For Brazilian architect Marcos Acayaba, the Milan House in the suburbs of São Paulo remains his favorite and most personal project. With its sweeping concrete roof and walls of glass, the serene, low-slung residence is also the one that put him on the map—he was just 28 when the building was completed in 1975—as a pioneer of modernism in his home country.
For the last four decades, Acayaba and his wife, Marlene, a writer and expert on Brazilian modernist design, have lived in the Milan House, and little has changed over the intervening years. The residence was originally designed as a commission for Marlene's sister, the psychoanalyst and writer Betty Milan. She gave the architect almost complete freedom to design a home in what was then a quiet, lush hillside spot on the outskirts of the city. "She gave me carte blanche," recalls Acayaba, who was born and raised in São Paulo. "She just requested four bedrooms and a long swimming pool, and her husband asked for a photography studio."
The living room of the São Paulo house of architect Marcos Acayaba and his wife, Marlene, which Acayaba designed in 1975; the built-in concrete banquette is fitted with velvet cushions, the rug is Chinese, and the floor is lined with concrete tiles colored with iron oxide.
Partly inspired by the sloping site—as well as the sinuous curves of buildings by his fellow countryman Oscar Niemeyer, such as the Church of Saint Francis of Assisi in Pampulha—Acayaba came up with the idea of an all-encompassing, sculpted concrete roof that would form a vast shell over the house. Inside, he made use of the shifting ground levels to create three distinct but interconnected platforms, with an open-plan living space at the center, a dining area and kitchen on a lower level, and the bedrooms on top.
The roof, pool, and stairs are all made of concrete, and the surrounding gardens were designed by Marlene Acayaba.
"The design was all about enhancing the relationship between the house and the garden, and creating a balance between the two within the site's generous dimensions," Acayaba explains. "The solution was the reinforced concrete shell, like a vault, that was conceived as a roof that shelters all the inner spaces and allows them to visually connect to the tropical gardens at either end of the house."
As the project came to completion, though, Aca yaba's sister-in-law relocated to Paris. She never lived in the house. Acayaba decided to move into the building with Marlene, and the two of them have made the Milan House their own family home ever since.
Steps lead to the bunker-style lower studio; the plantings include syngoniums, banana trees, and native fruta de pombo.
The strength and beauty of the house lie in the epic contrasts between the linear nature of the living spaces and the arching roof's sinuous curves, and the juxtaposition of the sculpted concrete artistry of the building with the lush gardens that surround it, softening and enhancing the house.
Perobinha do campo, a Brazilian wood, lines the walls and shutters of an upper level; the concrete bench is custom made, and the painting is by Cassio Michalany.
The terraces around the pool and the main living level within are unified by the use of red tiled floors inside and out, while many built-in and bespoke elements of furniture—including a massive concrete banquette—create a sense of spaciousness and clarity. The master bedroom, for example, is a lesson in restrained minimalism, but it is enhanced by the rich quality of natural light and the ingenuity of such elements as the vast, pivoting internal wood shutters that open to the en suite bathroom and to the outdoors.
Steel shelves by Securit line a hall.
"The bedrooms on the upper level are closed in by sliding doors and ventilation flaps, which help integrate them with the rest of the interior spaces," Acayaba explains. "When the house was built there was a garden inside the house as well, between the split floors. After 10 years we decided that the indoor garden was not working well, and I changed the space to its current shape. That was the only major alteration to the house in 35 years." While the neighborhood of Cidade Jardim has gradually grown and become more developed, the house itself has remained a retreat for the Acayabas from the hectic pace of the sprawling city. The gardens, carefully nurtured by Marlene, have become more lush and established, forming a protective natural barrier between this enclave and the world beyond.
A bathroom vanity is made of concrete with panels sheathed in Formica; the lamps are by Dominici.
The Acayabas also make good use of the studio tucked under the elevated terrace alongside the pool area. It is a quiet space, conducive to working on architectural commissions for residential and public buildings, which are complemented by Acayaba's job as a professor of architecture.
"The ideas that I explored with the Milan House certainly influenced other architectural projects of mine as well," says Acayaba. "They were ideas to do with the integration of nature, the continuity of space, and the use of natural light. For us, we love the simplicity of the house, and the lightness, and, of course, all those connections with the gardens."
In the master bedroom, the armchair is by Mies van der Rohe, and a sconce by Lumini hangs above a painting by Luiz Paulo Baravelli.
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