Eduardo Pires Ferreira presented a fascinating overview of the architecture of Brazil, providing a historical introduction to the built form, from its colonial, baroque, neoclassical and eclectic periods to its evolution into modernism and contemporary architecture, at a lecture held at the Yarmouk Cultural Centre on Tuesday evening, in cooperation with the Embassy of Brazil in Kuwait.
Brazilian Ambassador to Kuwait, HE Norton de Andrade Mello Rapesta, stated that the lecture highlights an aspect of Brazil that may not be as well known abroad, “We have a long history in architecture and building, mostly imported from the Portuguese colonizers.”
The Portuguese, on their arrival in 1500 AD, discovered that the territory of Brazil was inhabited by natives, with habits and customs radically different from those of the Europeans, Ferreira shared. The Brazilians lived in ingenious buildings with walls of wood sticks and straw which formed wide rounded spaces called “ocas”.
During the colonial period, Ferreira informed that new buildings built by the Portuguese followed a very different style from that of Europe which was going through the Renaissance at the time. In Brazil, a new and much less elaborate style prevailed and this simplicity was a condition of poor construction techniques and workmanship of the slave labor force abundant in the period.
Characterized by small one and two-floor houses in urban areas, and large, porched houses in farms, this period ranged from approximately 1534 until the first decades of the 19th century. In the cities and towns, one could observe the alignment of the buildings with the public roads and with the lateral limits of the lot, as well as the lack of gardens or green areas in the central areas.
The buildings were covered in clay tiles molded on the thighs of slaves and the construction techniques used were stick-a-pique, adobe or stacked stone in most buildings. The wealthy used cut stone and clay or even cut stone cemented with lime. The buildings of the period showed great simplicity and differentiation of owner’s financial status was shown by the number of rooms and the number of floors.
Ferreira pointed out that while the Brazilian Baroque period overlaps with the colonial, it is mostly restricted to churches. Some religious orders such as Benedictines, Carmelites, Franciscans and Jesuits, developed a sober and often monumental religious architecture and Brazil’s baroque movement reached its artistic apex with the rococo variation in Minas Gerais.
Built between 1633 and 1691, the church and monastery of São Bento in Rio de Janeiro displayed Portuguese gold baroque style carvings. The leafy motifs, the multitude of angels and birds, the dynamic figure of the Virgin in the main altarpiece, project a baroque ambience within a classical architecture, he remarked.
Ferreira shared that most Brazilian baroque churches are marked by a contrast between the relative simplicity of its exteriors and rich internal decorations, signaling the requirement necessary of the Christian soul. It was only in 1703 that the richness of style became evident on the exterior of a building in the Church of the Third Order of Saint Francis of Penance in Salvador.
He informed that between 1730 and 1760 there was a new cycle of development of the baroque, with predominance of the Portuguese “Joanino” style. The focus of the baroque style then turned to Rio de Janeiro which had been transformed into the capital of the colony in 1763, and to Minas Gerais, whose development was aided by the discovery of mines of gold and diamonds.
From 1760, the softness found in the Rococo style of Minas Gerais became the authentic line of the Brazilian Baroque, expressed in restrained and elegant temples of harmonic architecture, beautifully decorated in soapstone and gold leaf-covered wood carvings.
He revealed that in 1808, with the arrival of Dom João VI in Brazil, a new phase in Brazilian architecture — the neoclassical style, began. It is generally attributed to the French Mission which was hired to create and direct a School of Arts and Crafts in Rio de Janeiro, later known in 1826 as Imperial Academy of Fine Arts.
The architecture of the time was established in two versions: the official neoclassical of the Court, with almost everything imported, and the provincial version which was simplified and built by slaves. The official neoclassical developed in the larger centers on the coast which had direct contact with Europe and had a more complex level of art and architecture, following the international models of the time.
In urban architecture, Ferreira notes that constructive clarity prevailed. It was marked by formal simplicity, with cornices and plaques as usual features. The walls, of stone or brick, were coated and painted in soft colors, such as white, pink, yellow and pastel-blue. They had protruding entrance bodies with staircases, colonnades and pediments, and decorated interiors with coatings and paintings. Windows and doors stood out, framed in fitted stone and rounded arches, in whose interiors were often arranged flower motifs in colored glass.
The rural houses followed the standards of the most modest urban residential architecture but the interiors approached the standards of the Court in cases where wealth was accrued from the coffee culture.
Eclecticism, the next architectural leaning, was a mixture of styles which occurred in the second half of the 19th century, an euphoric language of freedom based on new paradigms. He pointed out that eclectic architecture was known for symmetry, grandeur, a strict organization of internal spaces and decorative richness.
He drew attention to the fact that in the beginning of the 20th century most houses started having their main façades aligned to the front of the lot, a lateral access and balcony.
Eclecticism saw the marrying of staggered platform and symmetrical crowning of the façade, a typical trait of art deco with the presence of a railing with classic balusters, Corinthian columns and the Roman arch. Eclecticism was observed in Brazil until the 1930s.
Ferreira shared that Brazil’s modern period began with the house of Russian Gregori Warchavchik who was inspired by the architecture of Le Corbusier, Walter Gropius, Richard Neutra, Mies Van der Rohe and Frank Lloyd Wright, and linked to aesthetic movements such as Futurism and Modernism.
Ferreira revealed that Le Corbusier’s visit to Brazil in 1929, and his subsequent contracting by the Brazilian government in 1936 to consult on the design of the Ministry of Education building in Rio, put Modernism in evidence. Le Corbusier sought to adapt its universalist and synthetic principles to the national reality, recommending the use of references of the colonial tradition, such as decorated tiles and landscaping of the surroundings with traditional palm trees. This was in accord with the dominant nationalist political tendency, and the Ministry building became a prototype of the public palace of the times.
He shared that other buildings built at the time also had a great impact, such as Brazil’s Pavilion at the New York World’s Fair and the Pampulha complex in Belo Horizonte, which established the name of Oscar Niemeyer in architectural circles.
Modernism brought radical advances to the aesthetics and construction technique where daring geometric lines predominated and reinforced concrete, steel and glass assumed a prominent role.
Ferreira shared with audience the main elements of Corbusier’s aesthetic as being free plans, free façade, pilotis, garden terrace and tape windows. He informed that several Brazilian architects followed the principles of Le Corbusier, leaving a significant contribution on the national scene.
In the 60’s, appear tendencies alternative to the omnipresence of Corbusier, seeking an approximation with more national values. The unity of thought that had formed around Corbusier’s influence breaks down, an atmosphere of crisis of values sets in, and free adaptations and re-readings emerge from the earlier formal repertory, paving the way for an eclectic postmodernism.
Ferreira then highlighted the work of renowned Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer such as the UN Headquarters in NY, Copan Building in São Paulo, Biennale building at Ibirapuera Park in Sao Paulo, Alvorada Palace in Brasilia, National Congress of Brazil in Brasilia, Brasilia Cathedral, and detailed many projects in the city of Brasilia.
He reports that the present generation of architects has left behind the exuberant concrete curves of Oscar Niemeyer to reveal their own, distinctive vision of the architectural future. An economically buoyant period in the nation’s history has brought forth a new form of architecture. Today, unlike in the 50s, the museums, sports arenas and spacious residences of wood, glass and concrete are being commissioned by private clients.
The work of this new generation of architects is not limited to Rio and São Paulo: innovative designs can be found across the country. They also dance with concrete, give it folds and edges, but their buildings do not shout for attention with exalted shapes; instead, they blend into their surroundings, they take a backseat and let nature and art communicate.
He shared that Brazilian architecture today has about 140 higher education schools scattered throughout the country, and the profession is firmly established; the new architects now leave the school more prepared to act in a contemporary world and to confront the challenges of today, having some understanding of politics, macroeconomics, technology and culture, and how to put architecture in context with these dimensions.
The lecture was followed by a lively Q&A session with the audience.
By Cinatra Fernandes – Arab Times Staff