When Ana Paula Arato Gonçalves was 12, her history teacher assigned homework that would set the course of her career: draw a building in your hometown of Jaú, Brazil. Most of the students disliked the assignment, but Arato Gonçalves discovered a passion for architecture.
Jaú, in the state of São Paulo, is peppered with modern buildings designed by architects like João Batista Vilanova Artigas, founder of the Paulista School, an informal group of architects who embraced exposed concrete structures, block-like shapes, and rough finishes. “I think it’s fascinating the way concrete is used,” Arato Gonçalves said. “You can make sculptural forms, curves, and geometric shapes. The sky is the limit if you are creative and understand the technology.”
Arato Gonçalves, who would go on to study architecture and historic preservation, says her favorite building is her hometown bus terminal designed by Vilanova Artigas. The building is set on a slope, a continuation of the outdoor environment, connecting with the surrounding area at different levels. “I love how the circulation is fluid and integrates all spaces and levels, outdoor and indoor,” said Arato Gonçalves. The roof is supported by sculptural columns that remind me of tree trunks growing into branches. As a child, she accompanied her parents to the bus terminal to see her father off on his weekly trips to São Paulo. Later she would make the trip in reverse when she moved to São Paulo to attend high school, and university at the School of Architecture and Urbanism of the University of São Paulo (FAUUSP), also designed by Vilanova Artigas.
When she first got to FAUUSP, Arato Gonçalves felt like she was entering a “sibling building,” since it reminded her of the bus terminal in Jaú. “I knew this environment, so it didn’t feel daunting or intimidating at all,” she said. “It felt very familiar and I immediately liked it.” There was the same fluidity of passage from outside to inside with the exterior sidewalk transitioning into an interior ramp. Double trapezoid pillars that look almost too delicate support the massive roof.
At FAUUSP she learned about the history of architecture, the philosophy behind it, and how to design buildings. She “fell in love with conservation” because it was a way to marry her interest in art and architecture with science. “I am particularly interested in the deterioration of exposed reinforced concrete,” she said. “The corrosion of the steel bars in concrete is one of the most common causes of deterioration and is very difficult to treat because causes such as water, oxygen, chlorides (salts), and carbon dioxide are present in the environment, and repair can be very invasive.”
Now a research associate at the Getty Conservation Institute, Arato Gonçalves is focusing on the conservation of culturally significant concrete structures, and recently coauthored Conservation Principles for Concrete of Cultural Significance. Arato Gonçalves says the field comes with its own challenges, including the need to balance conservation requirements of historic concrete with standard concrete repair methods, as well as aesthetic considerations. “If a project is not careful in balancing those two demands—technical and aesthetic—with a clear conservation-based approach, the result can be quite disappointing.”
Arato Gonçalves found a prime example of this challenge at her own alma mater when the Vilanova Artigas building at the architecture school was repaired. “Repairs carried out on the façade between 2012 and 2015 currently stand out from the original concrete,” she said. Before coming to Getty, she was part of the team behind a Keeping It Modern grant to more effectively conserve that building.
While Arato Gonçalves is enthusiastic about concrete repair, the medium doesn’t necessarily have a good reputation. In 2019, the Guardian called concrete the most destructive material on earth. This is due in part to the manufacturing process for cement, which is a key component of concrete and accounts for approximately 8 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions annually. We now recognize that adding and replacing concrete buildings is not sustainable from an environmental or societal perspective. Creative and innovative minds are already developing concrete that will leave a smaller carbon footprint.
Many concrete structures are barely 50 years old, and people wonder why we should safeguard something so omnipresent. Meanwhile, numerous culturally significant buildings face the wrecking ball or have already been demolished in recent years, including Prentice Women’s Hospital and Maternity Center in Chicago and New Delhi’s Hall of Nations, razed in 2013 and 2017 respectively. “Concrete is part of our modern history,” said Arato Gonçalves. “It deserves a careful and knowledgeable approach to its care.”
Ana Paula Arato Gonçalves joined the Getty Conservation Institute in 2017. She was a professional fellow from 2017 to 2020, and is currently a research associate. She holds a bachelor’s degree in architecture from the School of Architecture and Urbanism at the University of São Paulo, and earned a master’s degree in Historic Preservation from the University of Pennsylvania, after which she served as a 2011–12 graduate intern at the Getty Conservation Institute. Returning to Brazil in 2012, she worked as an architect in private practice and for public institutions engaged in the conservation of modern buildings and focused on the conservation of modern concrete.
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