São Paulo's Architectural Wonders

Don't miss these architectural jewels in Brazil's city of culture

Brazil’s most populous city is adored for its cutting-edge urban design and architectural highlights, many of them by a certain Oscar Niemeyer. You don’t have to go far to see these emblematic buildings which cover myriad genres and especially the examples of Modernism. We pick out some of the highlights from the last century – look out for them on your visit.


Auditorio Ibirapuera

Auditorio Ibirapuera, Sao Paulo, Brazil
Niemeyer's live entertainment venue in Parque de Ibirapuera (©VisitBrasil)

Located in Parque Ibirapuera, this stunning wedge-shaped scarlet-and-white creation was designed by Niemeyer in the 1950s but built only in 2005. In addition to being loved for the myriad music events and excellent acoustics, it’s astounding for its uber-modern design – including a sinuous portal entrance, and a back wall that opens, allowing the park to be seen from behind the stage. 

Hotel Unique

Designed by Ruy Ohtake and completed in 2003, this landmark luxury hotel is nicknamed ‘the watermelon’ because of its wedge-shaped design. Visually stunning, it is considered a design classic both outside and in. Circular ‘port-hole’ type windows illuminate the guest rooms, which have no right angles, and a wall of transparent glass lighting up the reception area and adjacent bar, and a seven-storey indoor atrium.

Museu de Arte de São Paulo (MASP)

MASP, Sao Paulo, Brazil
Lina Bo Bardi's MASP, signaling Sao Paulo's renewal (©VisitBrasil)

An icon of modern architecture, built in 1958, this was symbolic of the renewal of the city and has a very functional style. Considered the most important work by Italian/Brazilian architect Lina Bo Bardi, the concept was for a living museum, also housing schools of engraving, sculpture, photography and cinema. It was conceived as a large space suspended above an open plan space, supported by four pillars – a space reminiscent of the great Dutch designer Mies Van der Rohe. It also had to preserve the downtown and Cantareira mountains. Today it’s home to works by Degas, Van Gogh and Renoir, and many more.

Instituto Tomie Ohtake

With such an influence by the local Japanese population, it’s no surprise that there’s one of our 7 wonders by a Japanese architect. Tomie Ahtake came to São Paulo from Japan in 1936 to visit her brother, and settled with her husband and began painting from where she became a huge success. The curvaceous art institute with bold use of colour was designed by her son, prominent contemporary architect Ruy Ohtake, and dedicated to his mother. Its two floors and four studios have temporary exhibitions, seminars and a restaurant.

Edificio Copan

Edificio Copan, Sao Paulo, Brazil
Famous sinewy facade of Edificio Copan, a masterpiece of Brazil's modernist architecture (©VisitBrasil)

An emblematic structure in the city, this is one of many designed by ace architect Oscar Niemeyer, considered a key figure in the development of the country’s modernist architecture. Its sinuous façade was originally intended to be part of a hotel, but is now residential building with 1,160 apartments.

Centro Cultural São Paulo

Opened in 1982, and funded by the local municipality, this immense steel and concrete 9,000-square-meter building is a major hub for visual and performing arts. Designed by Eurico Lopes and Luiz Telles, it’s inspired by Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris with its ‘inside-out’ appearance and use of structural innovations. The challenge was how to design for a sloping space, but ingenious use of ramps answered that challenge admirably.

Latin America Memorial

Latin American Memorial, Sao Paulo, Brazil
See Latin American folk art at this white concrete compound (©VisitBrasil)

This vast cultural and political centre, inaugurated in 1989, consists of huge swathes of white concrete – a masterpiece of Brazilian modernism by Niemeyer. It consists of several buildings arranged around two squares, including galleries, auditoria and a library. Its highlight is the permanent collection of art and Latin American folk art, although parts of the interior was damaged by a fire in November 2013. Look out for the oversized hand sculpture outside.