From an urban design perspective, São Paulo, Brazil, Munich, in Germany, and New York could not be any more different—they exist on separate continents, have vastly different densities, and utilize space in their own distinct ways. So, what, you might ask, could these cities possibly have in common? The answer, according to Andres Lepik and Daniel Talesnik, is more than you think.

Access for All: São Paulo’s Architectural Infrastructures, which opened this week at the AIA New York’s Center for Architecture, sets the stage for comparison between São Paulo and its peer cities across the globe. Curated by Talesnik, a trained architect and Bauhaus expert, the exhibition was originally presented at Architekturmuseum Der Tum under the direction of Lepik. Although São Paulo has a significantly greater population density than Munich, Talesnik felt that the German city had plenty to learn from the Brazilian city’s avid use of public space. For decades, the megacity of 12 million has seen a growing investment in public infrastructure in order to ease its open space shortages and respond to the demand for cultural and recreational programming. Access for All presents a selection of these projects since the 1950s, organized into three categories: large-scale, multi-programmatic projects; open public spaces; and projects located along the iconic Paulista Avenue.

The exhibition comes 10 years after Lepik’s curation of Small Scale, Big Change: New Architectures of Social Engagement at the Museum of Modern Art, which highlighted architectural projects on five continents that aided underserved communities. Lepik’s research was an appropriate precursor for a case study in São Paulo, a city deeply affected by economic inequality, high crime rates, traffic congestion, and public health hazards.

Talesnik views the selected projects as microcosms of urban life. From the pedestrianized Minhocão highway to the multi-story SESC Pompeía cultural center, the projects are analyzed through sociocultural impact rather than formal characteristics, highlighting the dynamic relationship between the built environment and its inhabitants.

In its new home at the Center for Architecture, the exhibition intends to teach New York a few lessons. The large infographic at the start of the exhibition has been stripped of its “Munich” column and replaced with a “New York” column to compare and contrast figures alongside São Paulo’s. At the exhibition’s opening, visitors wanted to know what exactly New York might take away from the São Paulo method. Figuring out that mystery is one of Lepik’s and Talesnik’s favorite parts of the exhibition: “Who knows,” Talesnik laughed. “But we’re certainly curious.”

Access for All is on display through May 23.

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