by André Aranha Corrêa do LagoPublished on : Apr 21, 2022
Brazil and India share a long history of friendship and political and economic bonds. Yet much of Brazil’s society, economy, history, creative thinking and arts, to name a few dimensions, are not as widely known here as they could be. To celebrate 200 years of Brazilian independence this year, the Embassy of Brazil held a series of events in partnership with Indian organisations to showcase the diversity and quality of the country’s contributions to the world in various fields. Three exhibitions, which started in New Delhi between February and April and will later move to other major cities in India, are the visual expression of the program.
Building Brazil 1822-2022 at the India Habitat Centre
Burle Marx at Sunder Nursery – A photographic essay by Leonardo Finotti in partnership with the Aga Khan Trust for Culture and UNESCO
Brasília 60 Years+ at the National Gallery of Modern Art
Building Brazil 1822-2022 is an exhibition with more than 200 photographs currently on display at the India Habitat Centre, Delhi. Later this year, the exhibition will also travel to Kolkata. It provides a unique insight on the quality and diversity of Brazilian culture expressed in its buildings. Two masters of Brazilian photography were invited and presented some of their most beautiful recent photographs. A photographic essay by Cristiano Mascaro covers Neo-Classic, Eclectic and Art-Deco construction in Brazil from 1822 to the 1930s. From the 1930s to present days, Leonardo Finotti’s pictures showcase some of the symbols of modernist and contemporary architecture in Brazil. All photographs are recent and show a Brazil you can witness today.
The richness and diversity of Brazilian architecture is recognised for works done in the colonial period too, before the early 19th centuries. Those include religious sites and military forts of the 16th century, particularly in Salvador, Bahia, and the 18th century ‘Barroco Mineiro’, the baroque style in the state of Minas Gerais. Large architectural ensembles in cities like Ouro Preto and Mariana host masterpieces of the great sculptor and architect known as ‘Aleijadinho’, recognised as the first major architect in Brazil. However, the exhibition at India Habitat Centre is entirely about independent Brazil. It covers four phases: Monarchy (1822-1889); the First phase of the Republic (1889-1930s); the Industrialisation, urbanisation, strong population and economic growth phase (1930s-1984); and the New Republic (since 1985).
Brazil is one of the countries that absorbed the precepts of modern architecture in the most interesting ways and this helped strengthen Brazil’s national identity. Unlike other countries which, over the centuries, developed a typical national architecture recognisable – sometimes in a caricatural way  – Brazilian architecture is not so much a legacy of the past, but essentially modern. The modernist tradition, built around the metaphoric concept of ‘anthropophagy’ (‘eat’ all foreign influences, digest it and create something new) developed by intellectuals a hundred years ago during the Modern Art Week (São Paulo, February 11-17, 1922) recognised the Brazilian contradictions and the legitimacy of searching for identity in the country’s cultural mix. From indigenous to Africans, from the Portuguese colonisers to the Italian and Japanese immigrants, everything is infused in Brazil.
Architecture remains the best witness of any period, no matter how good or bad it was. In Brazil, as in so many countries, architecture also mirrors the image favoured by those holding the political and economic power in a certain period of national history.
Brazil has no ruins of large, pre-Columbian buildings, like in Peru or Mexico, because the indigenous peoples that lived in its territory used to build mainly with wood. Nevertheless, indigenous constructions very similar to those of past times are still being done nowadays in various regions of the country, thanks to the preservation of certain cultures. The first phase of the Portuguese colonisation, in the early 16th century, was basically marked by the construction of religious sites and military forts. By the end of the century, there were already extraordinary churches – such as Salvador’s Cathedral – and several buildings of great architectural quality all over the coast of Brazil. One type of colonial architecture that deserves special attention is the 18th century ‘Barroco Mineiro’, the baroque style in the state of Minas Gerais. These constructions are objects of great admiration, and large architectural ensembles in cities like Ouro Preto and Mariana, host masterpieces of the great sculptor and architect known as ‘Aleijadinho’ (the “little cripple’), recognised as the first significant architect in Brazil.
Not familiar to many is the fact that Brazil achieved political independence in 1822 by the hand of crown prince Don Pedro of Portugal, who became Emperor Pedro I of Brazil. He ruled a huge territory (two and a half times bigger than India today) with only five million inhabitants. In 1831, Pedro I abdicated and went back to Portugal (to become Pedro IV of Portugal), leaving his young son, Emperor Pedro II, as successor. The new sovereign ruled over a long period of national maturation, and unity was built around the court in Rio de Janeiro. For almost 70 years of monarchy, Brazilian emperors replicated in their tropical country the architectural styles found in Europe at that time, starting with Neo-Classicism. Thus, in the mid-19th century, one could easily spot several buildings in the diverse European styles in Brazil.
Becoming a Republic in 1889 paved the way for the adoption of a new architectural style that reflected the contemporary trend: Eclecticism. Many public buildings such as train stations, markets, theatres and gazebos were imported in large prefabricated steel parts and assembled in Brazil to be installed across the territory. These works remain and showcase a European industrial architecture that is also present in India. Perhaps the first attempt to find a new national style comes from Art Nouveau and Art Deco in Brazil, from the 1900s and 1930s. The decorative dimension of these styles allowed the incorporation of indigenous elements that gave a particular personality to many buildings, especially in Rio de Janeiro, then still the capital of Brazil. 
Only after the 1930 revolution – when a group of politicians decided to start a strong industrialisation project in Brazil – did the ideals of Brazilian Modernism from the Modern Art Week gain prominence in architecture. Once again, architecture became a symbol of a Brazilian political phase. However, for the first time, Brazil was no longer an importer but an exporter of architectural ideas. Modernists post-1930 have not only developed high-quality architecture based on the best knowledge and thought available in the world (in particular Le Corbusier’s principles), they have also studied and preserved the constructions of the previous centuries in Brazil. An architecture adapted to the country’s tropical climate has since flourished, often enriched with historical references from the colonial period. With the Pampulha complex in Belo Horizonte (1942) and even more with the construction of Brasília (1957-60), Brazilian modern architecture gained recognition around the world. The adventure of relocating the country’s capital to a secluded and far-off region became a subject of enormous interest and its inauguration attracted wide international press coverage.
Brasília is a unique example of modernist architecture and urban planning brought to fruition in the 20th century. It was proclaimed a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987 and named “City of Design” by the United Nations in 2017. The visual impact of Brasilia’s official buildings – especially the beauty and originality of the Congress, the Cathedral and the Alvorada and Planalto Presidential Palaces – made architect Oscar Niemeyer (1907-2012) phenomenally famous. From the epic construction to its most recent buildings, the Brasília 60 Years+ exhibition at the National Gallery of Modern Art will showcase this development of Brazil’s modernist capital. 
Brazilian modern architecture is much more varied than one would imagine at first, and several names besides Niemeyer have achieved excellence in their works in Brazil since the 1930s. The list includes Lúcio Costa, Gregori Warchavchik, Affonso Eduardo Reidy, Villanova Artigas, Lina Bo Bardi, Lelé (João Figueiras Lima) and Paulo Mendes da Rocha, among many others. Another interesting case is Roberto Burle Marx, who was the first garden designer in the 20th century to value tropical plants as essential features of important parks and gardens. Thanks to him, the integration of architecture and landscape design, with their sinuous and coloured forms, has become one of the strongest characteristics of Brazilian modern architecture. With such a combination of great talents, architecture became one of the most striking and recognised aspects of Brazilian culture. I would like to draw attention to six masters of architecture and one of landscape designs who, in a very different way, showed the richness, originality and variety of Brazilian modernism.
One of the most successful traditional architects of Rio de Janeiro in his youth, Lúcio Costa executed works in the neocolonial style with great quality. However, after attending a lecture by the French-Swiss architect Le Corbusier, who was in Brazil in 1929, he began to develop what would eventually become the main pillars of Brazilian modernism. Costa not only introduced in the country the concepts of the most advanced architecture of the period, but also fostered the appreciation of Portuguese colonial architecture in Brazil, laying the foundations for the protection of its historical heritage. He was a teacher and inspirer of a whole generation of architects and gathered some of the greatest talents to design the Ministry of Education and Health between 1936 and 1942 in Rio de Janeiro. This was the world’s first tall glass building, also the first in Brazil that influenced international architecture. Costa has done everything from popular homes to large residences and various apartment buildings, offices and hotels. However, his most striking legacy is certainly Brasília’s 1957 urban plan. The project was completed in record time and became arguably the most ambitious achievement of 20th century modernist urbanism in the world.
An architect as well-known as Oscar Niemeyer does not need much introduction. He is hailed as one of the greatest architects of his generation, a key figure in the development of modern architecture. Niemeyer is best known for his designs of civic buildings for Brasília as well as his collaboration with other architects on the headquarters of the United Nations in New York. He built extensively in Brazil but also in France, Algeria, Italy, and Spain.  In 1997, he was honoured with the Pritzker Architecture Prize, considered the ‘Nobel Prize for architects’.
Niemeyer continued working at the end of the 20th century and into the early 21st century, designing approximately 600 projects over a 78-year career. He died in Rio de Janeiro at the age of 104.
Roberto Burle Marx was the first garden designer in the 20th century to value tropical plants as essential features of important parks and gardens. Until he started his practice in the 1930s, most gardens had to follow the rules set by the great gardening traditions: French, Italian, English, Japanese, and Mughal, amongst others. Burle Marx brought into the landscape design plants from the tropics that were generally associated with a disorderly or wild context. He created a new aesthetic that played with individual, exceptional specimens and large sets of the same plant groupings. One of the most important aspects of Burle Marx’s contribution to the art of gardening is the blend of clearly planned designs with wild, untouched nature – a subtle transition between designed landscape and wilderness. Burle Marx’s far-reaching legacy includes gardens that are purely reliant on the use of different plants, to more astonishing projects with stone and concrete works – and even ruins. Many of his gardens have geometric forms, better appreciated from the top, a result of his training as an artist, heavily influenced by abstract art.
Born in Italy and fully involved in the most influential group of architecture from her home country, Lina moved to Brazil shortly after World War Il, accompanying her husband Pietro Maria Bardi, a great art critic who was invited to put together the collection of the São Paulo Art Museum. Since its 1951 ‘glass house’ and the construction of the monumental São Paulo Museum of Art in the 1960s, she showed that she had all the qualities to become a great architect following the ‘mainstream’. However, she opted for a different path as she gradually absorbed varied aspects of Brazilian culture and traditions. The work she developed on various aspects of Brazilian popular art led her to avenues hitherto unexplored by formal architecture. She absorbed various influences and began to use traditional construction materials and techniques, thereby creating a very original work, which is being increasingly studied and appreciated internationally.
Lúcio Costa mentioned that Niemeyer, Lelé and himself, respectively, represented creation, construction and tradition in Brazilian architecture. In fact, the most discreet and perhaps less well known of the great Brazilian architects devoted much more to construction techniques than to shapes. In the late 1950s, recently graduated in architecture, Lelé moved from Rio to Brasília for the construction of the new capital. The challenge of finding solutions to build the city as quickly as possible fascinated him from a young age, which led him to develop various techniques and technologies throughout his life. He devoted himself completely to the making of public projects such as hospitals, schools and urban infrastructure. His various projects for the Sarah chain of hospitals are revolutionary for their building solutions (steel and concrete), patient circulation autonomy, natural ventilation and the choice of colours (with the help of talented artists like Athos Bulcão) to make the hospital premises attractive rather than sad and disheartening. Always concerned with social issues, Lelé started to manufacture parts of precast reinforced concrete to lower the construction costs of public buildings. He also created a series of parts specially developed to be lighter so they could meet the needs of construction in low-income neighbourhoods. Hence, his main legacy is economic, sustainable, high-tech construction, done with extreme architectural quality.
In 2006, Paulo Mendes da Rocha was the second Brazilian architect to receive the Pritzker Prize. He essentially built in Brazil until the 1980s when Brazil became globally recognised. Since then, he has won multiple awards: In 2016, he received the Golden Lion of the Venice Biennale and the Premium Imperiale International Arts Award, Japan’s most prestigious prize. His architecture is generally classified as belonging to the Escola Paulista, a movement that began in the 1950s and is characterised by the extensive use of reinforced concrete, favouring the structure and avoiding the curves that characterise the modernist architecture of Rio de Janeiro. Mendes da Rocha’s architecture impresses with its rigour and integrity – the same architectural principles apply to all programmes, from individual houses to museums, stadiums and universities. Rocha was devoted to this kind of architecture from the 1960s, creating an almost disturbing coherence in his work. If one can fairly easily recognise one of his buildings, knowing the precise decade in which it has been constructed might be rather difficult.
The new generation has been exploring new and more contemporary paths, enriching and strengthening the country’s architectural tradition, especially modernism. In urbanism, too, Jaime Lerner became a central voice in shaping solutions for more sustainable cities. The Building Brazil 1822-2022 exhibition shows the evolution through the recent works of more than 30 contemporary architects. From Angelo Bucci to Gustavo Penna, Isay Weinfeld, Arthur Casas, Marcio Kogan, Brasil Arquitetura, Paulo Jacobsen, Thiago Bernardes, Gustavo Utrabo, Andrade Morettin, Alvaro Puntoni, and Carla Juaçaba.
By developing a particular way of approaching modernity in architecture, Brazil played a central role in 20th century architecture, sometimes exerting a strong worldwide influence. Because it did not belong to the club of wealthy nations with a long tradition in the history of architecture, Brazilian modern architecture faced severe resistance; since it seemed very difficult for some critics to recognise the merits of the constructions in a peripheral country. But that is what makes Brazilian architecture even more relevant today, in the context of the challenge of integrating millions of people in cities in the developing world. We hope the exhibitions generate the curiosity of the Indian public about the multiple talents of Brazil, old and new.
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André Aranha Corrêa do Lago
André Aranha Corrêa do Lago is the Ambassador of Brazil to India. A recognised architecture critic and writer, has has been a member of the prestigious Pritzker Prize jury, and has served as the curator of the Brazilian Pavilion in the 2014 Venice Architecture Biennale. Between 2011 and 2013, he was also Brazil’s Chief Negotiator for Climate Change and Sustainable Development, including for the Rio+20 UN Conference, which launched the Sustainable Development Goals. Between 2005 to 2016, André served as a member of the Architecture and Design Committee of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York, and is currently a member of the International Council of MoMA.
André Aranha Corrêa do Lago is the Ambassador of Brazil to India. A recognised architecture critic and writer, has has been a member of the prestigious Pritzker Prize jury, and has served as the curator of the Brazilian Pavilion in the 2014 Venice Architecture Biennale. Between 2011 and 2013, he was also Brazil’s Chief Negotiator for Climate Change and Sustainable Development, including for the Rio+20 UN Conference, which launched the Sustainable Development Goals. Between 2005 to 2016, André served as a member of the Architecture and Design Committee of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York, and is currently a member of the International Council of MoMA.
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