritage (IPHAN), has been successful in protecting many of its modern architectural icons, among them Oscar Niemeyer’s Brasília Cathedral and Affonso Eduardo Reidy’s Museum of Modern Art in Rio de Janeiro.
But in a country with plenty of historically significant architecture – from baroque to brutalist – there have been misses, the result of politics, scarce resources, and other challenges that every country faces in its preservation efforts.
Most notably in São Paulo, the opulent mansions built by sugar and coffee barons in the mid-to-late 19th and early 20th centuries have all but disappeared, despite their unique place in the city’s history. Progress has been made in the form of legal protection for the few homes that remain. But protection is one thing, restoration is quite another. The hefty bill that comes with the latter often falls on patrons of the arts such as Carlos Jereissati.
‘These buildings are part of our DNA. They are part of who we are, the history of our city, and broader Brazil. We can’t let them disappear,’ says the former CEO and current board member of Iguatemi, the company that introduced the shopping mall to Brazil during the late 1960s. ‘We need to lead by example in these things, to show the bright side of our culture, in the past and now, during our time.’
Casa Higienópolis: Iguatemi's latest revival project
Jereissati’s commitment to preservation has only grown with practice. Iguatemi’s latest revival project, Casa Higienópolis, is the company’s third. In 2014, he acquired an essential but overlooked steel and glass home inspired by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House and restored it to create Casa Jereissati.
Earlier this year, working with Lissa Carmona of furniture maker Etel, he transformed modernist icon Jorge Zalszupin’s former home (a key example of modern Brazilian design) into Casa Zalszupin, a museum dedicated to the designer’s legacy.
Casa Higienópolis is located in its namesake neighbourhood, one of the city’s most noble. The five-storey, 2,400 sq m, French neoclassical-style mansion was commissioned in 1927 by Carlos Leôncio Magalhães, a wealthy coffee farmer, entrepreneur and financier of the era, known as the ‘King of Coffee’. Today, the mansion sits in stark contrast to its surroundings. Higienópolis comprises mostly midcentury high-rises, such as Edifício Louveira and Edifício Bretagne, which helped redefine this upscale neighbourhood in the late 1950s.
Inside, neoclassical design mingles with Brazilian flair. The mansion’s 40 rooms are replete with French-inspired period details, including intricate, handcarved woodwork and ornate plaster ceilings. It has all been painstakingly restored, providing a stunning juxtaposition to Zalszupin’s modern furniture used throughout, and a portion of Iguatemi’s contemporary art collection.
Highlights include works by Rio de Janeiro-based artist Chiara Banfi, who looks to the world of music to inform her installations and sculptures. It all gives visitors a deep and varied sense of Brazilian history, a gift to not only Iguatemi’s customers and partners, but also the city.
In keeping with its restored sister properties, Casa Higienópolis will be used for everything from fashion events and VIP client luncheons to accommodation for visiting fashion industry figures; it will also host an extensive calendar of public events. The first is a new architectural walking tour of the neighbourhood, created by Iguatemi and operated out of Casa Higienópolis.
‘We are not typical shopping mall owners. We don’t just rent out spaces, but are committed to inspiring our clients and neighbours,’ says Jereissati. ‘My vision for Iguatemi has always been about celebrating the best of Brazil.
A version of this article appears in the December 2022 Entertaining Issue of Wallpaper*, available in print, on the Wallpaper* app on Apple iOS, and to subscribers of Apple News +. Subscribe to Wallpaper* today
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