Mid-century Brazilian Design

12 February - 4 March 2021
  • Mid-century Brazilian design


  • Brazil stands out in the history of 20th century design with an innovative aesthetic using exotic raw materials. This particular situation is the result of several important factors that were generated by some cultural and political changes. 


    The beginning of the 20th century in Brazil, although tainted by some internal instabilities, can be considered as a Golden Age for the development of international relations and the acceleration of industrialization.  

     After World War II, Brazil was seen as a land of opportunity for many professionals – artists, architects, artisans - who wanted to flee Europe. They brought with them the best of European creation, new modernist concepts and ideas that were ultimately assimilated to more artisanal and local craft practices. This melting-pot of competences contributed to the building of a new Brazilian identity, a nationalistic spirit that produced a unique design culture.



    A new aesthetic ideal developped in Brazil in the mid 40’s, as the new urban middle-class was seeking for a more comfortable lifestyle. The diffusion of modern architecture required a more accurate dialogue between the exteriors and interiors of the new buildings and residences. Many of the designers that we know today started off their furniture production responding to special commissions for new private or public buildings. 

    In this search for comfort and wellbeing, Brazilian furniture design progressively adopted the modernist principles influenced by master designers from Europe. Designers embraced the ideas of functionalism with a rationalization and simplification of forms while considering the social realities and specificities of the country.

  • Brazilian furniture has always been characterized by the strong use of solid woods that could adapt to the exotic temperatures...

    Detail of the Oval Coffee Table (1955) from solid "trunk" furniture series by Joaquim Tenreiro in Pau Amarelo.


    Brazilian furniture has always been characterized by the strong use of solid woods that could adapt to the exotic temperatures of Brazil. In the 20th century, wood remained at the core of Brazilian design providing the raw and precious material that would be exploited and diversified to create iconic pieces of furniture. The integration of the environment, the climatic suitability and the use of local elements were essential to Brazilian modern design. 

    • Joaquim Tenreiro, Three seater sofa, 1958
      Joaquim Tenreiro, Three seater sofa, 1958
    • Joaquim Tenreiro, Bloch Desk, 1965
      Joaquim Tenreiro, Bloch Desk, 1965
  • Those years also saw the multiplication of specialized stores and furniture companies and manufactures. Some of the most influential companies are Móveis Artísticos Z  (founded by José Zanine Caldas in 1948), Unilabor (founded by Geraldo de Barros in 1954), Forma (by Carlo Hauner and Martin Eisler in 1954), L’Atelier (founded by Jorge Zalszupin in 1958).

  • Branco & Preto Branco & Preto

    Among those, the company Branco & Preto (Black & White) also had an important place. It was founded in 1952 by a collective of visionary architects - Jacob Ruchti, Miguel Forte, Plinio Groce, Roberta Aflalo, Carlos Millan and Che Y Hwa - who decided to create a kind of furniture suitable for the modern buildings they were designing. A store selling their pieces of furniture opened that same year in Sao Paulo. 

    Branco & Preto production was always kept small as it was never industrialized. The pieces were usually made-to-order, handcrafted and customizable resulting in furniture that were available to those who could afford it.

  • Jacob Ruchti

    Pair of armchairs, 1952


  • Those armchairs were designed in 1952 by Swiss-born Jacob Ruchti (1917-1974). The construction adheres to the sober modernists principles, expressing... Those armchairs were designed in 1952 by Swiss-born Jacob Ruchti (1917-1974). The construction adheres to the sober modernists principles, expressing... Those armchairs were designed in 1952 by Swiss-born Jacob Ruchti (1917-1974). The construction adheres to the sober modernists principles, expressing...

    Those armchairs were designed in 1952 by Swiss-born Jacob Ruchti (1917-1974). The construction adheres to the sober modernists principles, expressing simplicity and lightness through the use of clean lines and geometric precision. The production of those chairs emphasized on high-quality workmanship as well as the use of the best Brazilian native woods and materials. 


    O. Niemeyer in the offices of Novacap, company founded  for the construction of the new capital.



    One of the biggest architectural projects initiated in the 1950’s was the creation of the new federal capital of the country, Brasilia. Urbanist Lucio Costa won the competition for the design of the city’s master plan while Oscar Niemeyer (1907-2012) was in charge of architecture. He designed remarkable buildings with a brutalist architectural tendency inspired by Le Corbusier’s principles. Niemeyer introduced curves to the sculptural concrete forms of the buildings to soften the straight lines and to harmonize them with the surrounding natural landscape. 

  • All those new buildings offered an abundance of interiors spaces to fill. Brasilia became a place of many opportunities for Brazilian designers. Niemeyer, who designed some furniture for his constructions, invited other designers such as Joaquim Tenreiro and Sergio Rodrigues to contribute as well. 

    After only four years of construction, the city was inaugurated in 1960.  This monumental achievement and its emblematic and innovative architecture became the only 20th city in the world to receive the status of Historical and Cultural Heritage of  Humanity by UNESCO. 

  • The 1950’s became a decisive moment in the history of Brazilian design as the State adopted an ambitious industrialization program for the country.  Also, the diffusion of the new modernist ideas was favored by the arrival of the first Latin American channel on television and the creation of furniture specialized magazines such as Habitat (1950-1965), Casa e Jardim (1953- ) and Modulo (1955-1965/1975-1989). Those allowed the advertisement and promotion of a new modern lifestyle with new forms and materials that was quickly accepted by the consumers. 

    • Habitat , 1950-1965



      Founded by Lina Bo and her husband Pietro Maria Bardi, it can be considered as the first magazine dedicated to the art of « modern living ». Focused on architecture, it is also open to all types of disciplines and participate in building a modern aesthetic with a national character. 

    • Casa e Jardim , 1953 -

      Casa e Jardim

      1953 -

      Originally published by Editorio Monumento, it was purchased by Editora Globo in 1998. Still active today, it focuses on the architecture and the decoration of houses and gardens. 

    • Modulo, 1955-1965/1975-1989



      Founded by Oscar Niemeyer and published both in Portuguese and English, it was particularly in reporting the events related to the construction of Brasilia and contributed to the spreading of Brazilian architceture and visual arts abroad. 

  • Copyrights

    Brasilia under construction ©Nicolau Drey ; Museu Nacional do Conjunto Cultural da República ©Gonzalo Viramonte ; Brasilia Cathedral ©Marie-Anne Lapadu/Roger-Viollet; View of Brasilia ©Ullstein Bild/Roger-Viollet