Brazilian architect-designer José Zanine Caldas was born in 1919 in Belmonte, on the southern coast of Bahia. At the age of 18, Zanine went to São Paulo to work as a draftsman. Two years later, in 1939, Zanine established his own architectural model studio in Rio de Janeiro. He created prototypes of various projects for modernist architects Lúcio Costa (1902-1998), Oswaldo Arthur Bratke (1907-1997), and Oscar Niemeyer (1907-2012).
In 1948, Zanine co-founded the Movéis Z furniture company in São José dos Campos along with business partners Sebastião Henrique da Cunha Pontes and Paulo Mello. Zanine designed affordable, organically-shaped pieces in plywood that were informed by the European modernist aesthetic.
Sometime during the early-1950s, Zanine left the company and returned to Bahia. Inspired by local artisans from the area, Zanine began crafting furniture and sculptural work from felled trees and native woods like pequi, acajou, and vinhático. He became an advocate for sustainable, locally-produced furniture. Largely self-taught, Zanine's designs range from sculptural yet practical production pieces to hand-carved, raw wood seating and tables .
During the early-1960s, Zanine taught model-making at the University of Brasília. In 1964, during the military coup, he was forced to relocate to Rio de Janeiro, where he designed modern housing for the wealthy neighborhood of Joatinga.
In 1983, he founded DAM (Foundation Center for the Development of Applications of Brazilian Woods) with the goal of preventing the destruction of Brazilian forests.
In 1990, he was awarded the silver medal from the French Academy of Architecture, and in 1991 he received the title of honorary architect from the IAB (Institute of Architects of Brazil). Zanine’s work can be found in permanent collections of many international museums, such as Paris’ Louvre, and in museums and galleries throughout Brazil.
Zanine passed away in 2001 from a heart attack.