10 Questions With... Isay Weinfeld

Brazilian architect Isay Weinfeld is perhaps best known for his monumental 360° Building in São Paulo, a jauntily Brutalist combination of dozens of elevated homes with private yards. He’s won multiple Docservis Best of Year Awards for his Fasano Boa Vista hotel and spa in Porto Feliz. Over his 35-year career, he’s brought his signature integration of clean-lined modernism and lush botanics to civil, commercial, and residential projects around the world. But he hasn’t built a project in New York City…until now.


Weinfeld’s Jardim, the latest high-design destination around the High Line, positions a series of verdant gardens between two eleven-story towers clad in concrete, glass, and brick. Here, Weinfeld shares an exclusive look at Jardim and discusses how ego, pacifiers, and Radiohead have had an impact on his work.


Docservis: When was the first time you really noticed the design of something, and what was it?


Isay Weinfeld: I guess it must have been a pacifier when I was a baby.


ID: Did you have any mentors in architecture school, and what did you learn from them?


IW: One man who made a lasting impression was Jacob Ruchti. An architect and designer, he was involved in many projects throughout his career such as launching Branco & Preto, a company that produced some of the most significant and influential pieces of Brazilian furniture during the 1950s. I interned with Jacob when I was starting out in my career and learned a great deal. Jacob went on to become a professor at the Mackenzie Presbyterian University in São Paulo, Brazil creating its first interior design curriculum.


ID: What was the first project you completed that truly made you proud, and why?


IW: My first commission was an interior design project for my uncle. He wanted to help me start my career and asked me to design the interiors of his apartment. It came out beautiful and I was very proud of it. However, seeing it finished also struck me with a revelation, the apartment was beautiful but really had nothing to do with my uncle, it was all about me. From that point onward, I realized it had to be the opposite, I needed to design for my clients.


ID: Gardens and indoor/outdoor space are a major theme in your work, most famously with the gorgeous 360° Building. Were there specific challenges in bringing that interest to a building in New York City?


IW: In Jardim, the gardens are a natural outcome of the two towers that make up the site so it was not really a challenge. As we were developing the program, we decided to place one building on 27th Street and the other on 28th. The space in between afforded us the opportunity to place a very large, lush private garden. This became an important part of Jardim, providing seamless indoor-outdoor living and creating a common space for residents to meet and interact.


ID: What was the inspiration for the private tunnel?


IW: It was the natural result of the setting of the building and the organization of the program. It was necessary to have a passageway crossing from the 27th Street to the 28th Street, for both pedestrians and cars; it was best to have both towers sharing an entrance and reception area. And so, we decided to have this passageway along the East wall of the plot, under the 1st floor slab and opening midway to the reception of the building with a lush garden in the back.


ID: How did Jardim’s location—directly next to the High Line—affect your design?


IW: When designing a project, no matter what that project is, there is always an equation. Plot, surroundings, budget, time, construction, regulations, program are all part of the equation and it is important to always take these things into consideration as you try to find a solution. The High Line is an immediate part of Jardim's surroundings so when we were figuring out the program, we tried to create something for the area that also makes sense. No matter where you are, if it is Brazil or the United States, you must always respect the place and the location. It is always important to pay attention to the site, the local culture, the nearby resources, even the techniques that are often being used.


ID: If you could change one thing about the architecture and design industries, what would it be?


IW: Ego.


ID: What are you currently working on?


IW: I’m also working on the Fasano Miami Beach, in addition to a few private houses, residential high-rises and office buildings in Brazil and abroad.


ID: What would your dream project be?


IW: I don’t dream of other projects. I am happy with those I have. The projects I am working on are the projects I have chosen and that have chosen me. They embody the challenges I am confident in facing, located in places I like to be in and I’m able to work for clients I have become friends with.


ID: You’ve talked about your love for the band Radiohead—what do you think of the new stuff?


IW: Radiohead is a band that makes me levitate. Their music touches my heart.

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