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Sculptured side table by José Zanine Caldas (Belmonte, 1918 - Victoria, 2001)

The Frank Wlasek collection, created by José Zanine Caldas in the late 1960s, contains the largest amount of custom-made furniture and sculptures by the architect-designer ever to be seen, and which has been kept together to this day. More than 30 pieces make up this collection, ranging from monumental dining tables made out of entire tree trunks or roots of tropical salvaged hardwood, large series of Caldas' well-known trunk chairs and several masterpieces of sculpture, large works that are spherical and elongated to be hung from the ceiling.

In the late 1960s, collector and shipping magnate Frank Wlasek settled in Joatinga near Rio de Janeiro, after buying the home José Zanine Caldas had originally created for his daughter. Upon acquiring it, Wlasek commissioned Zanine Caldas to expand the house, turning it into the most prestigious residence by his hand.

The Wlasek residence in Joatinga

The region of Joatinga is located southwest from Rio de Janeiro, on the hills along the Atlantic Ocean. It was here that in 1964 José Zanine Caldas would for the first time get a chance to truly develop his vision of ecological architecture, a theme that would continue to guide his work for the rest of his life.

Over the course of three decades, Caldas designed approximately thirty houses on the site, houses that incorporated modern layouts and were adapted to the local landscape, providing solutions for its architectural challenges. Situated on the hill overlooking the ocean, Caldas created two residences for his family, one for himself and one for his daughter. In the late 1960s, Caldas' daughter left Joatinga, and Frank Wlasek acquired the house. While the original house served as the center point on the most elevated position, José Zanine Caldas created a new wing on each side of the house, both hanging over the cliffs and largely exceeding the footprint of the original house. The whole is organically connected to the landscape and to the original architecture.

All materials are salvaged, carefully selected by Zanine during special jungle expeditions. Everything is made of solid tropical wood - even the roof construction inside is compiled of solid cross-sectioned woodblocks, creating not only a very sturdy construction but a highly original interior that ages beautifully. The elevated situation on the hillside of Joatinga brings the inhabitants and its visitors up to the ocean's horizon and its islands. The interior of the house is constantly connected with the wild, surrounding nature by means of long corridors and large, Asian-inspired windows.

Frank Wlasek also asked Zanine to furnish the house with his unique Denuncia pieces of furniture and sculptures. The outside terraces of the house were filled with pieces like the famous Namoradeira chairs and sculptures shown in an organic mix. Some of these were exhibited in Paris during the show in the Musée des Arts Decoratifs in 1989.

José Zanine Caldas

Born on the southern coast of Bahia, in a town called Belmonte, José Zanine Caldas moved to Rio de Janeiro in 1938, to start a workshop producing architectural scale models. Through his work he met a number of iconic Brazilian architects such as Oscar Niemeyer and Lúcio Costa.

When plywood was introduced in the Brazilian construction market in the early 1940s, Zanine soon realized this material lent itself perfectly to the mass production of furniture. Along with several partners, he founded the furniture company Moveis Artisticos Z, but left in 1952 due to internal conflicts. He continued his work as a scale modeller and furniture designer in São Paulo, where he also became active as a landscape designer, architect, and modelling teacher at the University's Faculty of Architecture and Urbanism.

In 1958, José Zanine Caldas was invited to Brasília to join the design team. It was here, under the auspices of Oscar Niemeyer and Lúcio Costa, that José Zanine Caldas designed his first houses. His work in Brasília was applauded by his peers, as became clear when he later came under fire for building houses without an architect's license, and Lúcio Costa declared he would sign off on any project Zanine proposed. Chancellor Darcy Ribeiro secured Caldas an appointment at the newly established University of Brasília to teach model-making. His teaching career was cut short however, with the onset of the military regime in 1964, when the leftist Zanine de Caldas quickly became a political untouchable.

It was at this point in his life that José Zanine de Caldas came to the hills of Joatinga, where his longstanding environmental concerns first came to the fore.

In 1968 Caldas' return to his home state of Bahia announced the most expressive phase of his career. In the town of Nova Viçosa Caldas and the artist Frans Krajcberg created a utopian ecological reserve, employing over 50 craftsmen to produce the homes and furniture pieces. As a protest against the deforestation of the Atlantic Forest - today almost extinct - Zanine only used wood that survived the burnings, such as pequi and aquariquara. With the help of local canoeists, the logs were carved to create benches, tables and armchairs. Organic and crude, they remind pieces by American George Nakashima, Swedish Axel Einar Hjorth or Frenchman Alexandre Noll.

Zanine interfered minimally in the natural forms, leaving alive the memory of forest's destruction, and for that reason named the line "furniture-denunciation". He worked with respect, employing only salvaged wood and attempting to plant a new tree for every one that was taken down for his projects.

The work of José Zanine Caldas is a testament to the power of natural wood and its beauty as a material. A pioneer in the field of forest preservation and ecology, Zanine Caldas' intent was to plant a new tree every time another was cut down for one of his projects. He wrote several essays on the relationship between Brazil's forests and its people, drawing inspiration and knowledge from architectural history, philosophy and local folk tales.

His designs were exhibited in the celebrated exhibition Zanine: l'Architecte et la Forêt in the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris in 1989 and have been shown in the Museu de Arte Moderna of Rio (MAM-RJ) and the Museu de Arte of São Paulo (MASP). In 2019, the architect's 100th birthday was celebrated; with the opening of his own museum in Nova Viçosa designed by Marcio Kogan, the launch of a variant of the Z furniture at Etel, the publication of a large monograph to appear towards the end of the year, and the addition of several pieces to the design section in the new wing of the Metropolitan Museum in NYC.


- CHEN A., Brazil Modern: The Rediscovery of Twentieth-Century Brazilian Furniture, New York 2016.

- FERREIRA DA SILVA S., Zanine - sentir e Frazer, Rio de Janeiro 1988.

- VARGAS J., Desenho da utopia, São Paulo 2016.

- VASCONELLOS M. & BRAGA M.L., Móvel Brasileiro Moderno, Rio de Janeiro 2012.

- VICENTE A. & VASCONCELLOS M., Móvel Moderno Brasileiro - Brazilian Modern Design, São Paulo 2017.

Object information

Angelim (Hymenolobium Leguminosae)
Date and place:
Brazil, 1979
80 x 202 x 54 cm
Private collection Frank Wlasek, Joatinga, Brazil, until 2012; Acquired directly from the artist.

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