Dreamed up by architect Lina Bo Bardi, Teatro Oficina’s experimental, drug-fuelled theatre was a hallmark of Brazil’s counterculture in the 60s and 70s. Now it risks being a casualty of São Paulo’s sweeping development and culture war
Last month, the TV presenter and business tycoon Silvio Santos finally won approval to build three 100m-high residential blocks on land he owns in the Bixiga district.
He had been lobbying to do so for decades, but was denied every time: the three towers would circle Teatro Oficina, one of the city’s best-loved theatres, blocking out the large window and retractable ceiling that are integral to its modernist design.
Dreamed up by the Italian-Brazilian architect Lina Bo Bardi, who was behind many of the country’s most famous buildings, Teatro Oficina is long, narrow and open-plan: “very much not the shape theatres are meant to be”, as the Observer’s architecture critic Rowan Moore wrote in naming it one of the world’s best theatres, “but all the more intense for that”.
So when on 23 October the state’s historical heritage office decided to reverse the theatre’s protected status, allowing Santos to build his towers and block out the theatre’s tiny strip of space and light, São Paulo’s artistic community rallied round, in what is as much a symbolic cultural battle against a cartoonish villain as a planning one.