green design, guignard school, lincoln residence, minas gerais, brazilian architecture, Sustainability in architecture,  the people's space of contagem,  gustavo penna,  gustavo penna architects, gpa&a

Inhabitat: How would you describe your architectural style?

Gustavo: I start with the ground. In order to design, the architect has to have their feet on the ground, eyes on the horizon and head in the stars. Having your feet on the ground means having a good grasp of the terrain you stand on, the trees nearby, the laughters, the neighbors, the whole environment where you find yourself. Having your eyes on the horizon means contemplating that you are in a certain country, surrounded by a particular climate and culture. We have to represent this culture and its esthetic thinking. It is of the essence to actually see the world around us. And having your head in the stars means that nothing can be done without creativity. You can never really get to do something real if you don’t aim for the new. This means not going through the same all over again, but to actually build something that deserves to be built. More of the same means repetition – it means denying the basic human possibility of being original.

I try to turn myself into the building, into the very surroundings and grounds upon which I’m going to build. I imagine the gestures my body would perform there. Buildings make gestures just like we do, and those are gestures that will stand for a long time, so they have to be consistent. It has to be a concise gesture, so as to last long.

Inhabitat: What do “green design” and sustainability mean to you? How do you apply them in your work?

Gustavo: I think a good project has to be sustainable. It is a way of considering the things that surround you. Our mothers always teach us that it is impolite not to respect others. So, I go for respect, for a project that catches the best sunlight, that captures the wind to control the temperature, that features wide windows in order to save electricity in the daytime, a project that brings together many spaces so as to accommodate different activities. I want to bear in mind everything and everybody. Those are climate considerations I’ve kept in mind for the last 40 years. I want to let the water percolate the ground, to match the plants with the house, to bring the sun in. Such are my projects.

Inhabitat: What would you recommend to a beginner architect?

Gustavo: I’d say, “Stop waiting!” architects have this poor habit of waiting for someone to come into their offices. The first attitude of an architect should be to stop waiting and just get to work, even if it’s a small time job in their community. Sometimes, it’s good to do something that won’t pay as much as you think you’re worth, but that will show everybody that you can make a difference. It’s something to make you feel important and to demonstrate the importance of an architect in that social space. You need to stop waiting and act. Architects have never been of such importance to our world as they are now.

 green design, guignard school, lincoln residence, minas gerais, brazilian architecture, Sustainability in architecture,  the people's space of contagem,  gustavo penna,  gustavo penna architects, gpa&a

Inhabitat: What’s the future of architecture?

Gustavo: Architecture will go back to focusing on the pedestrian. The cities have been dehumanized, and bringing back walkable cities is the next big thing for the contemporary world. The details of the city, of the environments, corners, meeting places, making buildings that are less narcissistic and more integrating – those are the big challenges. We have got to reassess the city so it will offer its own way. If you just run by a city, the details get lost and the city falls apart. When you introduce many ways that interconnect, a network is created within the city. I’d like to design paths that flow over that network, on top of the roads, with walkways and “squareways”, as well as under them and connecting blocks. It’s an interesting idea that creates crossings and shortcuts within the blocks and makes you consider the inside spaces that can be owner-controlled. It allows for more options for using and enjoying the city.

Inhabitat: What sort of projects have you been working on lately?

Gustavo: I like to have my hands in a variety of projects. I’m working on a soccer stadium, a PBL (Problem-Based Learning)-based university, a monument dedicated to press freedom and a TV station. For example, right now I’m designing a square in the city of Araxá, a kind of theater-square, and at the same time I’m working on the biggest corporate building in Belo Horizonte, the new headquarters for CEMIG, Minas Gerais’ power company.

Inhabitat: What project are you most proud of and why?

Gustavo: The most important quality of my projects is that they become tools for integration. They instrumentalize the life in the city, they gather people. I want them to be understood by as many citizens as possible. There are many projects and they do not always end up as well as I wanted them to, but they have always taught me something anyway. The People’s Space of Contagem (Espaço Popular de Contagem), for example, was built in an industrial city, on a site where previously a gas station and a vacant lot were located, and it became a meeting space where 40,000 people can watch a concert together. I designed many buildings with no fencing or metal meshes. There was doubt that they would stay that way, but the building lasted and functioned well for 15 years and counting with no metal fence. Guignard School has never had fences and continues to be a center for teaching art and culture in Minas Gerais, a very important project. The bottom line is: every project is dear to me. Each one has its musicality, its message. I keep them all close to my heart.

Inhabitat: What kind of architecture do you not like or consider pretentious?

Gustavo: I like to paraphrase Ada Louise Huxtable, from The New York Times. She says she’s tired of seeing really beautiful buildings with terrible architecture. I hate a building that just wants to be beautiful and has nothing besides being narcissistically beautiful. I like generous buildings. Every building with gratuitous beauty is a stupid building.

 green design, guignard school, lincoln residence, minas gerais, brazilian architecture, Sustainability in architecture,  the people's space of contagem,  gustavo penna,  gustavo penna architects, gpa&a

Inhabitat: How did the environment, neighborhood and culture influence you in this project?

Gustavo: A house is only important when it transcends the physical boundaries of the built area. It has to be like a citadel from which you see the world and fancy nature. It’s a place to live in, where you walk alongside the memories. That’s the principle of the Lincoln residence. It is located on an absolutely gorgeous spot at the top of a mountain, with a view to a very important water supply for the city. The intention there is to act the same way the body would, to gaze at the surroundings and the landscape. And not only at the “detached” landscape, but also at the sky above. The house’s windows open to the sky and the surroundings.

The weather changes constantly during the day in the highlands of Minas Gerais. It’s cloudy, it’s sunny, it’s rainy. It’s nice to watch the day go by through the house’s glass cube. It exposes you to the elements and shelters and protects you from them at one time.

The plan of the house is not very sophisticated. It echoes the plans of the historical cities and farms of Minas Gerais. When you look at the house externally, you may think it’s hard to be interpreted by the dweller, but it’s the opposite; it’s he who best interprets that space. That gives me great satisfaction.

We didn’t have many materials, only glass and painted brick walls, so the challenge was in joining the glass panels. We solved it simply, with materials, structural silicone glazing, all very well-founded.

Inhabitat: What is the impression you want to leave regarding this project and your whole body of work?

Gustavo: That it’s deep, and yet takes few words. That’s it.

Inhabitat: Tell us more about how a project can change from conception to conclusion.

Gustavo: I try to discuss the project at length before the building stage, so there’s no waste. We have to think of the houses we make as if they’re open locks, so they’re always open for interpretation. After all, families change, people leave and move, families grow bigger or smaller, welcome grandchildren, etc. The house has to have the ability to host the dwellers in so many stages, and that’s what I think I have to keep in mind – always considering the basics, so as not to make mistakes in the details. A house planned from its basic features will last longer, and won’t become obsolete as easily as a “fashionable” house and its “adjective” spaces. I’d rather have a “noun house”.

Inhabitat: How do you balance the artistic and esthetic conceptions of a house with its functional side?

Gustavo: One doesn’t hinder the other, much to the opposite. How rich in poetry is our daily life, isn’t it? The most important thing today in living harmoniously with the planet is to make poetry. If you don’t have it, you shouldn’t even leave the house. Poetry is the attitude you have that helps you in building metaphors of the world and creating symbols of everything. Each gesture has its symbol, each gesture has an ethereal dimension to it.


Alex Levin is a writer for Tsurumi and Granite Transformations, a remodeling company dedicated to advancing green remodeling practices by finding new ways to recycle and reduce waste such as making granite countertops that require less material to produce and can be installed without demolition.