Brazil's Master Builder

© Laura Guedes /Studio mk27

Sao Paulo-based architect Marcio Kogan is bringing his muscular minimalism Stateside.

The Brazilian architect Marcio Kogan is not one bit like Howard Roark, the uncompromising modernist in Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead, the maverick who dynamites a building that deviated from his design. “As an architect, my mission is to be a prostitute,” Kogan says at his Studio mk27 office in São Paulo. “I like to give pleasure to others. And to get paid for it.”

The bearded and bespectacled 63-year-old maestro has done both in equal measures, designing and building award-winning, radically horizontal houses throughout Brazil. Lean and languorous, like the backdrop for a Tom Ford campaign, Kogan’s work has reinvigorated his hometown, taking the reins of contemporary Brazilian architecture from his famed modernist predecessors: the late Oscar Niemeyer, Lúcio Costa, and Lina Bo Bardi.

Like Niemeyer, Kogan has become an ambassador for Brazilian architecture, bringing his brand of clean lines and elegant minimalism to the United States, with high-profile clients, like Peter Morton, and residences in Los Angeles; Whistler, Canada; and Palm Beach. Studio mk27 is undertaking projects on four continents (such as the transformation of a 1960s office tower in the Plaça Francesc Macià neighborhood of Barcelona into eight luxury apartments), and it will bring Kogan’s signature indoor-outdoor tropical modernism to the hippest resort in Bali.

“Marcio has a very good sense of volume and space, resulting in simple but dramatic architecture,” says Ronald Akili, the CEO and founder of PTT Family, a hospitality company. Akili, the hotelier of the famed Potato Head Beach Club resort, in Bali, tapped Kogan to design a second resort in Bali, the Canggu Beach Club, after seeing his 2009 Paraty House, in Brazil—two stacked concrete boxes that appear to levitate above the beach, devoid of support columns that would otherwise block the ocean vistas.

For the project at Canggu, tentatively scheduled to be completed in 2017, Kogan brought a new perspective to the landscape of Bali, creating a design that streamlines the more ornate and vertical architecture of Indonesia into sleek, low-slung, undulating structures made of bamboo and glass with concrete-slab exterior walkways.

Kogan’s minimalist buildings feel lithe yet muscular—deftly defining long, lean spaces that almost demand to be photographed in a wide-screen letterbox format. It is not surprising to learn that Kogan, also an accomplished filmmaker who, in the 1970s, began making short films with a Super 8 camera, has always seen the world through the viewfinder of a movie camera. “The proportions of the movie screen and the importance of natural light became reflected in my architecture,” he says.

Kogan’s father, Aron, who built some of São Paulo’s most impressive skyscrapers in the 1950s and took his young son to construction sites, was also an inspiration.

“I was born in a very modern house that my father designed with all the new electronics,” Kogan recalls, likening it to the Villa Arpel, the comically automated atomic-age home in Jacques Tati’s 1958 film, Mon Oncle. “But I had a very sad childhood because my father died when I was eight,” he adds matter-of-factly. One day, when he was in his teens and cutting class in school, it began to rain and he took shelter in a movie theater. “They were showing The Silence, by Ingmar Bergman, and this film changed my life,” he says. “I understood the meaning of the word art. I had been living a black-and-white life, and after that film, my life became Technicolor.”

For the first two decades of his career, Kogan divided his time between making movies and designing homes and apartment buildings, including the one where he still lives today. His short films met with critical acclaim, but his first outing as a director, Fire and Passion (a full-length feature about characters on a bus tour in São Paulo), in 1988, was a fiasco. “This was tragic for me,” he says. “It wasn’t a good film, and I lost all my money and all my clients. I needed to begin from zero.”

Since then, Kogan has focused on architecture, referencing the International Style introduced in Brazil by Le Corbusier (who, in the 1930s, consulted on the Ministry of Education building in Rio de Janeiro, kick-starting the careers of modernists Costa and Niemeyer) while adding brilliant engineering and luxury to minimalist designs. “Kogan’s architecture brings back the best from modernism in Brazil,” says David Basulto, a cofounder of the architecture site ArchDaily.com, “but with a contemporary twist—large spans, open interrupted spaces, Brazilian-made light filters known as cobogós, and simple details put together carefully as a scenography to enjoy life.”

In 2012 Kogan’s Studio mk27 represented Brazil in the Venice Biennale. Returning to his roots as a filmmaker, Kogan directed a witty, sexy short about the imagined lives of the people who reside in his famous houses.

“There is a big relation between films and architecture,” says Kogan, who recently completed the L’And Reserve Hotel and Spa, in Alentejo, Portugal. “Both try to evoke emotions and take you on a journey that is not so boring,” he says. “There is no humor in architecture, and perhaps there should be.”

Image Credits: © Laura Guedes /Studio mk27