SESC stands for “Serviço Social do Comércio” (Social Service of Commerce) and operates in every state in Brazil. In São Paulo alone there are 35 branches in 19 cities. It is a non-profit institution founded in 1946 by businessmen with the intent of offering services in the educational, health, leisure, cultural, and medical care areas for their companies’s employees. It is, however, frequented by the general public.
One of the most popular SESCs in São Paulo city was inaugurated in 1982 in the neighborhood of Pompeia. It was built on the site of an old factory and still retains a lot of the original look. Its design is considered to be a high mark in the architectural world and was planned by Lina Bo Bardi, who is also famous for designing MASP (The Art Museum of São Paulo).
Since I had only been there in the evening to watch a lovely musical presentation by Renata Rosa, who brought her traditional Northeastern Maracatu music, I decided to take a better look around during the day.
The entrance to SESC Pompeia is situated near the corner of a very busy intersection at the start of Rua Clélia. It’s extraordinary how once you step through the threshold beneath the marque, the chaos of the city disperses in the air. People inside are calmly walking, eating, conversing, and completely disconnected to the world outside the walls.
The main strip lies between the old brown and red brick factory buildings. Inside the buildings there are various art, food, and leisure spaces. The most popular area is the theatre and draft beer space (Choperia Do SESC Pompeia). It is ample, holding 800 people, and hosts various spectacles (from plays to music acts) from across Brazil and the world. Monthly program guides can be found hanging on the walls, but are also easily accessible through SESC’s website.
The box office area doubles for a lounge and reading area. I went in and thought it very refreshing to see a bunch of Paulistanos digging into a book in the middle of the day instead of their various electronic devices.
I then headed back to the grey brick strip and followed it to the back. I had never been there before but was marveled by what I found. This was the true treasure of SESC Pompeia! There was a long wood deck occupied by a few sunbathers on the one very far end and the strangest architectural structures I had ever encountered in São Paulo on the other.
As I had stated, SESC Pompeia was constructed on the site of an old factory by famed architect Lina Bo Bardi. She made a conscious effort to keep most of the factory as it was, adding only some touches to bring life to the old buildings and sheds. But in the back we have two monolithic brutalist concrete structures with holes torn out for windows which create the center piece of SESCs architectural notoriety. They are connected by colorless zigzagging aerial walkways which dazzled my eyes from all angles. Despite the grandiosity of the structures they are very fluid, and did not take away from the laid back ambience of the space. Ms Bardi spoke of needing this essential simplicity in order to maintain people’s freedom to play, meet, and enjoy the surrounding area as they saw fit.
I stood back on the deck near the sunbathers and appreciated the delightful absurdity of the structures: I was then approached by a man from Rio de Janeiro. He made it clear that he thought they were the ugliest things he had ever seen. But he also told me about the importance of Lina Bo Bardi in Brazilian and international architectural history, and how these towers had been elected as one of the greatest concrete architectural marvels in the world. Sure enough, The Guardian had just recently elected the towers as the 6th greatest concrete structures in the world.
After walking around a bit more and snapping some pictures, I headed off to Agua Branca Park, another oasis in the city. But my time at SESC Pompeia, though short, was delightful and I look forward to going back with more time to kill. Though it is a wonderful place to see great cultural events (at decent prices), it doubles as a a great place to simply relax – it is peaceful, quite, and attractive. I also found the people who frequent it very friendly, polite, and informative. There was even a tour guide on premises which I stopped to listen to for a few minutes before leaving.
SESC Pompeia is on Rua Clélia 93. It is easily accessible by public transportation and only a five minute bus ride from Terminal Barra Funda. After you have gone there, take some time to visit the other great SESC’s around São Paulo, or in whatever part of Brazil you may be residing.
P. Ray 2016
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