Startha Éagsula: Grafton Architects on Paulo Mendes da Rocha

By Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara

This text has been excerpted from Startha Éagsula / Alternative Histories (2020), a companion catalogue to Alternative Histories (2019) and published to accompany the third installation of Alternative Histories at the Irish Architectural Archive.

Startha Éagsula / Alternative Histories is now available to purchase from Drawing Matter’s bookshop, here.

Grafton Architects, Paulo Mendes da Rocha’s drawing for the Capela de São Pedro, 2018.
Paulo Mendes da Rocha (1928), Capela de São Pedro, Palácio da Boa Vista, Campos do Jordão, 1987. Oil pastel on tracing paper.

We are always the same human being, but always and again in another time. This questioning of the origin supports the present. Each work is a discourse and therein the idea of a contemplative glance to the past, upon which the new is built. 

– Paulo Mendes da Rocha

The Paulo Mendes da Rocha sketch belies the power of the built chapel. The distance travelled between sketch and built artefact is driven by some hidden inner energy embedded in this little drawing.

The uncannily simple design releases a space of enormous force. We tried to get to the core of this project by abstracting the constituent elements of floor, column and roof.

By making a model in stone we discovered the true balancing act of the structure. The column is centrally placed in one dimension and completely off-centre in the other.

The irregular shapes of the floor and the roof appear whimsical but the sculptor who made it found that she didn’t need to prop up the parts. Stacking the floor and the roof onto the big central support achieved a natural equilibrium.

The jagged forms of floor and roof appear like broken fragments of something else. Some kind of stone jigsaw where the elements are not interlocked but barely touch. We later remembered that the name Peter comes from Petros, meaning rock, which is why Saint Peter received this name from Christ.

We realised that this sketch came out of the ancient practice of stacking rocks to form shelter. But here gravity is defied. Everything seems to float. A pool of water at ground level reflects the floating floor above with the effect of dematerialising it further. The space between heavy elements is liberated like air.

– Shelley McNamara and Yvonne Farrell