Photo © Leonardo Finotti

Livraria da Vila

Isay Weinfeld

São Paulo, Brazil

For a store on a tight, midblock site in a chic neighborhood, Isay Weinfeld lets the books do the talking.

By Bill Hinchberger

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If you don’t think books can make a spectacular entrance, visit the Livraria da Vila in São Paulo’s haute Jardim Paulista neighborhood. While visitors to South America’s largest city are often disoriented by its sprawl, they can find architectural gems tucked away in urban nooks and crannies.

When the Livraria da Vila, a bookstore intent on becoming a chain, approached São Paulo architect Isay Weinfeld about designing a store on a street called Alameda Lorena, he devised a scheme that would place books themselves at the forefront by using pivoting bookcases at the main entrance and making the merchandise itself the principal element of the interior design.


Born in the city’s hippie-tinged Vila Madalena district, Livraria da Vila asked Weinfeld to adapt its bohemian attitude to the sometimes snooty Jardim Paulista area where the streets are lined with exclusive fashion and lingerie boutiques. Weinfeld appreciated the challenge of translating one neighborhood’s culture for the denizens of another, but he didn’t lose sight of the financial bottom line. “For me to take on a commercial project,” he says, “I have to see how the architecture is going to help the business reach its sales targets.”


“The books are the most important thing,” says Weinfeld of his design. Few people can walk past the store without stopping or making a mental note to come back later. When it is closed, the store presents no visible entrance — just rows of glass-encased bookshelves smartly lit. When it is open, customers walk between one-story-high walls of books that have swung open to reveal the store’s interior. Such an entrance recalls Brazil’s informal corner bars, called botequins, which spill out onto the street. Weinfeld is known for designing dramatic entries to his buildings, a tendency that many critics chalk up to his love of cinema. Above the pivoting bookshelves sits a stark rectangular cement facade, adorned only at the top with the store name. While film-loving architects are hardly rare, few have made their own films as Weinfeld has, codirecting the cult film Fogo e Paixão (Fire and Passion) with fellow architect Marcio Kogan.

Weinfeld admits to an addiction to shops for used books, especially places that evoke a sense of organized chaos and intellectual serendipity. At Livraria da Vila he conjures that effect with a combination of elements: low ceilings, indirect lighting, a hodgepodge of furnishings, wood shelves that cover the walls top to bottom with books, and comfortable chairs for customers who want to flop and browse.

The general literature section occupies the ground floor with a small kitchen tucked into a back corner. Cash registers sit in an alcove to the left as customers exit, creating an effect more reminiscent of a library checkout than a commercial establishment. Upstairs, the store offers a movies and music section and a café. The architect placed the children’s section and a small auditorium in the basement. “To sell more, we had to create a pleasant place, a comfortable place,” notes the architect. “People need to feel free to spend some time and maybe buy a book.”

To visually connect the basement to the street level, Weinfeld cut an oval opening in the ceiling of the lower level and — of course — lined it with books. So in a single gesture, he both brings light into the lower level and creates a wonderful sense of books overflowing. The cutout also allows parents on the main floor to peer into the children’s area, where bright lights and colorful, play-friendly furnishings cater to a younger age group. A straight stair topped with an aluminum-framed skylight runs along one side of the store, connecting all three floors.

Weinfeld designed the 8,500-square-foot store as a concrete-frame structure reinforced with steel beams. Because it is a low-rise building set on a midblock lot, the architect had to be creative in bringing daylight in. So he used the pivoting front doors and brought light in from above the stair.


As Weinfeld had hoped, the Livraria da Vila has become a place where people can hang out and “maybe buy a book.” Frequent readings, book signings, lectures, and storytelling sessions generate bustle. The popular children’s section seems indispensable today, yet it came at the expense of a small garage that the owners had originally envisioned for the basement. Since parking is at a premium in the Jardim district of car-obsessed São Paulo, some people might debate the wisdom of this trade-off. And others might criticize the small auditorium, seemingly carved out as an afterthought, somewhat incongruously next to the kids’ section. As for the store’s striking street facade, it has become an informal trademark for the Livraria da Vila brand, and Weinfeld used it again at a subsequent store in the new Cidade Jardim shopping mall.

Bill Hinchberger is the founding editor of the online guide

Completion Date: April 2007

Gross square footage: 8,500 sq.ft.

Owner: Samuel Seibel

Isay Weinfeld
Rua Andre Fernandes 175
04536-020 - São Paulo – SP
Tel. +55 11 3079.7581
Fax. +55 11 3079.5656


August 2010
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