Learn how the architecture and design firm Superlimão stands out for reusing discarded materials in creative and sustainable ways. They use SketchUp’s 3D modeling tools to create flexible and innovative building designs.
Microsoft office in São Paulo, designed by Superlimão. Photograph courtesy of Superlimão.
Superlimão is a Brazilian design studio that innovates with every project. Their groundbreaking solutions have become standard practice with the growing demand for sustainability in design and architecture. The studio was founded in 2002 to work on projects from concept to completion, from developing the customer's brand’s visual communication, the architectural and interior design that follows, and designing and producing furniture to fit the space. For their projects, they develop custom furniture, lighting fixtures, and accessories using sustainable materials.
We interviewed three partners at the firm, Thiago Rodrigues, Antonio Mello, and Lula Gouveia, along with Superlimão’s product design coordinator, Diogo Matsui, to uncover the secrets behind their outstanding creative process.
Diverse backgrounds, uncommon innovations
When they first started designing projects reusing discarded materials, their unorthodox approach caused some unease among stakeholders. Regardless, they persisted in using unusual materials such as cardboard, paper rolls, and recycled plastic to create materials for design components. Today, with over twenty years in the market, Superlimão is one of the most renowned studios in São Paulo and Brazil.
Superlimão celebrates diversity of thought in their office, and they credit their success in coming up with innovative ideas to working with professionals from different generations and with various specializations. People throughout the firm can easily communicate, collaborate, and iterate in SketchUp. The modeling and visualization software translates Superlimão’s creative process into 3D quickly and flexibly.
"It’s incredible how easy it is to use SketchUp. One of the highlights of SketchUp is 3D Warehouse, which hosts millions of pre-built models. With it, we can access anything; if I need to include french fries in a project, I'll find them."
Thiago Rodrigues, partner
Google Campus São Paulo, a space for entrepreneurs, designed by Superlimão. Photograph courtesy of Superlimão.
Waves of architectural production
Superlimão sees every project as a learning opportunity. Knowledge gained is applied to subsequent projects across different industry sectors. Whether it's the comfort of residential spaces brought into healthcare environments or the casual atmosphere of restaurants influencing corporate projects, each project includes learnings from previous projects.
Superlimão initially focused on residential projects but gained recognition for corporate projects with major brands such as Google, Nubank, McDonald's, Ambev, and Microsoft. Other companies in the same sector as Superlimão’s clients would often see the completed designs and request the same for their spaces. Across sectors and businesses, all spaces are designed with Superlimão’s hallmark focus on usability, functionality, and ergonomics.
Let’s look at two McDonald’s restaurants Superlimão recently worked on. While both maintain Superlimão’s characteristic innovative style and materials, each is harmonious with its neighborhood and surroundings.
One McDonald’s is in the Paraíso neighborhood in São Paulo, which is home to residential and commercial buildings. Superlimão incorporated tree and greenery motifs in their design, harmonizing with the trees just outside the building and the neighborhood's vibrancy.
Photographs and SketchUp models of the interior and exterior of McDonald’s Paraíso. Images courtesy of Superlimão. Click arrows to scroll through images.
The other McDonald’s is in the Liberdade neighborhood in São Paulo, home to the largest Japanese community outside of Japan. To celebrate the neighborhood’s unique composition, Superlimão used traditional Japanese elements commonly seen in the neighborhood and added their own creative twist.
SketchUp model and photographs of the interior and exterior of McDonald’s Liberdade. Images courtesy of Superlimão. Click arrows to scroll through images.
Superlimão has recently started building large-scale commercial towers. The variety of clients contributes to their extensive and diversified knowledge base. Their team is always open to new challenges, and new clients come to them assured of the thoughtful creativity they can expect in the final project.
When asked if they adhere to a particular design philosophy, the partners explained that there isn't a single ideology they strictly follow but rather some guiding principles.
From new project workflows to continuous studies of new materials and design solutions, Superlimão pursues innovation daily. The firm partners with outside vendors for material development. Their quest for quality and durability has led Superlimão to create a workshop within their office where they conduct material tests. During a visit to their premises, it's common to find the team setting objects on fire or breaking them for study. The workshop also has space for manual woodworking and digital fabrication.
Superlimão's genuine interest in innovation led them to use materials long before they became commonplace in the market, such as recycled PET sheets, which have only recently gained popularity. One example of transforming recycled PET are beautiful lampshades they created out of recycled PET bottles. Instead of using any glue, the shade components lock together like puzzle pieces.
Carousel of lighting fixtures designed by Superlimão, created with recycled materials such as PET bottles. Images courtesy of Superlimão. Click arrows to scroll through images.
Sustainability and resource rationalization
The architects at Superlimão prioritize conscious consumption. They practice smart allocation of investments, choosing technologies and designs that enhance overall production without incurring unnecessary expenses. The focus is on making ideas feasible; the project must be executable, not just aesthetic.
For a project called Toca do Urso from Cervejaria Colorado [The Bear’s Den from Colorado Brewing], which is a tap room next to a brewery, Superlimão used SketchUp to incorporate sustainability into their design process. They began by creating models of the space.
SketchUp models of Toca do Urso from Cervejaria Colorado. Images courtesy of Superlimão. Click arrows to scroll through images.
Next, they conducted environmental studies, showing sun, shadows, and airflow.
Environmental studies of Toca do Urso from Cervejaria Colorado. Images courtesy of Superlimão. Click arrows to scroll through images.
Superlimão adjusted its designs to create a space that fits well within its environment instead of fighting against it. The finished space is a testament to intelligent, sustainable practices and beautiful, innovative design.
Photographs of the completed Toca do Urso from Cervejaria Colorado. Images courtesy of Superlimão. Click arrows to scroll through images.
Adherence to organic forms
Superlimão incorporates organic forms in construction. Throughout the design process, they look to nature as a reference for self-sustaining forms and then model it in 3D. Translating these forms into the project can be challenging without the right tools. They turn to SketchUp for flexible tools to unleash their creativity.
For the Populos project, they were inspired by the organic forms found in forests and trees. The project’s main challenge was connecting three floors encompassing a highly diversified office program. One of the client’s ideas was to incorporate the private outdoor area on the lowest floor. Superlimão brought the garden concept up through all three project floors, including a ‘treehouse’ meeting space at the top, using SketchUp models to create a design plan with the curves and irregular shapes seen in a forest environment.
SketchUp models of Populous office project. Images courtesy of Superlimão. Click arrows to scroll through images.
The final result is an office space that feels natural and comfortable, antithetical to many modern offices' harsh lines and lighting.
Photographs of completed Populous office project. Images courtesy of Superlimão. Click arrows to scroll through images.
Modularity and versatility
Modern environments must be flexible. Superlimão brings modular design into their solutions, prioritizing flexible arrangements of space that can accommodate changes as a business evolves. While not adhering to a singular stylistic perspective, the firm generally opts for more modern lines that balance beauty and practicality.
Recently, through close work with SketchUp’s customer success team, Superlimão made their models lighter and faster. They use simpler geometries to achieve more streamlined models.
To kick off their creative process, Superlimão begins with a comprehensive analysis of the client. They work to understand the client’s internal processes, the types of relationships they maintain with customers, market positioning, and even the behavior of competitors.
Superlimão demonstrates a dedicated concern for the end users and the feeling each environment elicits. In projects like hospital waiting rooms, the team focuses on transforming this typically colder and formal space into a place where people can feel comfortable — a concept shared from residential projects.
The team constantly seeks to expand its expertise in various sectors, and its designers attend events outside of architecture, construction, and design. As a result, they blend techniques and knowledge from industries such as hospitality, tourism, healthcare, brewing, and more.
Superlimão stays in contact with the client throughout the project's development. Starting with the preliminary design phase, they share evolving design iterations so all parties stay aligned and maintain momentum.
"The teams create presentations filled with information — the client is amazed by the details addressed in the project. SketchUp gives us a rich report for architectural proposals we share with clients."
Diogo Matsui, product design coordinator
Initial presentations are shown without details like texture and color — Superlimão architects think those details are often distracting. Presenting the project more cleanly focuses on the architectural solutions the team identified and keeps the client open-minded about interior finishes.
After the initial SketchUp model is approved, Superlimão begins to fill it in with materials and details to bring the space to life.
SketchUp models of Largo da Batata - LAPI. Images courtesy of Superlimão. Click arrows to scroll through images.
In the final stage of the presentation, after fleshing out design details with furniture, colors, and textures, Superlimão uses Enscape for rendering.
Renderings of Largo da Batata - LAPI. Renderings courtesy of Oficina 3D. Images courtesy of Superlimão. Click arrows to scroll through images.
They present their projects by combining the Enscape viewer with virtual reality glasses like the Meta Quest Pro to show the client what the completed project will look like. VR headsets immerse clients in the final experience of their new space, offering compelling and realistic design details.
Photograph of a person using VR glasses, with their view screen behind them. Image courtesy of Superlimão.
"The SketchUp model is our foundation for communication; it's been there since day one, from the survey to the rendering. It's the basis for demonstrating the project's flow and the architectural program, generating content for the initial presentation, and explaining the volumetric proposal. "
Diogo Matsui, product design coordinator
Superlimão’s work encapsulates a perfect balance of innovation, function, and beauty. Using unusual and recycled materials, they create uniquely sustainable designs that have inspired architecture in Brazil and beyond. SketchUp’s flexibility helps them think outside the box and tackle a diverse portfolio of projects.
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Superlimão is a multidisciplinary architecture and design company founded in São Paulo, Brazil, in 2002. The firm creates timeless architecture and design projects with style, creativity, and exceptionality. Constant innovation nurtures their creations, offering a unique vision that reflects the client's values and achieves a harmonious connection between space and user. Technological innovation is at the core of their creativity and service to clients. Superlimão invests in 3D technologies to build better projects and express design ideas. Follow @superlimao on Instagram.