Wladimir Alves de Souza (1908-1994) was a professor of architectural theory at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro who also maintained an architectural practice among Rio's elite. Typically, Alves de Souza would design projects in a variety of styles according to the programmatic needs of the building, from eclectic to neoclassical. His 1957 home for Raymundo de Castro Maya, an industrialist, art patron and collector in the modernist style is, thus, an exception. Perhaps Alves de Souza thought that a fitting setting for art at this time was a modern one.
The building's floors are subtly sited on the hillside in Santa Teresa. Social areas are clustered on the ground floor and give onto the Roberto Burle Marx-landscaped gardens by way of large picture windows and sliding doors. The openings, while characteristic of modern architecture, seem oversized in comparison to some of the 18th and 19th-century art objects inside. The second floor was originally bedrooms.
The building now houses a museum of Castro Maya's art collection, the Museu Chácara do Céu. Since Castro Maya was particularly interested in art related to Brazilian history, one of the most prominent parts of the collection are 19th-century landscape paintings of Rio de Janeiro by artists such as Nicholas Antoine Taunay (1755-1830).
Taunay was one of the main artists involved in the French Artistic Mission, a group of French artists and architects who came to Rio de Janeiro in 1816. At that time, Rio was the capital city of the Kingdom of Portugal, Brazil, and the Algarves because the royal court of Portugal had been relocated to Rio in 1808 due to the invasion of Portugal by Napoleon Bonaparte. Their mission was to establish the Escola Real de Ciências, Artes e Ofícios (Royal School of Sciences, Arts and Crafts), which would later become the Escola Nacional de Belas Artes (National School of Fine Arts).
The Castro Maya collection also houses a series of watercolors of plants and fruit by Jean-Baptiste Debret, another artist from the French Artistic Mission Group. The watercolors date from 1818 to 1830.
The surrounding neighborhood of Santa Teresa is incredibly charming, with houses built into the hills, winding cobblestone streets, and a profusion of street art.
On the way back down, we stumbled upon the famous Escadaria Selarón. The colorful stairs, covered in mosaics by Chilean-born artist Jorge Selarón, revealed themselves to us as we wound down the steps into neighborhood of Lapa.
As the narrative is typically told, the Ministry of Health and Education building, designed and built between 1937 and 1943 at the direction of President Getúlo Vargas and the minister of health and education at the time, Gustavo Capanema, represents the germ of Western European modernist ideals in Brazilian architecture.
After a failed design competition, Lucio Costa was commissioned to design the building. In 1936, he assembled a team of Brazilian modernists to take on the project: Oscar Niemeyer, Alfonso Reidy, Jorge Moreira, Carlos Leão, Ernâni Vasconcelos. When Costa was dissatisfied with the first result from the team, he asked the government permission to bring in Le Corbusier as a consultant on the project.
Under the guise of a lecture series, Le Corbusier visited Brazil for four weeks, consulting on the Ministry of Health and Education building and several other projects. Such an endeavor gave Le Corbusier a chance to demonstrate the "universality" of his design principles. Indeed, the building displays Le Corbusier's typical pilotis, roof gardens, and brises-soleil. According to Lucio Costa, it was the first time the glass curtain wall was used in Brazil, and in South America in general.
Out of all the architects on the team, Niemeyer worked the most closely with Le Corbusier. As Costa put it, "Le Corbusier's greatest legacy was Niemeyer himself."
The building met much local criticism, but influential institutions championed it on the international scene, including the Museum of Modern Art in its 1943 exhibition Brazil Builds, and the New York Times.
The building commands an entire city block, but opens up much of its ground space to a public garden, landscaped -- as so many of the modernist projects are -- by Roberto Burle Marx. Burle Marx made use of native Brazilian plants at a time when they were not considered worthy of such projects.
The ground level is also graced by Cândido Portinari's lively blue and white tile murals on the facades.
At the moment, the building is under renovation, which allowed me a close-up view with the blue brises-soleil that are being removed, restored, and re-installed, among other restoration efforts.
With dozens of possible sites to visit, I wasn't sure where to begin in Rio. I decided to get my bearings from on high at Cristo Rendentor (this, and the fact that I am hoping to do the more touristy activities in Rio before the Olympic crowds descend in August.) The view was expectedly stunning. Almost more unexpected was the collective experience of being at the monument with hundreds of other people and their selfie sticks, people lying on the ground to get the best photo of the statue, lining up to get "the" best shot of the bay, and photobombing strangers' photos.
Since ascending Corcovado, as I move around the city of Rio, it is exciting to have this statue as a point of reference. Seeing it from afar (too tiny to photograph) gives me a sense of scale in the urban environment.
Steve arrived on Monday morning and will be here for the week! Our first breakfast was prepared by the fabulous Daniella Costa, my host in Rio: homemade pão de queijo, and tapioca with queijo minas and guava paste (a "Romeo and Juliet"). Pão de queijo is a typical Brazilian breakfast bite - cheese + bread, made with yucca flour so it's kind of chewy. Queijo minas is a delicious fresh white cheese from the Minas Gerais region of Brazil that I am hoping to eat a LOT more of while I'm here.
Updates on some art and buildings to come shortly!
Olá tudos from JFK airport in New York! My backpack and I are on the road and ready to explore Brazil and its architecture for the next 6 weeks. Thank you for following my adventures here. I would love to hear from you along the way! Please feel free to comment on my posts and share your thoughts.
I bid farewell to the United States today with a fabulous New York bagel (truly, is there any other way), and a run-in with Alisa -- a good omen if there ever were one. Oh, and a harrowing call with LATAM airlines in which my flight appeared to be cancelled (not pictured for obvious reasons).
My project this summer explores architectural vocabuaries of nation-building in Brazil, particularly in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s, when ideas of modernism and historic preservation developed side by side. For more, see the "about the project" page.
The itinerary for such a project will take me through a diverse array of regions -- from one of the largest cities in the world, to a tiny one-pousada town of a long-abandoned Jesuit mission; from the modernist utopian plan of Brazil's capital, to the country's current preparations for the summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
And because all my travel seems to inevitably start with a google map, here you have it:
I am all ears for any recommendations or suggestions you might have. More to come! Time to board...
- Lee Ann