Rethinking Rio architecture

“If you close your eyes and pretend there’s no mountains or sea, it’s a tragedy.”

–Lauro Cavalcanti, Paço Imperial museum director and architect, in O Globo Jan. 29, 2011

O Globo‘s culture section, the Segundo Caderno, ran a cover story today (not online) in which Rio’s top architects conclude that nothing of architectural interest has happened in Rio de Janeiro since at least the 1950s. This might be about to change.

“In the hypothetical situation of a foreign friend visiting Rio, what representative architecture would you recommend?” asks the piece, going on to name the Palácio Gustavo Capanema, the Museum of Modern Art, the Edifício Biarritz, Cinelândia and Praça XV. All were built before 1960.

The architects interviewed make the following points:

  • There’s no discussion in  Rio about what is beautiful
  • In the 1980s and 90s Brazil lost touch with what was going on in architecture worldwide
  • Rio has given priority to the mechanical, to machines, and needs to focus more on human thought
  • City hall has an important role to play
  • Architects must organize, and university architecture departments should help people to rethink the city

Rio entered a long period of decline when the Brazilian capital moved to Brasília in 1960. It’s no coincidence that beauty was sidelined in the 80s and 90s, when the city became so dangerous to move around in that tourism fell off and cariocas retreated more and more to their own neighborhoods and homes. Fearing kidnapping, stray bullets, and robberies, schools even did away with student field trips. This has begun to change now, as the state government takes back territory from drug traffickers, setting up police pacification units, or UPPs. Crime has fallen significantly. This past week governor Sérgio Cabral announced that the next UPP, Rio’s 14th, will go to the Morro São Carlos favela, in the north zone. The civil police and the military police elite squad, BOPE, are already occupying the area.

The city has great architectural and urban potential, according to the president of the Rio chapter of the Brazilian Architects’ Institute (IAB), Sérgio Magalhães. He says this is because Rio draws on a multiplicity of spaces,  encouraging differences that bump up against each other, enriching culture. In conjunction with city hall, last year the IAB organized a groundbreaking contest to select 40 projects to help integrate Rio’s favelas with the rest of the city, the Morar Carioca (Carioca way of life) program. On Jan. 28 a ceremony was held to formally recognize the 40 projects, which begin work in March and will focus on bringing 216 of Rio’s 1000-plus favelas up to standard code, in areas close to Olympic installations and activities. According to O Globo, this second phase of Morar Carioca will benefit 312,000 people.

“[Morar Carioca is] Brazil’s first contribution to world contemporary architecture, ” Magalhães told O Globo. Here are the selected projects.

Another IAB-organized contest is now underway for the Porto Olímpico (Olympic port) program, which will select the best architectural and city planning project for the Olympic installations and vicinity, in Rio’s port area. These include the press and referees’ villages, a hotel and a convention center.

About Rio real

American journalist, writer, editor who's lived in Rio de Janeiro for 20 years.
This entry was posted in Brazil, Transformation of Rio de Janeiro / Transformação do Rio de Janeiro and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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