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architexts ISSN 1809-6298


A obra de João Filgueiras Lima, o Lelé, é abordada a partir de duas óticas e relacionadas a dois arquitetos: a ambiental (Richard Neutra) e a industrialização da construção (Jean Prouvé). Também se apresentam as fábricas de componentes do arquiteto.

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GUERRA, Abilio; MARQUES, André. The path of João Filgueiras Lima, Brazilian architect. Arquitextos, São Paulo, year 16, n. 181.03, Vitruvius, jun. 2015 <>.

João Filgueiras Lima was born in Rio de Janeiro in 1932. His education was defined by the military rigidity, as a marine cadet, and by the musical sensibility, occupation of the pianist father, ambivalence that would shape his path in life and in his own work. As a player at the juvenile soccer team of Vasco da Gama, still a kid he got the nickname “Lelé”, the same as the player that used to play in the same position in the professional team (1).

In 1955, he was graduated Architect and Urbanist in Universidade do Brasil [University of Brasil] – the actual Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ) [Federal University of Rio de Janeiro] – and, still a student, he approaches the architect and painter Aldary Henriques Toledo, an important person on his education. At the house of the tutor and friend, that used to organize regular meetings with artists and intellectuals, Lelé gets to know Oscar Niemeyer, Carlos Leão, Cândido Portinari and Darcy Ribeiro.

In 1957, Lelé was invited by Aldary Toledo to work on the Instituto de Aposentadoria e Pensões dos Bancários (IAPB) [Institute for Retirement and Pensions of the Bankers], at the time he was responsible for the housing constructions for the associates. Hereafter, he was hired as site engineer for the construction of Brasília and become responsible for the housing projects at the building site at the Superquadra Sul [south super-square], SQS 108, a total of eleven blocks designed by Niemeyer. Moreover, together with Toledo and Luigi Pratesi – also an architect of IAPB – , he designs and builds at the SQS 109 two large housing blocks, with expressive 133 meters long and 15 meters wide (2). In 1962, invited by Darcy Ribeiro and Oscar Niemeyer – respectively, Rector of the Universidade de Brasília (UnB) [University of Brasilia] and coordinator of the Centro de Planejamento (Ceplan) [Planning Center] – Lelé takes part at the project conception and construction of the main buildings of the University.

At this period he initiates his studies on rationalization and industrialization of architecture and he also travels for the first time to the East Europe, where he visits factories and buildings from socialist countries. At the time, it was a trend at the region the pre-fabricated system of concrete panels, with incorporated windows, doors, plumbing and electrical installations, developed on the 1950s by the company Raymond Camus. Assembled at the building site with the contribution of cranes, the parts – 14 centimeters thick and around 6 tons – resulted in a monolithic building.

In 1965, Lelé along with other 209 professors and servers resign their jobs in a collective protest against the repression at the university, ongoing since the military coup the previous year and that resulted at the cassation of the Rector Darcy Ribeiro. From recommendation of Oscar Niemeyer, in 1967 Lelé initialize the project Hospital de Taguatinga [Taguatinga Hospital], fundamental work piece on his professional career, for it was there that started his thinking process and practice on the construction of large hospital complexes.

Foto Joana França

On this project, the architect adopts heavy pre-fabricated reinforced concrete components, highlighting the structural boxes of around 5 tons, that assembled by juxtaposing and overlapping compose the two main facades. The excessive weight of the structure is valued by the horizontal guidelines, allowing users greater relationship with green areas close to the ground. In search for compaction and flexibility in the outpatient sector, Lelé adopts zenithal lighting and ventilation systems, which will become a hallmark of his work.

In this project two principles are fixed and they will accompany his future work, in special the hospital projects. The first is the adoption of two distinct and articulated strategies – environmental concerns and the industrialization of construction – that attitude expressed his conviction about the human and social responsibilities of architecture: the physical and psychological comfort of the user (in the case of hospitals, present on the concept of humane treatment of patients) and the collective benefit to the mass production of public facilities. The second principle is the vision of architecture as space for experimentation and constant improvement, as can be seen in the evaluation of Lelé himself on the low efficiency of the sheds system adopted in Taguatinga Hospital. "Unfortunately, in this hospital, the speed of internal air circulation resulted much lower than desirable due to the lack of inflation points on the lower level of environments. With inflation and extraction vents located on the roof, even with the possible enhancement provided by the wind, the air circulation is insufficient” (3). In other words, the significant development of natural ventilation and lighting systems over the projects is only possible thanks to this conviction about the binomial design/build as permanent research where a judicious critique to what’s already done is a touchstone.

Foto Joana França

Between the 1960s and 1980s, Lelé develops numerous experiments with heavy pre-fabricated reinforced concrete components, highlighting the apartment buildings for teachers at UnB, the “Colina” [Hill], and the buildings of the Centro Administrativo da Bahia [Administrative Center of Bahia] – secretaries, church and exhibition center. At this point, Lelé begins to review the use of heavy prefabrication system and goes in search of lighter solutions. In his assessment, despite the benefits of industrialization of construction, the system originally conceived by Camus was little flexible, and required large machinery, something not always possible in Brazil, especially in areas occupied by the poorest people. In his experiments, Lelé starts to adopt lighter, open and flexible construction systems – first in mortar, then metal – which implies closer solutions to the traditional wooden buildings and Californian architecture sponsored by John Entenza in his series Case Study Houses.

Foto Abilio Guerra

Foto Joana França

Elective affinities: Richard Neutra and Jean Prouvé

According to Sergio Ekerman, Lelé "was capable in developing throughout his career a single unified work, even internationally, closely linked to two basic aspects of construction: climate and pre-fabrication" (4). Despite being single, it is possible to verify in the work of the Brazilian architect a dialogue with ideas and achievements of two fundamental architects, active in the second postwar period.

Desenho de André Marques a partir de originais de Lelé

Confessed admirer of Richard Neutra (5), Lelé has in the ideas of the Austrian architect an important reference for his early work, especially the intimate relationship between architecture and landscape, and the concern with rationalization and industrialization of construction. The use of lightweight steel structures by the Austrian architect also draws the attention to another point in his career (6). Settled in the United States since 1923, Neutra establishes a strong relationship with Brazil between the 1940s to 1960s, the result of trips, presentations, exhibits, correspondence with Brazilian architects and publication, in São Paulo, of the book Arquitetura social em países de clima quente [Social architecture in warm climate countries], about his experience in Puerto Rico with social projects such as schools, hospitals and housing (7). The amplitude in meaning of architecture to Neutra – the insertion of man in the natural environment, the social commitment and the construction as industrial-technical fact – resonate deeply into the worldview of Lelé.

Desenho de Lelé

The relationships between the works of Lelé and Richard Neutra can be observed in the school designed to Abadiânia, a small town in the countryside. The precariousness of the locality in all aspects – social, economic, technological, etc. – leads Lelé to a Spartan project with simple finishing and a building system with only sixteen components of mortar. Faced with the impossibility of using industrialized market elements, the school has no windowpanes and the pivoting doors are made of wood, designed by the architect himself. The major difficulties encountered in the project are reversed by the ingenuity of technical solutions; the build quality is multiplied with the spatiality of the classroom, which integrates internal space – thanks to the pivoting doors that open 100% – to neighboring plantations, providing complete freedom between the school and the surrounding nature – the same situation obtained by Richard Neutra in his school project for Puerto Rico. The teachings of Neutra will inhabit various works of Lelé over time.

Desenho de Lelé

More focused on the technical-constructive aspect, it is also evident that Lelé – when starts his search toward industrialization with lightweight components – looks carefully for pioneering experiments by Jean Prouvé with thin metal sheets, which allows the French architect the serial production of architectural artifacts in sociocultural conditions of low capacity of industrialization, the specific case of the prototype of the Tropical House for the French colonization in North Africa. Simplifying to the limit a standard construction leads to manual assembly of the buildings, avoiding heavy machinery and overcoming the infeasibility of implementation due to the high costs.

Desenho de André Marques a partir de originais de Lelé

The search for assembly of lightweight components designed according to concepts of industrial design is common in Prouvé and Lelé; controlling the project from the early risks, they escape from the figure of "specifying architect". Prouvé alert to how important it is to the architect to fully control the construction, a fact that ensures its execution as designed. Following the principle of the master, Lelé adopts thin folded sheets, which allows special finishes for specific requirements. The beams, for example, add the functions of rainwater gutters, electrical tracks and base for fixing the setting equipment. That is constructive ingenuity in favor of streamlined production in social conditions with limited technology and economy.

The Fábrica de cidades [factories of cities]

In the late 1970s, Lelé visits the facilities of USP São Carlos and becomes familiar with the pioneering research of engineer Frederick Schieel and, with his help, develops the first prototypes of components in mortar (8). At first faced to infrastructure works in the area of urban drainage, the system subsequently allowed the construction of lighter panels to the industrialization of buildings, and therefore, manual assembly – leaving aside the need for heavy machinery such as cranes and trucks. This redirection has obvious ideological component, as suits the conditions of geological risk and economic hardship, common to many Brazilian cities, especially in the suburbs of large urban areas.

Imagem divulgação [Acervo João Filgueiras Lima – Lelé]

Putting into practice the learning, in 1979 Lelé deploys his first buildings factory, the Companhia de Renovação Urbana de Salvador (Renurb) [Salvador Urban Renewal Company] whose early works turned to sanitation: draining stairs, retaining walls for slopes and channeling streams to the slums of the capital of Bahia. In 1982, he settles his second factory, where he helds his first work fully built with components in mortar, with fully manual assembly: the rural school of Abadiânia. The flexibility of space and ease of assembly enable the inclusion of several programs, such as the health center. With the success of lightweight construction system components, Lelé settles two other factories – the Casa da Criança [Children's House], a factory for schools and urban facilities (Rio de Janeiro, 1984-1986); and the Fábrica de Equipamentos Comunitários FAEC [Factory for Community Amenities] (Salvador, 1985-1989) – responsible for countless schools, bus stops, public benches, retaining walls and urban walkways. This experience happened in association with the architect Lina Bo Bardi working together in the urban restoration of the historic center of Salvador, in 1988.

Foto divulgação [Acervo João Filgueiras Lima – Lelé]

The factories of João Filgueiras Lima, nonprofits institutions, always depended on government favoring social policies. In practice, its operation occurs only during the tenure of leftist mayors and governors. If there were frequent institutional interruption, they never resulted in disruption of the technological research of the Architect, generating situations of enormous physical and emotional distress, including a heart attack after closing the FAEC or Factory of Cities, as his friend and partner Roberto Pinho called the institution. The great dream of Lelé has always been to develop architectural and urban projects on a large scale for Brazil.

Foto divulgação [Acervo João Filgueiras Lima, Lelé]

What seemed to be an end becomes a new beginning of his career. When he had no hope to build a public building with qualified technological and industrial supply in Brazil, he was summoned to a new job together with the Associação das Pioneiras de Brasília [Pioneer Association of Brasilia], a private institution of public interest for whom Lelé had already designed and built between the years of 1978 and 1980, a hospital for diseases of musculoskeletal system. The proposed multiplication of units of the institution unfolded in deploying the Centro Tecnológico da Rede Sarah Kubitschek (CTRS) [Technology Center of the Sarah Kubitschek Network], a factory idealized to build new hospitals across the country, and to develop, maintain and adapt new technologies.

Foto Nelson Kon

Foto Nelson Kon

Lelé designs the first work of the CTRS, Hospital Sarah Salvador, in mortar, but the closing of the FAEC leads him to adapt the constructive system to the use of steel, which will keep on further hospitals. In this work, Lelé conceives a completely passive cooling system, with ducted facilities and natural ventilation, avoiding the use of air conditioning and thereby isolating air communicable diseases.

Foto Nelson Kon

Foto Nelson Kon

During the operation period of the CTRS seven hospitals were built, nine courts, numerous urban walkways, an acoustic shell in São José do Ribamar in Maranhão and administrative centers for cities in the same state. The projects, which were developed from mixed structural system with thin sheets of metal and mortar, signalized the adoption of an industrialization of lightweight components, allowing the incorporation of plastic freedom widespread by Oscar Niemeyer and a progressive distancing from hegemonic brutalist tectonic in its earlier stage.

Foto Nelson Kon

Foto Nelson Kon


In 2009, due to his advanced age and health problems, Lelé deviates from the CTRS, which he has coordinated for nearly twenty years, to fulfill an old dream: the creation of the Brazilian Institute of Habitat, with even broader objectives involving research, design and construction in partnership with the government, in addition to higher education in partnership with universities. The new factory – an institutionally Organização da Sociedade Civil de Interesse Público (Oscip) [Civil Society Organization of Public Interest] – produced the Darcy Ribeiro Memorial, but managerial and political difficulties prevent its continuation.

Foto Nelson Kon

Foto Joana França

The architect João Filgueiras Lima stands out for his ingenuity capacity, technical perfection and appreciation of Brazilian constructive culture. Recognizes not only the technical and technological possibilities of his time and social difficulties of Brazil, but works hard throughout life to overcome them with a clever work, balanced in humanistic principles and attitudes: to seek an architecture that harmonizes man and the natural environment, to contribute to the social emancipation of the community. Besides the contribution ideologically engaged in the defense of the poor and needy sections, his works value the beauty and creativity of the forms invented by the masters before him, fleeing the mere copying and respecting a rich and inspiring legacy.

Foto Mariana Chama

The path of the Brazilian architect was exposed in the second half of 2010, on a grand show at Museu da Casa Brasileira [Brazilian House Museum] curated by Max Risselada and Giancarlo Latorraca. The catalog provides important critical texts and extensive documentation of works (9). The exhibition got to roam, being displayed at the Museum Oscar Niemeyer (Curitiba, April 17th to July 15th, 2012), in the foyer of the Teatro Castro Alves (Salvador, 7th to 19th November 2012) and the Netherlands Architecture Institute – NAi (26th October 2012 to 10th February 2013). Winner of many awards and laurels, João Filgueiras Lima, the Lelé, succumbs to a fatal illness and died on May 21st, 2014. Inexplicably, did not win the Pritzker Prize, and that’s a shame. For the Pritzker.

Foto André Marques


NA – Original publication: GUERRA, Abilio; MARQUES, André. João Filgueiras Lima,  ecologia e razionalità / João Filgueiras Lima,  ecology and rationality. Paesaggio Urbano / Urban Design, Ferrara, vol. IV, 2014, p. IV-XIII. English translation: Nina Dalla

In addition to biographical data, collected on primary and secondary sources, a few arguments presented on this article were developed at the following work: MARQUES, André Felipe Rocha. A obra de João Filgueiras Lima, Lelé: projeto, técnica e racionalização. Dissertação de mestrado. Orientador Abilio Guerra. São Paulo, FAU Mackenzie, 2012.

FERREIRA, Marcílio Mendes; GOROVITZ, Matheus. A invenção da Superquadra: o conceito da Unidade de Vizinhança em Brasília. Brasília, Superintendência do Iphan no Distrito Federal, 2009, p. 44.

LIMA, João Filgueiras (Lelé). Arquitetura – uma experiência na área de saúde. São Paulo, Romano Guerra, 2012, p. 73.

EKERMAN, Sergio Kopinski. Um quebra-cabeça chamado Lelé. Arquitextos, São Paulo, ano 06, n. 064.03, Vitruvius, set. 2005 <>.

João Filgueiras Lima (Lelé). In: See LATORRACA, Giancarlo (org). João Filgueiras Lima, Lelé. Lisboa/São Paulo, Blau/Instituto Bardi, 2000, p. 22.

"And there was Richard Neutra, with a very refined proposal in terms of finishing, a mix of steel and concrete. He also used metallic structure, like me". LIMA, João Filgueiras (Lelé). O que é ser arquiteto: memórias profissionais de Lelé. Depoimento a Cynara Menezes. Rio de Janeiro, Record, 2004, p. 34-35.

The presence of Richard Neutra in Brazil it is being researched by Fernanda Critelli, under orientation of Professor Abilio Guerra. See: GUERRA, Abilio; CRITELLI, Fernanda. Richard Neutra e o Brasil. Arquitextos, São Paulo, ano 14, n. 159.00, Vitruvius, ago. 2013 <>.

LIMA, João Filgueiras (Lelé). Arquitetura – uma experiência na área de saúde (op. cit.), p. 47-48.

RISSELADA, Max; LATORRACA, Giancarlo (org.). A arquitetura de Lelé: fábrica e invenção. São Paulo, Imprensa Oficial do Estado / Museu da Casa Brasileira, 2010.

about the authors

Abilio Guerra is an architect (PUC-Campinas), M.Sc. and Ph.D. in History at IFCH Unicamp and professor at FAU Mackenzie. Along with Silvana Romano, he is the Romano Guerra Editora and Portal Vitruvius chief editor. He is co-author of Rino Levi – arquitetura e cidade [Rino Levi – Architecture and Town] (together with Renato Anelli and Nelson Kon) and organizer of the Textos fundamentais sobre história da arquitetura moderna brasileira (Romano Guerra, 2001, 2010 e 2010) [Fundamental Texts on the History of Brazilian Modern Architecture].

André Felipe R. Marques is an architect (Universidade Sao Judas Tadeu, 2003) and Master in Architecture and Urbanism at FAU Mackenzie (2012) with the thesis A obra de João Filgueiras Lima, Lelé: projeto, técnica e racionalização [The Work of João Filgueiras Lima Lelé: design, technic and rationalization]. He is professor at the Faculty of Architecture and Urbanism at the Universidade São Judas Tadeu.


181.03 projeto
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original: português

others: english



181.00 crítica

O projeto de identidade entre idéia e desenho

Intencionalidade tectônica e poética do discurso em Paulo Mendes da Rocha

Maria Isabel Villac

181.01 cidade

Habitar em Salvador

Entre a arquitetura e o espaço público

Márcio Correia Campos

181.02 história

A escolha dos fios

Ensaio de urdidura de parâmetros para as cidades latino-americanas por meio do V SAL

Gisela Barcellos de Souza

181.04 concurso

Concursos de projetos arquitetônicos no Brasil

Questões para discussão

Francisco Segnini Junior

181.05 concurso

Concursos de arquitetura no Brasil de 2005 a 2014

Breve panorama analítico

Fabiano Sobreira and Vanessa Cristina da Silva Wanderley

181.06 tecnologia

Análise energético-ambiental de fachadas com foco na reciclagem

Estudo de caso com painéis de alumínio composto “ACM” em Brasília

Graziela Moreno Monteiro Martins Gouveia and Rosa Maria Sposto

181.07 crítica

O pátio no Brasil

Da casa moderna à contemporânea

Ana Elísia da Costa and Marcio Cotrim


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