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A Macro View of São Paulo
  • Hotel Unique

    Hotel Unique

  • Hotel Unique

    Hotel Unique

  • Hotel Unique

    Hotel Unique

  • Hotel Unique

    Hotel Unique

  • Hotel Unique

    Hotel Unique

  • Tivoli São Paulo Mofarrej

    Tivoli São Paulo Mofarrej

  • Tivoli São Paulo Mofarrej

    Tivoli São Paulo Mofarrej

  • Tivoli São Paulo Mofarrej

    View from Tivoli São Paulo Mofarrej

CHEAT SHEET
WHERE

The largest city in the southern hemisphere, São Paulo is Brazil’s economic and cultural capital.

WHY GO

A megalopolis in the most literal sense, São Paulo is growing fast — and so is its non-stop nightlife.

HOW

São Paulo has three commercial airports, including the venerable Guarulhos, which was Brazil’s first.

TABLET TIP

With seven million cars crammed into the city on any given day, traffic is a challenge. The subway is clean, though like LA’s it can’t cover the whole sprawling city. The most efficient (and greenest) option is the bicycle: check out U-bike for rentals.

São Paulo, August, 2013

Spend enough time gazing at cityscapes and you start to organize them into two camps: there are those that spread out so far they seem to bend past the horizon, as in Paris or Beijing, and there are those so dense, as in Hong Kong or New York, that you can practically feel them buckling from below, as if by tectonic force. São Paulo, almost impossibly, is both, as much a vertical city as it is a sprawling one, ballooning like the fabric of space in every direction at once. It feels unstoppable — and, from the right perch, also really, really cool.

The right perch is atop the roof of Hotel Unique, ringed by glass walls and the low-slung Jardim Paulista neighborhood. Unlike most urban hotel rooftops, it essentially presents a view of the surrounding megalopolis from below. The city rises and rolls away in every direction, the hotel a singular ark-shaped structure as unexpected as the little park-like divot — a sudden green gasp in an ocean of construction-gray — where it makes its home. To judge by those who populate the rooftop during the day, when it’s guests-only, the scenery is best enjoyed nonchalantly, in the reposed comfort of a parasol-shaded lounger by the side of the blood-red pool. It’s as if being all but engulfed by the continent’s largest city, atop perhaps its most architecturally striking hotel, simply weren’t no thing. Excellent cocktails and friendly poolside service help considerably.

Hotel Unique is only ten years old, built in 2003 on a design by Ruy Ohtake, perhaps Brazil’s most accomplished living architect (with due respect to Isay Weinfeld). It’s one of a handful of São Paulo’s architectural landmarks that bear Ohtake’s signature, including the Ohtake Institute, a tribute to his mother; the Edificio Santa Catarina, a gleaming block with rounded-off edges floating above Avenida Paulista; and the Conjunto Habitacional, a series of cylindrical residential towers with bright pops of color in the Heliópolis favela. To spend a few days viewing Ohtake’s work up close is to see the manifestation of a life spent re-imagining and remaking the appearance, and to some degree even the day-to-day experience, of his home town — a project that’s inevitably futile in a city as large and as complicated as São Paulo, and yet, in Ohtake’s case, also visibly successful.

The influence of Oscar Niemeyer, Brazil’s most revered architect, is clearly evident in Ohtake’s wavelike façades and bold use of color, but his work is also undeniably his own. Hotel Unique is regularly said to resemble a slice of melon, or the belly of a sheep, or the hull of a boat, or a space ship — but rarely is it compared to some other building that came before. Even if it weren’t one of Brazil’s finest hotels, a world of billowing cloud-like beds and vista-rich soaking tubs and hair-raising sound systems, it would be worth a visit just to have a squint at its porthole-pocked copper skin.

Of course Ohtake’s work isn’t the only notable architecture in São Paulo, nor is Hotel Unique the only place to get some perspective on the city. For a wholly different point of view, take the elevator to the top of the Tivoli Mofarrej and slide your keycard into the door of a southwest-facing room. If Hotel Unique presents a view of the city from below, Tivoli offers just the opposite. Set high on a hill in Jardins (and nearly as cushy a hotel, in its businesslike way, as Unique), it towers over the high-rises laid out before it. On a clear day, you can almost, kind of see that the construction doesn’t go on forever.

Mike Parker

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CHEAT SHEET
WHERE

The largest city in the southern hemisphere, São Paulo is Brazil’s economic and cultural capital.

WHY GO

A megalopolis in the most literal sense, São Paulo is growing fast — and so is its non-stop nightlife.

HOW

São Paulo has three commercial airports, including the venerable Guarulhos, which was Brazil’s first.

TABLET TIP

With seven million cars crammed into the city on any given day, traffic is a challenge. The subway is clean, though like LA’s it can’t cover the whole sprawling city. The most efficient (and greenest) option is the bicycle: check out U-bike for rentals.

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