São Paulo is a city of contrasts, a place where time and space collide in both humanity and the built environment. Aesop Oscar Freire echoes these juxtapositions with a blend of historic and contemporary elements, intriguing spatial decoys, and a coolness expressed through concrete forms – a hallmark of Brazilian Modernist architecture. Fittingly, the interior was conceived by Paolo Mendes da Rocha in collaboration with Metro Arquitetos; the local Pritzker Prize-winning architect’s sensitive work is firmly enshrined in the Modernist pantheon. Here, his design tames the energy of the metropolis, effecting a shelter to retreat from the vibrant tropical climate beyond.

A distortional dialectic between fine, geometric logic and organic shapes pervades the space. Eyes are first drawn to the floor of the store, covered in original encaustic tiles, inlaid with delicate interlocking star shapes in blue and brown. This heritage element was restored to add brightness to the colours, and has its contemporary response in the light-toned squares of the waffle ceiling above. Commanding attention in the centre is a large, amorphous floating concrete joinery unit with undulating edges, anchored by a black supporting column. Used for product display, it also houses display sinks decorated with brass taps and spouts, which emit gentle, fountain-like sprays.

The heft of the unfinished concrete reflects the construction materials used in the surrounding environment and adds a calm gravitas to the space.

Three circular plinths in the same material sit in the front window, their imperfect edges a reminder of the value of decay and patina in a world that can sometimes feel too glossed over.

The corner site is flooded with natural light from floor-height windows; one side wall is covered in mirrors, adding volume and refracting the design in on itself. A thin grid of white metal frames acts as shelves that appear to be suspended against the mirror, the straight lines interrupted by wave-like forms and some lush potted plants resting on top. At the rear of the store sit two Paulistano chairs (also designed by Paulo Mendes da Rocha) in black leather, their elegant simplicity epitomising the tenets of the Modernist movement.

Borrowing from the disparate elements assembled in its urban environment, Aesop Oscar Freire uses the cooling qualities of stone and the intrigue of patterns and textures to render the kaleidoscopic contrasts of São Paulo into a soothing space that tempers frenetic city life.

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