BRAZIL’s largest city São Paulo has long been the heart of the country’s cultural, food, and design scenes — but in recent years, the city has also become a hub for sustainability and innovation.
“With the pandemic, the sustainability movement has grown a lot,” said Kika Olsen, best known for her “upcycled” jewellery designs in São Paulo. “People started looking at a brand’s values and not only for the design.”
Olsen K, Olsen’s jewellery line, is committed to producing jewellery that uses every part of the stone, not just those classified as precious. She’s also found a creative solution to one of the biggest contributors to waste in the world of design — packaging. The brand’s jewellery come in brightly coloured geometric boxes meant to be displayed or repurposed. Customers have turned the boxes into pencil holders, embroidery, and even lamps, Olsen said.
Kika Olsen with her reusable geometric packaging boxes
São Paulo’s hotels, too, are helping introduce new, sustainable practices to the city’s hospitality industry — most notably Unique Garden, located in the outskirts of the Cantareira State Park, roughly 30 kilometres from downtown São Paulo.
The hotel has 29 separate accommodations, designed by Japanese-Brazilian architect Ruy Ohtake, which dot the landscape in splashes of orange, purple, and yellow — and provide a momentary break from the property’s surrounding greenery. With more than 30,000 trees on site, guests can increase this number even further by planting a tree of their own during their stay.
A brightly coloured villa amid several of the 30,000 trees at Unique Garden
Residences at Unique Garden
With over 300,000 square meters of protected Atlantic Forest to explore, guests don’t run into one another very often — but they just might encounter one of the property’s more permanent residents. Over 250 dogs call Unique Garden home, and most are available for adoption — quite a few guests have left with a new four-legged best friend.
Unique Garden’s guests are not the only ones receiving spa-like treatment. The property pumps classical music throughout its gardens to encourage growth, a trick that appears to be working. The site’s Mediterranean-inspired, farm-to-table restaurant is comprised almost entirely of herbs, fruits and vegetables grown on site, and is sustainable down to the last bite — leftover produce is composted and used in the property’s gardens as fertilizer.
Bel Coelho, a chef specializing in Afro-Brazilian food, is a rising star in the city’s booming restaurant scene — and also a leader in making the city’s gastronomy more sustainable. Her best-known project, Clandestino Restaurant, features a pre-fix dinner that constantly changes. The Orixás menu pays homage to Brazil’s Candomblé religion, while Frustas Nativas celebrates the country’s rich array of local fruits, like uvaia, jabuticaba, and grumixama. Coelho opens Clandestino restaurant for just one week a month to give herself time for other ventures — which most recently includes Cuia Café, a restaurant located inside Edifício Copan, Oscar Niemeyer’s famed wave-shaped building.
Fish of the day with butter beans salad at Bel Coelho’s Cuia Café
“For me, the most relevant current movement in Sao Paulo is focused on the activism of several female chefs,” Coelho said. Chefs like Paola Carosella of Arturito and Bela Gil of Camélia Ododo, she said, source the majority of their ingredients from local, pesticide-free farmers — and are encouraging the rest of the industry to do the same.
Tropikkal, a new restaurant in the upscale Jardin’s district, is also bringing local flavours and a fresh approach to São Paulo’s food scene. Co-owners wanted to create a space that was equal parts restaurant, cocktail bar and nightclub — and that didn’t relegate guests to a single seat or table within the space.
Waiters give guests a QR-coded wristband when they first arrive, allowing them to order food or drink from anywhere within the two-level property. Guests sip on Jambu Mules, made with cachaça infused with a tongue-numbing herb sourced from the Brazilian Amazon, and snack on tapioca or “beijú” — a crepe-like bread common in the northeast of the country — all while freely wandering the space.
A cocktail at Tropikkal
Guto Requena, another leader in São Paulo’s sustainability movement, has a particular interest in helping people develop an emotional attachment to the objects they acquire as a way to reduce waste.
“Design is in crisis,” Requena said, whose design and architecture studio is based in the city. “We don’t need another chair or another table — we need to rethink the way we are designing.”
As part of his ongoing series, “Love Project,” Requena places sensors on a client’s head, and then asks them to narrate a personal love story. Using technology that’s now available as an app, he then moulds the data produced into one-of-a-kind objects, like sculptures or jewellery, that become physical representation of that love story.
Designed objects created through Guto Requena’s “Love Project”
Requena is hopeful that São Paulo can maintain its momentum in sustainability, but it will require continued innovation, political will, and support from the public. With the right combination, “Brazil has a powerful potential to advance the sustainability movement,” he said.
by David Dodge
For additional info, visit Unique Garden