Imprimir Republish



Exhibition in São Paulo shows little known talent of the inventor


Demoiselle flying with Santos-Dumontdissemination

In this year of the centenary of the flight of the 14-Bis, Alberto Santos-Dumont is the protagonist of an exhibition that shows a still little known side of the genial inventor. Plastic artist Guto Lacaz has tried to leave wide open a talent of the Brazilian aviator, which to the eyes of the artist is obvious. “Santos-Dumont is one of the pioneers of product design”, explains Lacaz. “He designed, constructed and piloted 22 aircraft, always seeking the best design to achieve the best performance of each balloon and airplane.” To show this one more face of his pioneering spirit, the artist staged Santos-Dumont Designer at the Museum of the Brazilian House, in São Paulo, with reproductions of balloons, airplanes, a hangar, drawings and a mockup of the house in Petrópolis, amongst other projects. They all have the hallmark of the inventor’s boldness.

Lacaz gave vent to an interest that started when he read Os meus balões [My Balloons], by Santos-Dumont, almost 20 years ago. Like so many Brazilians, in those days the artist believed that the 14-Bis was his only creation. He began to collect information and photos of everything that referred to him. In 1998, he gave the inaugural lesson on the History of Design at the College of Plastic Arts of the Armando Álvares Penteado Foundation (FAAP), with the theme “Santos-Dumont designer”, at the invitation of Adélia Borges, the professor of the discipline. It was she who invited him to conceive and to stage the exhibition at the Museum of the Brazilian House back in 2003, when she took up the management of this institution, which is specialized in design.

Lacaz set about arranging for a good rearguard to be faithful to Santos-Dumont. Fernando Martini Catalano, a specialist in aerodynamics and a professor of mechanical engineering at the University of São Paulo in São Carlos, and Henrique Lins de Barros, a physicist from the Brazilian Center of Physical Research (CBPF), of Rio de Janeiro, provided their advice. Mockup makers were hired and the exhibition was done with the sponsorship of Aço Villares. The whole work resulted from a lesson on the originality of Santos-Dumont – particularly when you get to know that each project done by him always had some technological innovation. It could be a larger rudder, a new shape of balloon, an engine adapted to the gondola (basket) of the balloon, or original designs for a new plane.

In the central room of the museum, there are wind tunnels where scale models of the 14-Bis and the Demoiselle literally fly. A stylized Eiffel Tower with balloon nº 6 recalls the award that the Brazilian won when proving that balloons could be steered, in 1901. There are other aircraft reproduced to scale, and even a recreation of the Champs de Bagatelle, in Paris, in the gardens of the museum. Mechanical demonstrations of the flights of the 14-Bis are carried out with models. Other contributions from Santos-Dumont are an original shower, actually a bucket with holes hung overhead, with a mixture of hot and cold water, the former heated with alcohol. Encantada [Enchanted], the inventor’s house, built by him in Petrópolis, appears in detail in another fascinating open model. The exhibition goes on until July 16. Further information is available at

It was the shared interest of Lacaz and Adélia that led to the exhibition of the work of Santos-Dumont as a great designer. “His knowledge of mechanics, technology and materials qualified him for materializing the solution for his needs and opportunities into perfectly original objects or mechanisms”, she wrote in the catalog. “A rare sense of elegance, in turn, allowed him to go beyond practicality to distinguish himself for care in the shapes.”

“Design is a solution”, says Guto Lacaz. The new designs of balloons and airplanes that Santos-Dumont did were to solve problems. “He was always very successful, because the solutions were always very simple and correct.” Physicist Henrique Lins de Barros, one of the greatest scholars of the aviator, confirms this technological sagacity that would frequently lead him to successful projects. “Santos-Dumont went from the balloon to the airplane, the 14-Bis, without passing through the glider. He was the only one to succeed”, says Barros.

Lacaz considers the 14-Bis as something eccentric in the inventor’s work. For him, it seemed odd to imagine the 14-Bis flying “the wrong way round”, and not as they fly today. “I always had doubts as to whether it really looked good”, he says. But when he saw the replica made by pilot Alan Calassa, from Caldas Novas (GO), the artists had no more doubts: “I was convinced that the 14-Bis flies beautifully, smoothly”. The most emblematic project, which reinforces the idea that Santos-Dumont was a pioneer in product design, was the Demoiselle, a much copied ultralight. He published the project in the Popular Mechanics magazine in 1910, and over 200 units were built by small companies or private individuals – a situation illustrated by miniatures in formation in the scenographic sky of one of the exhibition rooms céu”, which makes it the first aircraft to be produced in series. “It is the model that is really going to influence aeronautics.”