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There’s something quite domestic about the way this building presents itself. Perhaps it’s the proportions of the facade windows. Maybe it’s the expansive first-floor balconies lined with greenery. Its presence to the street even offers the generosity of a two-storey house. But this textural nugget is not a residence at all. In fact, this building has had many lives.

Brazilian architecture practice, Memola Estudio, teamed up with architect Vitor Penha to transform the building in Vila Madalena in São Paulo from a bar into a new headquarters for the Brazilian natural and whole food company, Mãe Terra (Mother Earth). “The objective was to bring together the administrative, innovation and product development areas, as well as spaces for the brand to experiment with food,” shares Memola. What they’ve really created is a “house that’s open to everyone — employees, customers and even local neighbourhood passersby”.

What’s special about this building is they’ve managed to do all of that without transforming it into a commercial hub. There are no polished concrete floors, big sliding doors, or acoustic panels that traditionally line the spaces of headquarters-type buildings. Instead, the design team turn to the very words within their client’s business name — Mother Earth. “From the beginning, we thought of earth as a key material for the project,” says Memola. Warm, organic and raw, they knew certain materials were “capable of expressing the values of connection with nature and what the business, Mãe Terra, references” in their products. The resulting architecture “has a materiality composed of variants of the earth: raw (in mud) and cooked (in ceramic blocks),” explain the architects.

 

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Wrapping some existing external walls with rammed earth was key for the design team to bring in some of that earthy texture that instantly grounds the project. Several extents of walls and doors adopt a vertical pine wood panelling, not only adding height to the two-storey building, but bringing with it the softness of organic timber. Internally, existing walls were “coated with natural paints and earthy colours”.

But perhaps the most striking feature across this new headquarters is the unique ceramic block that laces the walls, both inside and out. It’s surely a hardworking material that does a lot more than just sit there and look pretty. The “objective was to use a ceramic block different to the conventional ones,” found across the Sao Paola area, shares Memola. They researched the material to source a specific larger rib in the construction market and worked with the manufacturer to expand the load-bearing capacity of the block and also its use without coatings. “The partnership resulted in one of the projects’ most outstanding materials,” claims Memola. “Its layout is alternating, of the mooring type, and the expansion joints are larger than usual, being equivalent to the width of the ribs of the product,” they explain.

 

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At a ground floor level, the cobblestones from the street footpath crawl itself into the building, forming a textural floor finish that reminds you that you’re in Vila Madalena. A cafe and kitchen space here is dedicated to product development embracing what Memola refer to as a “coexistence of materials and elements — new and old — that echoes the visual language of the project as a whole”. Above, all the windows and doors were rebuilt to open the office spaces up, “bringing the user closer to the tops of the numerous surrounding trees,” explains Memola.

A home away from home, I can only imagine what it would be like to arrive at work and soak up the expansive view of São Paulo from the first-floor balcony of a building that’s had so many lives.

 

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