In this account, Cavalcanti describes most of the significant elements of the building: an extraordinary site, high up above the city in the mata atlantica, with views of the surrounding mountains and sea; a building that plays constantly with ideas of public and private space, collapsing one into the other; a building that still provides areas of intimacy, hidden away from private view; a house that stages and spectacularizes the body, providing a grand terrace on which guests can see each other and be seen to the best effect; a great swimming pool, defining the entrance to the house from the rear – indeed the house, like the later, Californian archetype, seems to emerge from the pool.
The erotic programme described by Pampulha became part of fashionable architectural taste. In the private realm, Brazil’s wealthy commissioned an enormous variety of modern houses from the 1930s onwards, many of which have since become iconic. The range, variety and quality of these houses is as high as anywhere in the same period.
The erotic potential of the Casino is reiterated in the much smaller Casa do Baile, a kind of outdoor nightclub. It takes up, in simplified form, the shapes of the hotel terrace, making a combination of a restaurant and a dance-hall, set directly across the lake from the more monumental Casino. Unlike the Casino, it is a calculatedly informal space, which confuses indoors and outdoors, private and public, providing a variety of spaces to frame a number of activities, from the public activity of dancing, to flirting, to (perhaps in the bushes by the lake) something more serious.
The Pampulha hotel is also, unquestionably, a space organized primarily for pleasure. The curves alone suggest organic, bodily forms, but they are filled with spaces for all kinds of physical pleasures: dancing, sleeping, relaxing, and flirting. The furniture is virtually all horizontal. Bar the inevitable Barcelona chairs, the terrace is scattered with chaises lounges and easy chairs. The terrace merges imperceptibly with the beach; one is virtually commanded to lie down. And as Niemeyer draws it, it is a scene that is full of erotic activity.
Inside Brazil, the erotic potential of Modernism is manifest on a grand scale at Pampulha (1940–42), Niemeyer’s first major solo commission. The project was a high-class housing estate built around an artificial lake, in an outer suburb of Belo Horizonte, Brazil’s third largest city and the capital of the inland state of Minas Gerais. It was initiated by the governor of the state of Minas Gerais, Juscelino Kubitschek (later president of Brazil, 1957–61), who proposed it as both a significant extension to the city and a piece of real-estate development through a publicly funded scheme to prime a new area with infrastructure. Designed in 1940, the complex was largely completed by 1942, in time for it to be featured prominently in the MOMA exhibition Brazil Builds.
The first large-scale exercise of this erotically charged Modernist architecture materialized outside Brazil, however, in the form of the Brazilian Pavilion at the New York World’s Fair of 1939–40. This, the first complete collaboration between Niemeyer and Costa, was located in the section of the fair given over to national pavilions. The two architects arrived in New York in 1938 and took up space in the office of Wallace Harrison, who would later coordinate the work with Niemeyer on the headquarters building for the United Nations.