Rino Levi

  • Analysis
  • Biography
    Rino Levi (São Paulo SP 1901 - Lençóis BA 1965). Architect, urban planner. Son of Italian immigrants, he enrolled in the Preparatory and Technical School for Architectural Engineers, in Milan, Italy, in 1921. In 1924, he entered the Higher School of Architecture of Rome, where he met the Italian architects Adalberto Libera (1903 - 1963) and Marcello Piacentini (1881 - 1960), in whose office he practiced as an intern. In 1925, while still an undergraduate, he sent a letter to the newspaper O Estado de S. Paulo [The State of S. Paulo] which was published under the title Arquitetura e Estética das Cidades [Architecture and Aesthetics of the Cities], considered one of the first manifestos of modern architecture in Brazil. In accordance with the tenets of the Roman school, he advocated modernization without breaking with the classic tradition.1 On returning to Brazil in 1926, he worked for one year at the Santos Construction Company. He began an independent career in 1927, building small residences and rental house ensembles for members of the Italian community in São Paulo. In 1929, he visited the Casa Modernista [Modernist House], of Gregori Warchavchik (1896 - 1972), which had a decisive influence on his work. In 1930, he conducted the first study for the Columbus Building, built some years later.

    His first modern project to be built was the L. Queiroz Pavilion, at the Livestock Fair of the Água Branca Park, in 1931. The construction of the Cine Ufa-Palácio [Ufa-Palace Cinema], 1936, and the successful use of acoustic principles achieved by the building opened up a new program for Levi.  His projects were published by the Revista Politécnica [Polytechnic Magazine], from São Paulo, as well as the Italian magazine Architettura [Architecture], and the French magazine Architecture d´Aujourd´hui [Architecture Today], among others. From 1936 onwards, his office counted with the collaboration of two other architects who would later become partners: Roberto Cerqueira César (1917) and Luiz Roberto Carvalho Franco (1926 - 2001). Levi played a major role in the creation of the Institute of Architects of Brazil - IAB, in 1933. He won, together with two other teams, the bid for the IAB headquarters in São Paulo, 1946, with a project developed in his office. He participated in the creation of the Museu de Arte Moderna de São Paulo - MAM/SP [São Paulo Museum of Modern Art], in 1948, and became executive director of the institution. In 1945, he participated in the 1st Brazilian Congress of Architects, held in São Paulo, and became a member of the International Congress of Modern Architecture - Ciam. In 1952, he headed the Brazilian delegation to the 8th Pan-American Congress of Architects, in Mexico, and was elected director of the IAB/SP, an office he held for two terms, until 1955.

    In 1957, together with Vilanova Artigas (1915 - 1985) and other colleagues, he submitted a proposal for the educational renovation of the School of Architecture and Urban Planning of the University of São Paulo - FAU/USP, where he taught until 1959. He was also noted for the articles on urban and architectural issues he wrote for the press. His project for the Maternidade Universitária de São Paulo [Maternity Hospital of the University of São Paulo], from 1944, brought him public recognition as a specialist in the area of hospital planning. From then onwards, he developed numerous projects for hospital complexes and held courses and lectures on the subject. By invitation from the government of Venezuela, he supervised the planning and the project for a hospital network in that country. In Brazil, he continued to plan residential and commercial buildings, warehouses, hospitals etc. His last project was the Santo André Civic Center, winner of a public bid in 1965.

    Critical Commentary
    Rino Levi was one of the most important Brazilian modern architects not only for the sheer quantity and variety of his projects, but also for their quality. He is noted as well for having constantly introduced new techniques and sought original solutions for new programs. His career was characterized by widely diverse and complex programs, as well as for the active role he played in professional associations and the press, in an ongoing struggle to regulate the practice, foster the vertical city and consolidate Brazilian modern architecture.

    If it is true that Levi conducted his practice during a period of intense urbanization and modernization in Brazil, his achievements could not possibly be reduced to such a conjunction. Even as an undergraduate, he showed his resolve to intervene in the path of Brazilian architecture by publishing the article, Arquitetura e Estética das Cidades [Architecture and Aesthetics of the Cities].2  The attempt to establish a domain where the specifics of Brazilian modern architecture could be recognized became a distinctive feature of his work. Whereas in Italy his professors introduced him to architectural renovation still respectful of tradition, it was in São Paulo that Levi found fertile ground for experimentation. Perhaps, it was his "concept of a physical integration with nature, represented indoors in the form of the garden", that Levi accomplished "his most important contribution to Brazilian modernism ".3

    Undoubtedly, Levi's modernity owed much to the Art Dèco aesthetics then in vogue. The Edifício Columbus [Columbus Building], 1934, São Paulo's first apartment condominium, summarizes this phase of his career. He then began planning a number of residential buildings whose features would be recurring throughout his work: construction of the urban space, integration with the landscape and division of the plan according to function.

    A commission for a movie theater, the Ufa-Palácio [Ufa-Palace Cinema], 1936, opened up a new field for Levi. His concern with technical requirements related to the building's acoustics was reflected in its shape. Between 1940 and 1942, he planned the Instituto de Educação Sedes Sapientiae [Sedes Sapientiae Educational Institute], currently the Pontifical Catholic University of São Paulo - PUC/SP, whose volumes are structured around an inner courtyard. The circulation is around this courtyard, protected by verandas reminiscent of loggias and Italian courts. Levi reshaped its components, however, assimilating them to his own architectural style. He reversed the shape of the arcades of the undulated verandas, filled the courtyard with tropical vegetation and built his first "roof garden".

    Exploring the relation between built blocks, he planned a number of "introverted residences" in which he attempted to integrate landscape to architecture by incorporating tropical vegetation to the courtyards. The first of these was his residence in São Paulo, from 1944. Over an irregular corner lot, he divided the program into blocks separated by courtyards, thus allowing a close interaction between dwellers and nature (even though the latter was also constructed). He also planned the Milton Guper residence, 1951, the Paulo Hess residence, 1952, and the Castor Delgado Perez residence, 1958/1959. However, it was in the Olivo Gomes residence, 1949/1951, that he especially accomplished the "synthesis of the arts"4 sought by him, integrating architecture, landscape, furniture, frescos and murals. Located in São José dos Campos, the house overlooked the landscape like a belvedere. Its linear structure enabled the arrangement of all the environments in function of the view. A large panel by Burle Marx (1909 - 1994) became the "fulcrum of the whole construction", "a work epitomizing the meaning of the house".5

    The project for the Edifício Prudência [Prudence Building], also from 1944, features a single, free-standing volume and a U-shaped orthogonal plan. It is approached by two ramps stressing the continuous flow of space from the street to the garden, located on the free floor plan under pilotis, where a panel by Burle Marx welcomes visitors. The attempt to integrate architecture and the arts is visible not only through murals: in some buildings, the whole façade is covered by a large panel, like in the Banco Sul-Americano [South American Bank], from 1960, on Paulista Avenue, currently housing the Itaú Bank. The side facing the avenue features a huge panel made up of marble plates with geometric motifs.

    The project for the Maternidade Universitária [Maternity Hospital] of the School of Medicine of the University of São Paulo, 1944, though never built, was widely acknowledged by his peers and earned him the Prize for Public Building Project at the 1st Bienal Internacional de São Paulo [São Paulo International Biennial], 1951. After an in-depth study of the program requirements conducted in close collaboration with a staff of specialists from diverse areas, Levi left aside the existing hospital typologies and proposed three blocks separated according to function, hierarchical circulation and flexible floor plans, ultimately leading to two dedicated volumes connected to a third one, long and horizontal. From then on, Levi would utilize these guidelines for hospital buildings, planning numerous facilities in São Paulo and others in Caracas, Venezuela.

    Levi submitted a proposal for the pilot plan of Brasília and came in third place. The concept adopted by him, contrary to Lucio Costa's (1902 - 1998) competition-winning project, express his concerns with the contemporary city. His plan focused on residential units, conceived as 300 meter-high super-blocks containing services and commerce, and connected by suspended streets, following the principles of intensive housing advocated by Le Corbusier (1887 - 1965) in his unités d'habitation [housing units]. An adherent to the poly-nuclear city model, Levi proposed nucleuses based on residential buildings, reserving the city's far eastern area for administrative functions, which received no special treatment. For the architectural historian, Renato Anelli, it was "experimentation dealing with the same challenges as those posed by the city of São Paulo".6
    In his last project, the Centro Cívico de Santo André [Santo André Civic Center], 1965, winner of the competition that proposed the relocation of the political and administrative center in an area adjacent to the old center, Levi reutilized the concept of poly-nuclear city, though proposing that the new nucleus should take over the functions of the old, neighboring nucleus. The plan foresaw three levels connected by the administrative tower, with three plazas for distinct uses ranked according to function: the Civic Plaza in the upper level, the Cultural Plaza in the middle and a lower plaza for services, making the articulation of the political and cultural levels in everyday city life possible.



    1 LEVI, Rino. Arquitetura e estética das cidades. O Estado de S. Paulo, São Paulo, 15 out. 1925. In: XAVIER, Alberto (org.). Depoimento de uma geração: arquitetura moderna brasileira. São Paulo: Cosac & Naify, 2003. p. 38-39.
    2 Idem, ibidem.
    3 LEVI, Rino. Rino Levi: Arquitetura e cidade. São Paulo: Romano Guerra, 2001. p. 96-97.
    4 An expression widely used in the 1950s, from Le Corbusier to Mies Van der Rohe, from Lucio Costa to Mario Pedrosa, it meant the attempt to integrate arts and architecture implying no hierarchy, but a true integration towards a common goal: the resulting construction and the fruition of the work as a whole. See: LEVI, Rino. Rino Levi: Arquitetura e cidade. São Paulo: Romano Guerra, 2001. p. 137-142.
    5 LEVI, Rino. Rino Levi: Arquitetura e cidade. São Paulo: Romano Guerra, 2001. p. 144-145.
    6 Idem, ibidem. p. 223.


Research Source

LEVI, Rino. A arquitetura e a estética das cidades (1925). In: XAVIER, Alberto (Org.). Depoimento de uma geração: arquitetura moderna brasileira. rev. ampl. São Paulo: Cosac & Naify, 2003, p.38-39.

LEVI, Rino. Rino Levi: Arquitetura e cidade. Texto Renato Luiz Sobral Anelli; apresentação Roberto Cerqueira César, Luiz Roberto Carvalho Franco, Paulo J. V. Bruna, Antonio Carlos Sant'Anna Junior; prefácio Lúcio Gomes Machado; versão em inglês Izabel Murat Burbridge. São Paulo: Romano Guerra, 2001. 323 p., il. p&b.

MINDLIN, Henrique E. Arquitetura Moderna no Brasil. Tradução Paulo Pedreira. Rio de Janeiro: Aeroplano, 1999. 288 p., il. p&b.