It became easier to say that, in terms of architecture at least, ‘after Brasília nothing happened’, and this is certainly the impression given by many histories of the topic, both domestic and foreign. It was a process aided by the exile or imprisonment of most of the crucial figures of Brazilian Modernism, from Niemeyer to Mendes da Rocha. But an enormous amount happened after Brasília, not least because under the military Brazil underwent an unprecedented period of economic growth, the so-called economic miracle during which many large infrastructural projects were realized: the br 230 Trans-Amazonian highway (1972), the Ilha Solteira hydroelectric scheme of the Paraná River (1973) and the São Paulo metro (1974) are representative examples.

My extended history of Modernism therefore looks at the 1960s and ’70s in some detail. Crucial moments include the radical architectures of Vilanova Artigas and his disciples, the Grupo Arquitetura Nova; the para-architectural activities of artists such as Hélio Oiticica, and their sublimation of the aesthetics of the favela; the enormous growth of São Paulo and the extraordinary landscape produced by the ‘miracle’; the continued work of Modernists such as Niemeyer and Mendes da Rocha; in recent years, the revised concept of Modernism in the work of Ruy Ohtake and others; and the continuation of the liberal character of Modernist urbanism in the work of Jaime Lerner in Curitiba. This is a history that continues up to the present day and explicitly does not identify familiar points of ‘rupture’ in the discourse about Modernism.

Such ideological rupture is, in any case, hard to find in Brazil. It is significant that one the main sources for the death of Modernism, Jane Jacobs’s Death and Life of Great American Cities, was not published in Portuguese until 2000. This could be regarded as evidence of a provincial and backward architectural culture. I would argue otherwise – that Modernism was simply more embedded in Brazilian culture than elsewhere.

It was, and many ways still is, the default architectural culture, defining the country much better than the few remaining examples of Portuguese colonial building. The Brazilian architect best-known outside Brazil, Oscar Niemeyer, dominates all existing accounts of Brazilian Modernism, unsurprising given the number and quality of his buildings and his major presence in Brazil as a cultural figure. But his work is concentrated in a few places, and is dominated by a few prestigious building types. A study of Niemeyer has little to say about the explosive growth of Brazil’s cities during the late 1960s and early 1970s, about the vast commercial development of São Paulo, about radical attempts to rethink architecture and the role of architects in the 1960s, or about the astringent, moralizing strand of Brutalism that is still visible in the work of Mendes da Rocha, or the continuing presence of the favela in all big Brazilian cities.

I am not concerned here only with a small number of critically validated Modernist buildings by Niemeyer and a few others, concentrated in a limited historical period, but rather Modernism as a field of action, containing multiple critical ideas, architectures of varying and often degraded quality, and activities (such as art) on the periphery of architecture but still nonetheless important to its understanding of itself. This expanded view of Modernism provides a framework that allows us, as we shall see, to talk about such things as the extraordinary, but critically devalued landscape of São Paulo, the reiteration of Modernism in architecture in recent years and the luxury developments along the oceanfront in such places as Rio de Janeiro. It also provides many opportunities to talk about questions of poverty in architecture, questions that are usually ignored or devalued.
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