Marcelo and Milton Roberto, ABI building, Rio de Janeiro, 1936–39.

In standard architectural histories, Modernism is a set of precise values, with clearly defined historical limits. For Kenneth Frampton, Modernism’s origins lay in the latter part of the nineteenth century, in the various flourishings of Art Nouveau, for example, and the work of William Morris. Modernism came into being in the first two decades of the twentieth century through Le Corbusier and his followers, and the Bauhaus, then passed through the polarized sensibilities of Brutalism and Miesian neo-classicism. It is underpinned throughout by the certainty that architecture and human behavior are linked, and the resultant belief that architecture can and should change human society. It often declares itself to be inevitable, the logical result of developments in the human and natural sciences. Most importantly, the historians of Modernism write, it is over.

In Anglophone histories of Modernism, the date of the end is often astonishingly precise. Charles Jencks’s notorious statement that it ended with the demolition of the Pruitt-Igoe public housing project in St Louis on 16 March 1972 is clearly rhetorical. But for others, Modernism’s end is not much less precise; few writers in English assume it persisted any longer than the early 1970s.

Such a history is misleading when applied to Brazil, a country that has never had any popular reaction against Modernism. In Brazil, Modernism is, and has been since the 1930s, the default style for buildings of any size. In terms of brute output, the moment at which in the international journals Modernism was passing through its greatest crisis – 1968 to 1972 – was in Brazil probably its apogee, when its great cities became megalopolis, built up in the Modernist style, albeit a loosely interpreted version of it. If we are to take Brazilian Modernism seriously, we need therefore a different historical structure, crucially one that understands it not as a tendency of the historical past, but as something that continues into the present. This has not only to do with the particular critical understanding of Modernism in Brazil, but also – perhaps uniquely – at the time of writing the living presence of architects of the Modernist generation who have continued to work in the same idiom into the twenty-first century, principally Oscar Niemeyer and Paulo Mendes da Rocha. The book’s time frame therefore extends into the present.
edit post


0 Response to 'The history of Modernism in Brazil'

Post a Comment