SESC 24 de Maio sports and cultural centre in São Paulo by Paulo Mendes da Rocha in cooperation with MMBB

published in sb 4/2018

Active living in the urban jungle

Culture, education, health, leisure and social work – these are the five pillars of the charitable organisation SESC that runs the SESC 24 de Maio sports and cultural centre. The 13-storey building houses a theatre with 216 seats, a cafeteria, library, children’s play area, exhibition rooms, offices, multifunctional rooms for gymnastics, yoga and exercise and, on the roof, a heatable 25m leisure swimming pool with a sun deck. Paulo Mendes da Rocha in cooperation with MMBB were responsible for the conversion of the former commercial building in the heart of São Paulo.

The SESC 24 de Maio houses a complex set of recreational and service facilities and occupies the former headquarters of a large department store in downtown São Paulo. It embodies the exemplary challenge of intervening in the context of an urban heritage site.
Taking such context into account, the design aims both at contributing effectively to the upgrading of such a remarkable area of the city, as well as at readapting the building structure to a completely new set of uses and specific programmes.

Conversion strategy

In order to bring about such goals – which were at the core of the design’s challenges and which guide its spatial character – a series of decisions on building techniques and infrastructural supply were taken.
Specific parts of the structure of the original building were demolished, maintaining its basic structural elements and central hall originating on the vertical void around which the new design is structured. A new and autonomous building structure was constructed, supported by four main pillars that configure the central void, sustaining a series of large interleaved halls, as well as the sun deck and swimming pool volume that crown the building on the roof.

The building’s former car park was converted into a theatre by slightly lowering its level while, at the same time, carefully respecting the limits and structural foundations of the neighbouring building. An elaborate mechanical emergency system for smoke exhaustion was developed which services all building levels, as required by local fire regulations. Its complexity allowed a variety of spatial arrangements – such as double floors and a completely open circulation network – that would normally not be allowed in a building with such specific uses and design constraints.

Gallery character

At ground level, the large open square represents the central idea of public placemaking, designed as a free passage with a gallery character that is directly linked to the exciting surroundings of the neighbourhood. The former underground car park was transformed into a café and a theatre, in a direct relationship with the lively streets surrounding it.

The vertical circulation system composed of a generous sequence of ramps outlines a clear and continuous circuit that creates an architectural promenade and playfully connects the wider urban spaces of the city to the various indoor programmes of the SESC building.
A variety of open spaces at strategic levels that are designed as covered elevated squares appear to open the building to its surroundings. Such spaces – such as the conviviality square and the swimming pool garden – are not enclosed with façades but act as hanging gardens along the open circulation network of ramps.

Overlapping structures

To avoid the monotony of having the same room structure on every floor, the spaces are arranged on different levels. This creates the character of a great hall. Upper and overhead galleries provide space for dedicated programmes. The structures create enclosures for sitting and relaxing. Circulation has been enhanced with the introduction of large ramps connecting each floor.

The building is notable for its universal accessibility. Rooms for the social services of the charitable organisation SESC are accommodated in the building as well as a library and a dentist’s surgery comprising 14 treatment rooms and an X-ray unit.

On the 8th floor are two climbing walls: a vertical (6m high) and a horizontal wall, also known as a bouldering wall, with 65 m² of scalable surface. The climbing walls are open to all under supervision from a minimum age of 7. The same floor provides space for tennis, athletics, artistic gymnastics, wrestling and archery.

The floor between the tenth and eleventh storeys is partially open in order to create extra space for exercise and many sports that need a higher ceiling.

In addition to the restaurant on the fourth floor there is a garden on the 13th floor in which patrons can enjoy musical performances, yoga and tai chi courses and a café.

Swimming pool on the roof

On the roof, a spacious square is available for sunbathing. The swimming pool measuring 25 m is ideal for lessons in water aerobics and swimming, and offers recreation to anyone of any age. The pool is up to 1.4 m deep and the water is heated. The changing rooms are located on the floor beneath. The technical and mechanical infrastructure is concentrated on an annex structure that acts as an isolated service tower. For this purpose, all infrastructure has been condensed in an extension that has been built on a contiguous property abandoned years before.

Operator’s goals

SESC stands for Serviço Social do Comércio and is the organisation for employees of the tourism and service industry. The organisation oversees 38 activity centres bringing together various fields of expertise, articulated through a variety of cultural, educational, sports, leisure and health programmes. This institution also supports national and international partnerships through numerous projects relating to music, theatre, dance, circus, literature and visual arts.

SESC’s activities are guided by its educational ethics as well as the pursuit of broad social wellbeing, in which the term culture is understood in its broadest sense. This means that universal accessibility to the spaces and contents offered by the institution enhances the democratisation of cultural values as a form of individual autonomy and the practice of citizenship.

SESC 24 de Maio opened in August 2017 and has received more than 1,257,500  visitors within the first six months.