The Famous Buildings of São Paulo

In a metropolis of endless, off-white high-rises – SP is also a city chock-full of important architectural landmarks from which it is almost impossible to draw-up even a shortlist. While there is not one iconic building in the city which screams ‘SP’, any paulistana can point out more than a handful of significant buildings, be that through aesthetics, cultural consequence or historical worth.


MASP is one of many modern SP landmarks, photo by Rodrigo Soldon/Flickr Creative Commons License.

There are old buildings that take their cue from glancing backwards, classical, baroque and very European, and there are the new buildings – those that look to the future, grasping the hope of all that Brazil has the potential to be. While the city contains more of the latter, the history and story of the city and Brazil are present in the façades of many a building here.

Like other Brazilian cities, particularly Brasília but also Rio and Curitiba, the work of the modernist movement cannot be without mention and the work of Oscar Niemeyer has to be noted in SP’s most famous landmarks.

Having designed (along with Roberto Burle Marx) the buildings inside Parque Ibirapuera, SP’s answer to Central Park, and of course, the curving Copan Building downtown, his contribution to the city’s landscape cannot go unmentioned.

But his fluid lines are a trademark to the architect rather than the city, and there are other buildings more unique to the city. One such building is the esteemed Museu de Arte de São Paulo, or MASP.

MASP sits in stark contrast to the polished, glass skyscrapers that line the powerhouse that is Avenida Pualista – financial heart of the city. The building is a suspended glass and concrete box that appears to be almost floating above the sidewalk – supported by bright-red columns that wrap almost completely around it.

Designed by Lina Bo Bardi, an Italian-born architect who made Brazil her home after the Second World War, it was officially opened by Queen Elizabeth in 1968. São Paulo expert and city tour guide for Unique in SP Flavia Liz Di Paolo marks the work by Bo Bardi as some of the best in the city – places she always points out to visitors and newcomers.

“The architect’s home (Casa de Vidro) in the salubrious area of Morumbi is also worth a look, though perhaps it doesn’t attract the same attention as her masterpiece MASP. Surrounded by rainforest, like MASP it also appears to float” Flavia says.


The recently restored Theatro Municipal in São Paulo, photo by Adam Jones, PhD/Flickr Creative Commons License.

While the modernists certainly fly the flag here as they do elsewhere in Brazil, there are other gems that precede the modernist onslaught – Edificio Martinelli, the first skyscraper in South America; the art-deco, Empire State Building-inspired Banespa building.

Another towering treasure is the Sala São Paulo, home of the state orchestra, and then there is also the British-inspired railway station Estação da Luz right next door. The list goes on, but the jewel in the crown of the pre-modernist era has got to be the Municipal Theater.

Built to rival the Rio’s magnificent Theatro Municipal, the theater is this year celebrating its centenary. Designed by architect Ramos de Azevedo, the structure has recently been restored to its former glory in a restoration project that took three years.

Located in the center of the city, in a square bearing the name of the theater’s architect, the history of the building closely mirrors the story of the city’s riches and wealth.