The second cause is less concrete, perhaps. The first great period of interest in Brazil coincided with its emergence in the world as both an economic power and a democracy. The ‘disappearance’ of Brazil from international discourse coincides, arguably, with the period of military rule, when from 1964 onwards Brazil and Brazilian culture became inward-looking and xenophobic. The revival of Brazil in architectural terms is coincident with the return to democracy, but more than that, its entry into a globalized world of trade and the consolidation of its economy, particularly under Cardoso and Lula. But further, we might say that Brazil once again has started to represent a kind of future. It is big, and growing, and it has interests in areas of strategic, but often overlooked importance in the contemporary world. It is, and has long been, the world’s leading producer of bioethanol, and since the 1970s has run much of its private cars on this fuel. It grows soya in immense quantities, most of which it sells to the Chinese. It has lots of oil, most of it recently discovered. It builds more than 2.9 million cars annually, equal to production in France, and comfortably exceeding that of the UK and Spain. Its aerospace industry is the third largest in the world, and dominates the world market for airliners of up to 100 seats. There are few areas of the contemporary world in which Brazil does not have some strategic interest.
On top of this, Brazil’s experience of modernization during the past century has been an unusually self-conscious one; its economy and political life may be relatively undeveloped, but its intellectual culture has in many respects been as advanced as any in the developed world. The production of a new capital city and the explosion of Sao Paulo were accompanied by abundant discussion and analysis in a relatively free and vibrant media; academic life too remained relatively open, even vibrant, even during the most repressive years of the military period. Free and open discussion was for the most part possible and the outlets for discussion abundant. There is an immense amount of material to work with. The revival of the reputation of Brazil’s Modernism has been accompanied by a remarkable growth in the number of architecture schools: there were 42 schools at the end of the 1980s, and more than 120 now, a threefold increase that contrasts sharply with the situation in the developed world where contraction, not expansion, is the more familiar scenario. Brazil and its architecture are of global, not local significance, as this blog aims to make clear.

Its crucial manifestations in (say) the City of London in the early 2000s have been spectacular formal exercises first and foremost. Their emphasis on form, surface and spectacle above all else strongly recalls Niemeyer’s work, and it has been no surprise to find Norman Foster, Zaha Hadid and others cite him as a crucial reference point for their work. Niemeyer, in other words, has legitimized an architecture of formal experiment forty years after his greatest period; he has been a useful precedent. It is instructive, however, that the revival of Niemeyer’s reputation has had no place for the architect’s uncompromising politics. The revived Niemeyer has been stripped of his communism.

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