By traditional standards, Brazil’s Modernism is of a decidedly impure kind. This has long been recognized, but more usually described as a fault. In architectural discourse, perhaps the best-known statement about it is by the Bauhaus-trained architect Max Bill. We have already seen his opinion of the mes. Even worse was what he had seen in São Paulo. Bill was incandescent. In the city he had found
modern architecture sunk to the depths, a riot of anti-social waste lacking any sense of responsibility towards the business occupant or his customers . . . thick pilotis, thin pilotis, pilotis of whimsical shapes lacking any structural rhyme or reason, disposed all over the place.

It was ‘jungle growth’, he concluded in a curiously neo-colonialist aside, not architecture. Bill’s understanding of Modernism is a fundamentally rational project in which form is ultimately determined by function or need. It has little room for flights of fancy, for decoration, for individualism, for anything, in fact, that cannot be rationally justified. It barely needs to be said that Bill’s formulation rules out not only the street that caused him so much displeasure, but also most of Brazil’s Modernist buildings.

Bill’s Modernism is univalent, and in a curious way apolitical in that it attempts to stand outside worldly affairs. By contrast, Modernism in Brazil is polyvalent and highly politicized, with each strand in effect a representation of a distinct worldview. Not all of these worldviews overlap, either chronologically or ideologically, and for these reasons normative Euro-American understandings of Modernism do not work. In the past this was understood as a problem, or a weakness, inside as well as outside Brazil – there was, as it were, an intellectual conspiracy to keep Brazil provincial. More recently, a revisionist approach has become apparent, not least because the multivalency of the Modernist project in Brazil has provided contemporary architects with models for its continuation in the present. The exhibition Entrar e Sair da Modernidade (Getting In and Out of Modernity), held at the Museu de Arte de São Paulo (masp) in 2008, is a good example of the revisionist approach in practice. Its curator, Teixeira Coelho, wrote:
The Modern is not one but several. All of them, plus the reflection on the whole, form Modernity. The artists of the time did not all line up along the same perspective. Some of them decided to enter this Modernity; others, at some moment tried not to get in, or get out of it – at the same time pretending by doing that, in certain cases, to be more modern than the rest or to be really modern.
Coelho was writing with regard to art, but the argument he makes works equally well for architecture and urbanism. For this reason, the book has been organized around a set of distinct politics. There is a broad chronology, but this chronology does not itself describe a coherent narrative because, frankly, there is none to be described. If there is a story here, it is that the mutability of Modernism in Brazil is what has allowed it to persist, in marked contrast to the situation elsewhere, in which it has ossified or died. Modernism in Brazil remains alive because of its capacity to change. Some of this mutability can be seen here in the topics of the chapters: the politics of historical identity, the politics of Eros, the politics of industrial progress, the politics of poverty, the politics of social liberation, the politics of spectacle, the politics of public space, and, finally, the politics around the legacy of Brazil’s Modernist architecture. All these categories have clear representation in architecture, as we shall see. They show that we are not dealing with a single, monolithic Modernism, but multiple, overlapping and often contradictory Modernisms. The traditional view of Brazil’s modern architecture, dominated by the so-called Carioca school around Niemeyer, is therefore just one strand among many.
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