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José Zanine Caldas

José Zanine Caldas was born in Belmonte, at the southern coast of Bahia, in 1919. Son to a doctor, Zanine was an autodidact who from a young age was fascinated with his environment and especially trees.

While most architects of his generation studied extensively, Zanine developed his own style through doing and making and at the age of 20 decided to exchange Bahia for Rio de Janeiro. There he opened up a workshop for architectural scale-models and had the chance to work with pioneering modern architects like Lucio Costa and Oscar Niemeyer. Although excluded by a large part of the architectural community because of his lack of education, these so prominent professional brothers weren’t judgmental and admired Zanine’s skills and problem solving solutions.

While traveling extensively through Africa (and later China), Zanine immersed himself in various cultures and peoples. Deeply moved by the local customs in the places he visited, Zanine started to feel how similar man is across the globe, maintaining similar self-sufficient practices, while living in harmony with nature.

And thus in 1950, only 2 years after having started the company Fábrica de Móveis Artísticos Z, that produced semi-mass produced sinuously shaped plywood furniture, he decided to leave the company and return to his home state Bahia.

Inspired by the local craftsmen who carved boats and furniture from fallen trees, Zanine began experimenting with chiseling and carving large, sculptural works, which became the focus of his later career. At the same time Zanine became more and more cognizant and conscientious of his environment, and specifically the Brazilian landscape, that was rapidly being clear-cut and destroyed as room was being made for livestock and agriculture.

Almost logically Zanine became a big advocate for preservation and in the 1980's, he established the Foundation Center for the Development of the Application of Brazilian Woods (DAM), in an effort to educate and reverse the immediate and rampant destruction of the rain forests in Brazil.

“When I feel that our country is in the midst of an urban consumerist epidemic and is eagerly deprecating the forests, I remember my father: We must cure it.”

Up until his death in 2001, Zanine kept his natural visions alive, and would plant a new tree in place of any tree that was taken down for one of his projects. ~HG.


Interesting literature:

Zanine: Sentir E Fazer, Suely Ferreira Da Silva, Brazil,1994