Spontaneous Uses

February 25, 2019

We explore the spatial experience of the São Paulo Cultural Center through the text and drawings by SIAA and the photographs by Lauro Rocha.


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São Paulo Cultural Center. © SIAA.

In 1974, the French writer Georges Perec proposed to write down every moment and action that could be perceived at Saint-Sulpice square, in Paris, over three consecutive days. All of these notations can be seen in his essay An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Paris (1982), which showed us how observation and notation are not enough to exhaust all the possible uses of a place.

Patterns can be recognized and relationships can be established, but the exhaustion of uses is impossible.

To create possibilities, which allow any interpretation, might somehow increase the vivacity and the numerous ways to use the proposed space. In this sense, the São Paulo Cultural Center presents itself as an open place, offering spaces that can engage new means to interpret and to use them in a totally different way.

Ordinary daily activities, in parallel to programmed events, are capable of bringing an autonomous life to this building. Although constantly repeated, these everyday actions are always changing and evolving. They are able to build the imaginary as a collective memory.

Based on the interpretation of George Perec’s essay with the spatial experience of the São Paulo Cultural Center, we developed some texts and drawings in an attempt to, utopically, exhaust the possibilities, to represent in a modest and sincere way the vivacity of this special place.

Continuous pathways from city into building in CCSP

The public space is movable. The public space is scattered. The public space is empty, it’s imagination. The public space is undetermined. The public space is information. The public space is the holder. Finally, the public space is in an unstable balance. The private space is static. The private space is concentrated. The private space is full, there are objects and memories. The private space is functional. The private space is opinion. The private space is the message. The private space is, by necessity, stable.
—Soriano, 2006 – translation by author.
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São Paulo Cultural Center. © SIAA.

Different uses in various sections of CCSP building

We should go about designing in such a way that the result does not refer to an unequivocal goal, but it still permits interpretation, so that it will take on its identity through usage. What we make must constitute an offer, it must have the capacity to elicit, time and again, specific reactions befitting specific situations; so it must not be merely neutral and flexible—and hence non-specific—but it must possess that wider efficaciousness that we call polyvalence.
—Hertzberger, 1999.
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A longitudinal section along the building

The São Paulo Cultural Center (Centro Cultural São Paulo—CCSP) is a public institution under the Culture Secretary of the city of São Paulo. Located in a 46,500 square meter building along the Vergueiro subway station, the cultural center gathers countless programs and activities that motivated its construction in the 1970s.

Its main program is constituted by the city’s collection of paintings, the Discoteca Oneyda Alvarenga, a collection of documents of Mario de Andrade folklore research mission, five libraries like the Sérgio Milliet Library (second largest public library in São Paulo), the Alfredo Volpi Library which includes numerous art, architecture, and photography catalogues, a vast collection of comic books, the Louis Braille Library for the differently abled (hearing and visual), a large reading room dedicated to children and teenagers, a multimedia archive of articles on contemporary Brazilian art, and the City Art Collection, in addition to exhibition spaces, ateliers, theater, and cinema.

Designed by the architects Eurico Prado Lopes and Luiz Telles, the building establishes a friendly relationship with the city through its multiple access points and its connection with the subway station. A special designed urban condition and its horizontal form intensifies the public aspect of this building.

Although the apparently oversized proportion of circulation area in relation to program areas, a ratio of 1 square meter of circulation to 4 square meters of program, its floors are never empty or idle. Roof garden, ramps, patios, and wide passages, all these free places disputed by its users, are often more vivid than the program areas which have specific events or uses.

The so-called cultural actions (a type of association between public groups and its administration to use the building rooms and corridors) and the spontaneous uses of its spaces along with the officially programmed routine have the capacity to keep this building active and occupied by the most heterogeneous group of people from every part of the city.

A combination of a frequent use of these undetermined spaces guaranteed by an administration which gracefully deals with the diversity of people and activities is the reason why CCSP is so present in the memory and in the everyday life of its users and its city, as a legitimate public space, frank and democratic, capable of provoking and offering the opportunity to imagine new ways to occupy and to use its openness spaces.

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Everyday usage

People are already gathering close to its doors before it has even opened.
All people are welcome. Diversity is present in colors, forms, and groups.
At 10 am, CCSP opens its doors. It connects itself with the city, with the metro station.
Sidewalks are expanded, life echoes through its emptiness.
After opening, people occupy the tables in front of the library entrance.
The place is disputed, crowded.
A three year-old girl maidenly holds her mother’s dress and looks around with an expression of astonishment.
The void’s ramps are monumental.
Her mother smiles and waves when she realizes her friend is across the space.
The sun reveals the surfaces that configure this place.
A boy plays with a ball. He kicks it several times towards the administrative block. Short passes of a lonely game.
Time passes by.
Library tables are already filled. The shelves receive numerous visits.
The Metro access square becomes a meeting point.
At the Caio Graco floor, in front of an exhibition, a woman positions a camera on a tripod and films herself talking alone. The surrounding sound doesn’t seem to bother her.
People cross the space.
The lounge area is dominated by a group of five young men wearing Japanese clothes with fans. They start to dance, to choreograph, to k-pop.
Colors shake through the space as they dance.
Music is spread through the building.
The cafeteria tables begin to be filled.
There are people eating.
Near the 23 de Maio suspended garden, a couple of elderly people sit in a bench to admire the view.
The traffic looks distant.
In one of the study tables, close to metro access, a girl sleeps over her open notebook.
In front of the administrative entrance, a significant group of young people dance hip hop, alternating in their individual performances. The sound is loud and the rhythm is exciting.
People are stopping to watch the movement.
Laughter seems to cross all these activities.
Some people enter the building just to use the toilets.
The central square is empty. A group crosses this space.
One of them takes a picture of this moment with his cell phone.
Between the Tarsila do Amaral room and the toilets, two people dance, enjoying the reflective glass which composes the frames of this place.
Children are playing with some pigeons close to the external stairs.
Board tables are crowded.
People get to know each other.
Kids run up and down the ramps.
Inside the Sérgio Milliet Library, readers try to preserve silence.
There are no tables available.
Children are playing around.
A bus stops right in front of one of the entries and a group of children heads to an exhibition. The red school uniform t-shirts stand out as they move through the space.
CCSP’s public feature is put to the test.
In front of the Luís Telles garden, two men play chess as a third one watches mindfully.
At a lounge area, a young woman dances spontaneously with her own reflection over the glass, as if there was nothing around, just her and her opposite image.
Natural light is changing, the shadows cast themselves differently.
People are gathering in the sunny area.
Others walk towards the reading room.
Some pigeons fly at the same time. At the Vergueiro suspended garden, two friends sunbathe in the afternoon sun.
The exhibitions coexists with all that.
Corridors are occupied all the time.
A popcorn seller gets closer to the foyer entrance.
Bus stops dictate the flux along the cultural center.
At the lounge area, a couple sits on a bench to watch people dancing.
A group of foreigners visits the building. They walk through its corridors impressed with this spaciality. They capture the space.
A group rushes towards the elevator that gives access to underground ateliers.
The wind announces the nightfall.
On the terrace, some people practice sports. From the lower floor, it is possible to keep up with the activities.
In front of the Adoniran room, an old man gives dance classes. Samba seems to reverberate the enthusiasm of his students.
At the foyer, some people lay on the ground scattered around the room. They don’t seem to know each other.
A line is forming. While waiting for the event opening, some people observe what happens around them.
The movie session begins and this cluster unravels.
At a restaurant table, six young people chat excitingly about something, ignoring their open notebooks in front of them.
Time is disperse.
Everything happens at same time.
Various uses coexist simultaneously.
All the benches are filled. People are sitting on the floor.
Children play on their cell phones. WiFi is free at some areas.
Close to the Flavio de Carvalho exhibition area, a girl lying down uses her PC on her lap. She seems very comfortable in this situation.
Looking towards the void of the ramps, a woman takes a picture of herself with the building as a background.
The lights are on and the night has finally come.
From the terrace it’s possible to see the lights of the cars and the filled buildings in the landscape.
People are still dancing in front of their own reflections. Various groups, side by side, don’t look bothered with the music on. They seem to be in a trance.
There are no conflicts.
A couple is inspired by the young dancers and tries to waltz with the ambient sound.
People walk towards the metro station.
There are still few people coming to the programmed events. Determined activities.
A theater play is about to begin.
CCSP is shutting down its public life. At least in its corridors.
The library is already closing. Only the employees are still working.
The cafeteria stays open because today there is a presentation in one of the auditoriums. It smells like fresh coffee.
Free spaces start to get empty.
At 8 pm, the doors close and the access is restricted.
For a few hours, everything looks so static.
But it is almost 10 am and people start to gather.
CCSP opens its doors.

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São Paulo Cultural Center. © Lauro Rocha.

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São Paulo Cultural Center. © Lauro Rocha.

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São Paulo Cultural Center. © Lauro Rocha.

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São Paulo Cultural Center. © Lauro Rocha.

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São Paulo Cultural Center. © Lauro Rocha.

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São Paulo Cultural Center. © Lauro Rocha.

The texts, images, and drawings are part of CCSP: CARTOGRAPHY OF USES, an exhibition and a catalogue organized by SIAA in 2018, an architecture office based in São Paulo. The catalogue, drawings, and pictures of the exhibition can be found at

This research was supported by the Municipality of São Paulo, Centro Cultural São Paulo, and the 11ª São Paulo Architecture Biennial.