The museum focuses on the visual arts, architecture and design. For its magnificence, beauty and for the importance of the collection, it represents a cultural institution of international significance. The complex of two buildings, installed in an area of 35 thousand square meters (of which 19 thousand are dedicated to exhibition space), it is a true example of architecture allied with art. The first building was designed by Oscar Niemeyer in 1967, faithful to the style of the time, and conceived as an educational institute. It was remodeled and adapted to function as a museum, for which Niemeyer designed the annex, reminiscent of an eye, imprinting it with a new characteristic identity.
The museum features many of Niemeyer's signature elements: bold geometric forms, sculptural curved volumes placed prominently to contrast with rectangular volumes, sinuous ramps for pedestrians, large areas of white painted concrete, and areas with vivid murals or paintings. A collaborator previously on Ibirapuera Park with landscape architect Roberto Burle Marx, Niemeyer's namesake museum is also within a garden designed by Burle Marx, and that within 144 thousand square meters of woodland. Though rooted in modern architecture since his involvement in the international style, Niemeyer's designs have much in common with postmodern architecture as well and this is as contemporary a building as the artwork it displays.