Born in 1928, Paulo Mendes da Rocha completed architecture school in 1954 and opened his own office in 1955. In 1957, he completed the now-legendary Paulistano Athletic Club in São Paulo, Brazil. The radical blankness of its raw concrete recalls the Brutalist style of the day, but its poetic simplicity and sculptural forms feel more akin to the International Style and the experimental lines and volumes of John Lautner. Developing a reductive style based on intense training and respect for technique and appropriateness to place, Mendes da Rocha went on to achieve international renown, designing and building numerous public spaces, museums, and exemplary residences. He was honored with with Pritzker Prize for Architecture in 2006.
For the interior spaces of the Paulistano Athletic Club, Mendes da Rocha designed the Paulistano Chair. Made of a single seventeen-foot-long tube of solid steel, the frame is welded in only one place. Still in production, the original version of the Paulistano Chair used a single large piece of leather wrapped around the steel structure to form the shallow seat. The sling-style seat can be adjusted to sit more less upright. Both the steel and the leather are hand finished and weather over time, adding character with the patina of age and use. More rare, however, is the version done in wire mesh. At once delicate and masculine, the mesh cover makes the chair appear to hover in air. Perhaps more grounded, though, is the chair’s relationship to the body. With sensitive proportions, the frame and sling shape to the user: flexing to accommodate the body’s weight and molding to its form, the Paulistano Chair is as sensual as it is simple and functional, adhering to Mendes da Rocha’s emphasis on sua dimensão humana.