Renowned Brazilian Architect Named Victor A. Morgenstern Family Visiting Chair



Noted Brazilian architect Gustavo Utrabo has been named IIT College of Architecture’s Victor A. Morgenstern Family Visiting Chair in Architecture for 2021–2022.

Utrabo is one of the most exciting young architects working in Latin America today. He won the 2018 Royal Institute of British Architecture International Prize for the world’s best new building, as well as the 2018 Instituto Tomie Ohtake AkzoNobel Architecture Award, for Children Village, a residential school complex for approximately 540 children on the edge of the northern Brazilian rainforest. His rural Xingu Canopies project was a finalist for the 2019 Tomie Ohtake AkzoNobel Architecture Award, and his work was listed in The Guardian’s 2019 Best Architecture of the twenty-first century. He was also a finalist for the IIT College of Architecture’s 2018 Mies Crown Hall Americas Prize for Emerging Architecture.

Rowe Family College of Architecture Endowed Chair Dean Reed Kroloff recently spoke with Utrabo.

Where did you grow up? 

I was born in the city of Curitiba in southern Brazil. 

Where were you educated? 

Most Brazilian students study close to their parents; it’s too expensive to live on your own. If you get good grades you can attend a public school, which I did. I was able to attend the Federal University of Parana [in Curitiba], and received a [five-year] degree in architecture and urban planning.

How did you start your practice?

Naively, I opened my own office right after school, in Curitiba; later I moved it to São Paulo. I started doing executive drawings for other offices at night, to maintain the office. During the day, I did my own projects, for competitions. It was the only way to convince someone to allow me to do a space study. I did some art installations—for museums, local businesses applying for tax reductions. I had to figure out something that had a strong concept and did not cost too much.

Which architects were early influences on you?

I really admire—which is why I'm so fortunate to go to IIT— Mies van der Rohe. He is a modern master. In Brazil, I admire Paulo Mendes da Rocha and Lina Bo Bardi. I think they both have really beautiful views of our society, and the ability to compose spaces that are striking, have a really powerful atmosphere, and are deeply connected to the technology of Brazil. 

A lot of your work focuses on sustainability. 

We don’t have any other way to go other than to be sustainable. The facts are clear. 

You’ve done a lot of work in rural areas of Brazil. How will that work influence you as you move to a major metropolitan area in another country? 

When working in rural areas, the projects are typically restrictive—the budgets and materials you have to use—and we don’t have good infrastructure. To do projects in these conditions, you have to have a keen understanding of labor and resources, which helps me with projects in urban areas. It’s not just about where you’re working; it’s how you approach the place, understand its technology, and understand its people. 

What impact do you hope to have on students?

You have to have the ability to adapt based on the resources you’re given, and to bring diverse perspectives. Students who learn this will for sure be more prepared for the future. When they graduate, they will have to solve many different problems; you prepare them by demonstrating different ways to research and analyze those problems.

Where do you see architecture going in the future?

It should be more inclusive. In terms of the pandemic, you have to think of public or open space—how our cities could be better places for us to live. In Chicago you have a lot of public spaces, but in Sao Paulo you don’t have that. I think we have to think more about this common ground.

Photo: Gustavo Utrabo (courtesy of Jesus Granada)