Branco e Preto was an architecture and design store, that opened in 1952, in São Paulo. Open until 1970, the store was one of the forerunners of interior architecture and modern 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 all with 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. A shared interest in modern architecture was underpinned the motives of all these young architects who, realizing there was a gap the market for modern furniture in São Paulo in the early 1950s, decided to create a store to offer modern designs to the São Paulo elite.
Mackenzie Architecture University was a more conservative insititue in the 1930s and 1940s. Architect Christiano Stockler das Neves (1889-1982), then the professor and director, maintained a critial view of modernism, prefering neoclassicist aesthetics. This group of forweard thinking young architects who founded Branco e Preto however, were drawn to the ideals of modern architecture. Having graduated in the 1930s, Jacob Ruchti and Miguel Forte approached, during the course, 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, enabled 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, who graduated in the early 1950s, also distanced themselves from the architecture taught at Mackenzie, admiring the Viennese Richard Neutra (1892-1970) and Marcel Breuer (1902-1981).
The atmosphere of São Paulo in the 1940s and 1950s was one of vivacious regeneration, not only in infrustructual projects, 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 changes gave way to 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 new task of furnishing a modern house, they were drawn to foreign desires, armchairs and sofas, with foam and upholstery for example.
Modern furniture options were quite limited in Brasil at the time, there was 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, but not too much else. As a result Roberto Aflalo proposed the idea to a group of like minded thinkers and, Branco e Preto store opened in December 1952,in the city center, Av. Vieira de Carvalho. The group prepared not only furniture, but also curtains, lamps or rugs. Following the idea of Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959), who thought 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 clientes who had their homes signed by one of the group’s architects. The furniture design was thought of as an extension of the materials of each residence. Brazilian woods, such as jacarandá-da-bahia, cabreúva and pau-marfim, were combined with glass, iron, formica and calacata marble in the manufacturing of furniture. Made in a rational and geometric way, they presented lightness and simplicity. One of their characteristics is the toothpick feet, a hallmark of modern furniture. Among the furniture produced is 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 creation, 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 an audience with 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 plywood or screws and apparent screws, their products were designed by highly skilled craftsmen. 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, were 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 all so fashionable in previous years. When remembering Branco & Preto, architect Roberto Carvalho Franco (1926-2001) said that the store had “a great impact” and allowed “a portion of society to understand the meaning of furniture design”.
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