SAO PAULO, BRAZIL — Fabrica da Pompeia (Centro de Lazer) is a happy island in this congested urban center.
The expanding project, with its ever-changing facets, might well be described as a gathering place for all seasons and all reasons. Here, people are encouraged to pursue life's simple pleasures at their own pace, in their own style.
In the world's seventh largest city, where 32% of Brazilian industry manned by 45% of the country's labor force, turns out 50% of the national production, such an opportunity is a welcome respite.
The project, initiated and operated by the Trade Social Services of Sao Paulo (SESC), fulfills a major social function. Pompeia is the first significant industrial structure of that city to be recycled into a major public recreation center for the masses.
Within the confines of 132,000 square feet of a former steel drum factory, almost everything can be found to further that regenerating occupation known as leisure.
Aside from its intrinsic value as a classic example of a British-style vintage factory, the industrial complex now provides gigantic uncluttered spaces, ideally suited to the concept of its planners, which was to create an all-encompassing recreation center in the city.
"It is a place populated with people of all ages who come there to listen to music, to read, to make pottery, to play chess, to act in a theater or watch other people acting. It is a place where they can learn to print posters and booklets or develop their own pictures.
"It is a place for dancing, a place where children play under supervised care, or swim or participate in a variety of sports," a SESC spokesman said.
Fabrica da Pompeia is generally regarded as a significant contemporary cultural and architectural statement. It embodies the avant-garde vision of Lina Bo Bardi, an Italian-born Brazilian architect whose work includes the impressive Museum of Modern Art of Sao Paulo, noted for the unusually wide span between its supportive columns.
Her factory concept is described as "a tribute to the laborer who deserves much of the credit for the industrialization and the power of the state."
Bo Bardi was one of numerous young architects who came to Brazil after World War II, drawn like moths to the brilliance of innovative young Brazilian designers. Among them were Oscar Niemeyer and Lucio Costa, who later brought the city planner's dream of the 1930s--Brasilia--to fruition.
Era Has Passed
They adapted "with disconcerting vigor and originality" the revolutionary principles of French architect Le Corbusier's concepts for independent column-supported structures, free-facades, and the brise-soleil architectural device for blocking off the sunlight.
"The activity that was carried out some 20 or 30 years ago was clearly different," said Bo Bardi. In the 1950s and 1960s the architectural boom was largely initiated by government agencies and established the country's modern architectural roots.
"That era seems to have passed and, for the most part, building activity today stems from private enterprise. The fervor and flair are not quite the same as during that very exciting post-war period, but we do have a core of younger architects now who are making some headway again.
"Unfortunately they must struggle, without much support or encouragement from either public or private sectors."
A collector of antiques and a keen admirer of architectural statements of the past, Bo Bardi is "turned off" by the post-Modern movement, which she considers old and passe. "There are altogether too many attempts to revitalize junk. It's ridiculous to try to invent an antiquity."
Fabrica da Pompeia offered a more basic, humanistic challenge for Bo Bardi.
"Here we were not dealing in industrial archeology but simply utilizing something that was fundamentally sound for social and utilitarian purposes, and making it a part of the city that is alive and that lives as probably the whole city ought to live, "she said.
Architecturally, the project is full of surprises.
Through a portion of its vast halls, Bo Bardi envisioned a shallow waterway which she dubbed the River San Francisco, paved with giant pebbles, that wends its way between the seating areas; the sports grounds, a new structure added to the factory complex, that resembles a huge concrete container with holes in it for air and light. Streets paved with cobblestones complement the overall rustic theme and are the original walkways that once separated the old factory buildings.
"I tried to preserve the character of the original factory, utilizing its best features," Bo Bardi explained. "At the same time, we upgraded the environment with the selective use of slender forms in reinforced concrete and old brick, massive timbers and a system of roof trusses imported from Great Britain which gives the Pompeia its singular warmth and high-tech quality."