Cais do Sertão

Brasil Arquitetura

Recife, Brazil

April 2018


Francisco Fanucci and Marcelo Ferraz



Governo do Estado de Pernambuco


Nelson Kon


The functions of a museum per se were installed in the old warehouse, inaugurated in 2014, with a long-term exhibit in honor of Luiz Gonzaga and the sertanejo world. The new building, inaugurated in 2018, holds an auditorium with three hundred seats, showrooms for temporary exhibits and courses, collection storage, library, and a traditional sertanejo restaurant on the roof garden. From there, one can see the old Recife town, on one side, and the sea and the great reef, on the other.
We employed ocher yellow pigmented concrete in this new building, a reference to the desiccated soil of sertão. We designed a great gap of approximately 65 meters, with a structure of prestressed concrete, right in front of the Malakoff Tower, to create a large covered plaza, a shelter from the hard sun and many raining spells of the city. This covered plaza functions as an urban veranda, allowing for a great number of usages.


Anthropologist Antonio Risério, who wrote the foundational text of the museum, appointed our firm, and we were commissioned to design the project by the Ministry of Culture. We wanted to think about the spaces and the sensations to be created in the visitor, about the information to be conveyed, and in the experiences to be shared in the museum. For its construction, the government of the state of Pernambuco assigned the location at a warehouse in the old Recife harbor and a large adjoining area. It was an area by the seaside, in the historic island where the city was born, near ground zero.
As we delved into the work of Gonzaga, we came upon the obvious: Nobody sang of sertão1 better than him. There is not a single aspect of life in sertão that has been left out of his almost seven hundred songs, true gems of Brazilian music. We decided that the museum should, as it sang Luiz Gonzaga, sing about sertão as well and, conversely, tell the story of the genius creator who sang sertão. As it was no longer a museum in sole honor of the musician, it should bring the sertão to the seaside, a move that would open our eyes to a fantastic universe of possibilities, at once, rich and poor, tragic and festive, violent and poetic, a universe inhabited by the great population of this vast territory called sertão.
And so, Cais do Sertão Luiz Gonzaga was born. In consonance with the urban planning guidelines of the state of Pernambuco and of the city of Recife to keep the old warehouses of the port intact, giving them new use classes, we began to develop the project, with the appropriation of one of those warehouses (2.500 square meters) and the creation of a new building (5.000 square meters) connected to it.


However, the most important architectural element of the project is the giant cobogó (1), created especially for this project. It is fitting to use such designs in Recife, the city where cobogó was created. The device softens the distinction of inner and outer spaces: A filter of light for the inside and a sweet and smooth façade for the outside. The giant cobogó is formed by 2.100 pieces of 1m x 1m, weighting 140 kilos each, with a pattern that references the deciduous trees of caatinga or the desiccation cracks on the ground, so common in sertão. Other interpretations are, of course, possible. Either way, it constitutes a white lace over the yellowed concrete.
If we had to summarize in a nutshell what Cais do Sertão Luiz Gonzaga is, we would say that it constitutes the dialogue between technique and poetics, high-tech and low-tech. It is the encounter of a rich and rigorous content with the possibility of free interpretation and enjoyment. It is, at last, a place for aesthetic fruition: Sertão by the seaside.
(1) T.N.: Hollow element, usually made of cement, which completes walls to allow greater ventilation and brightness inside buildings.