Branco & Preto
Branco e Preto was an architecture and design store, opened in late 1952, in São Paulo. Existing until 1970, it was one of the precursors of interior architecture and modern-inspired furniture in Brazil. The studio was managed by the architects Miguel Forte (1915-2002), Jacob Ruchti (1917-1974), Plínio Croce (1921-1984), Roberto Aflalo (1926-1992), Carlos Millan (1927-1964) and the Chinese architect Chen Y Hwa who had their offices in the same building at Rua Barão de Itapetininga. With the exception of the latter, who arrived in Brazil in 1952 and was employed at Croce and Aflalo’s office, the entire group graduated from Mackenzie Architecture University. The interest in modern architecture was the common denominator of all these young architects who, realizing the gap that exists in the market for modern furniture in São Paulo in the early 1950s, decided to create a store to offer an alternative of modern taste to the São Paulo elite.
Mackenzie Architecture University was very conservative in the 1930s and 1940s. Architect Christiano Stockler das Neves (1889-1982), then professor and director, maintained a critical view of modernism. With an ideal of neoclassicist aesthetics. This group of young architects who founded Branco e Preto however, nurtured their interest in modern architecture.
Graduated in the 1930s, Jacob Ruchti and Miguel Forte approached, during the course, to two architects of the first modernist generation in Brazil: the Italian Rino Levi (1901-1965) and the Ukrainian Gregori Warchavchik (1896-1972). Living together at the home of Mina Klabin, Warchavchik’s wife, allows them to meet the American architect Philip Johnson (1906-2005) and the German architect Mies Van der Rohe (1886-1969). Plínio Croce and Roberto Aflalo, who graduated in the late 1940s, and Carlos Millan, graduated in the early 1950s, also distance themselves from the architecture taught at the college, admiring the Viennese Richard Neutra (1892-1970) and Marcel Breuer (1902 -1981).
The environment of São Paulo in the 1940s and 1950s brought renovations not only in the city, which was expanding, but also in the fields of art and architecture. In 1947, the São Paulo Art Museum Assis Chateubriand (Masp) was founded, followed by the foundation of the São Paulo Museum of Modern Art (MAM / SP) in 1948. In 1951, the first São Paulo Biennial opens. Later, Masp created the Contemporary Art Institute (IAC). These transformations made room for modern architecture and the idea of Brazilian modernism. Participating in this process, young people started working in offices and designing homes and buildings. Faced with the task of furnishing a modern house, they were faced with copies of foreign drawings. There were large armchairs and sofas, with foam and upholstery. In addition to designer Joaquim Tenreiro’s store (1906-1992), in Rio de Janeiro, which opened a branch in São Paulo in 1950, and Móveis Z, by designer Zanine Caldas (1919-2001), opened in 1947 in São Paulo, modern furniture options were still limited.
Proposed by Roberto Aflalo, Branco e Preto store opened in December 1952,in the city center, Av. Vieira de Carvalho. For its opening, the group prepared not only furniture, but also curtains, lamps or rugs. Following the idea of Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959), who thinks of the house from the inside out, the furniture is understood as a “complement of architecture”. With high prices and aimed at the São Paulo elite, the store often served customers who have their homes signed by one of the group’s architects. The furniture design is often thought of, with adaptations for each residence. Brazilian woods, such as jacarandá-da-bahia, cabreúva and pau-marfim, are combined with glass, iron, formica and calacata marble in the manufacture of furniture. Made in a rational and geometric way, they present lightness and simplicity. One of its characteristics is the toothpick feet, one of the hallmarks of modern furniture. Among the furniture produced are the MF5 armchair, the slatted table and the Millan desk.
Branco e Preto was part of the movement of the 1950s, in which Brazilian architects started to manufacture modern furniture. Two years after its inauguration, the Unilabor factory was opened. A year later, French designer Michel Arnoult (1922-2005) opened Contemporary Furniture. Both located in São Paulo and which also targeted the public with an alternative taste, but diverge from Branco & Preto in the way of producing their pieces. While their armchairs and tables were manufactured in an industrial way, Branco & Preto furniture was handcrafted and in small quantities. Without wood plywood or screws and apparent screws, their products were all high joinery.
The name Branco e Preto refered to fabrics, made especially for the store by the Lanificio Fileppo factory. Colors like beige and gray, upholstery and curtains, are combined with white or black stripes. The sobriety of the tones and stripes dialogs with concretism in the arts and reveal the distance in relation to sparkles, figurative prints and excess of ornaments present in decoration stores of the time. When remembering Branco & Preto, architect Roberto Carvalho Franco (1926-2001) states that the store had “a great impact” and allowed “a portion of society to understand the meaning of furniture design”.