Midcentury Rio: A Tropical Phenomenon

15 - 29 April 2020

Virtual Exhibition


The midcentury is one of the most revered periods for modern design, with many regions and sometimes entire countries becoming associated with a particular style. In Brazil, while designers shared some common traits – creating with warmth, ease, and inventiveness -, production was, in fact, very diverse. Especially in Rio, a small community was able to foster remarkably distinct and talented voices that still have much resonance today.

The reasons for why Brazilian design was booming in the midcentury are varied. There was a general optimism in the air that made the population feel the waves of progress positively. Rather than holding on to a vague idea of the past, Brazilians looked forward to the future and embraced modernity, all the while holding on to the traits that made the nation unique. 

Even though there was hardship, there was also a sense of freedom. It is no wonder that the sensual fusion of jazz and samba – Bossa Nova – was born in Rio in the late 1950s. “Bossa” was a slang word of the period that denoted something hip, or an aptitude for something. Naturally, Sergio Rodrigues always described his furniture as full of bossa. And while there were often technical constraints to produce on a large scale, nothing felt constraining about society. Instead, these industrial limitations served as fuel to create new ways of making things.

We invite you to travel in space and time with the wonderful creations of Joaquim Tenreiro, Jose Zanine Caldas, and Sergio Rodrigues. And for an even more immersive experience, why not dive in the Copacabana waters or go up Sugar Loaf mountain through this beautiful compilation of period footage of Rio de Janeiro 

Cover image: 1960s postcard of Rio de Janeiro.