The Birth of a Place

A report on my personal experience at a construction site.

It is fascinating to witness the birth of a place. In my case, the construction of the Moreira Salles Institute converged with my own birth as an architect. I was at my second year in architecture school when the competition was issued and caught the attention of all architecture community: a museum on Paulista Avenue, the dream project for any office in Sao Paulo. I remember when the results were out and the whole school stopped to evaluate the different proposals. Andrade Morettin was the winner team.

Three years later, through a mixture of chance and competence, I joined Andrade Morettin team as an intern the same month as the construction of IMS’s first slab. I visited the site several times during this period and was fascinated by the levels markings on the walls and the concrete forming. I would spend hours observing the pieces of evidence of the volume and trying to imagine the sensations of that future geometry.

There is something sublime about a construction site. It is a combination of scenarios of construction, deconstruction, novelty, and precariousness. At one point, there was a metallic structure projected out onto the avenue in a movement that seemed to question gravity. At another stage, without its own façade, the building seemed like a large inverted window, limited by the neighboring façades that placed us in level to observe the residents and workers. After one year of construction, a barbecue happened at the slab of the fifth floor. Two long dining tables formed the space, filled with lively workers competing for the number of skewers conquered. It was interesting to notice that the final use of the building would have no relation to those two giant tables but it was impossible to think of a better dining room at that moment.

When I officially transitioned from intern to architect at Andrade Morettin office, I was assigned the mission to coordinate the exhibition projects that would debut at the museum’s inauguration. It was a rich experience that provided me with many learnings. First of all, to deal with the inaccuracies and uncertainties of a project that is out of control because its complexity is so much greater than an individual managing capacity. Second, the confirmation that drawing is our best tool to create cohesion and defy communication barriers and that its clarity and precision directly affects the final product and experience.

The development of the three exhibitions projects and their assembly took place in parallel with the end of the museum’s construction. Gradually, the workmen were being replaced by the cleaning staff. We started to use elevators instead of stairs. The construction helmet gave way to shoe protectors. The endless alarm tests stopped. At some point, without noticing, we started to call the place “the museum”, and not “the construction site” anymore. On September 18th, 2017, at 11 pm, we finished the exhibitions assembly. I went down from the exhibition rooms to the square at the fifth floor and looked at it, empty, for the last time. The square was perfectly tied for the inauguration 24 hours later. There was a tension on the place, an expecting atmosphere.

On its first month, IMS received over 100,000 visitors. Now it pulses on the rhythm of the steps. It vibrates with the voices and sounds of visitors, staff, coffee machines and school groups. It fills itself completely with the music on Sundays. It is not under our control anymore and we would never be able to predict such a rich ambiance as an occupied public venue. It is alive.