Freyre’s affection for the casa grande was shared by many important Brazilian intellectuals of the 1930s, almost all of whom can be identified with the left. Among them was Costa, who included it among the types of buildings of the historical past that he wished to defend. Like Freyre, he moves into a wistful, nostalgic mode when describing the casa grande.

Quoted by Freyre in the English preface to Casa Grande e Senzala, he declares: ‘How one meets oneself there . . . and how one remembers things one never knew but which were there all the while; I do not know how to put it – it would take a Proust to explain it.’ For both Freyre and Costa it was an ‘honest’ form, a true expression of a national identity, an expression of continuity with the past. It was the exact equivalent of the Georgian townhouse in British architectural discourse at the same time: an acceptable historical building that could be adapted or appropriated for modern design. Neither Costa nor Freyre entirely forgot the fact that the casa grande was the representation of a feudal system based on slavery, which materialized innumerable cruelties. Freyre’s problem was the amelioration of this cruel fact. The solution was the fantasy of racial democracy. Freyre argued that what appeared on the surface to be cruel and unequal was underneath more complex, with means of communication – principally sex – between master and slave that suggest a far more permeable and mobile system than might otherwise be imagined. The frank miscegenation represented by Brazil’s population – in stark contrast to the cult of segregation in the United States – was Freyre’s principal evidence. That this mixing may arise from rape, sexual bondage, prostitution and other forms of non-consensual sex is never fully accounted for. The important thing is the creation of a myth of freedom. Costa admits that the casa grande is dependent on slave labour, but when he refers to the casa grande’s terrace from which the planter with his gaze could take in the entire organism of rural life’, his sympathies are with the planter. Given his patrician views and bourgeois upbringing, however, it is hard to imagine him thinking in any other way.

Freyre’s advocacy of the casa grande remained with him throughout his career. A critique of Brasilia published in 1960 (Brasil, Brasis, Brasilia) complained of the defiantly urban sensibility of the new capital, proposing instead a mode of settlement derived from the plantation.

Now in all of this there is an understanding that traditional Brazilian society was facilitated by slavery. The slave, as Costa noted later, was the antecedent of mechanized labour; the slave was ‘the sewer, running water hot and cold, light switch, the doorbell’. But there is nevertheless a powerful romanticization of the society and life of the casa grande, a romanticization that is made from the point of view of the privileged class. This is seen generally in the nostalgia in Freyre’s writing for a preindustrial society, and the accompanying mythification of class and race relations, and in specifically architectural terms in the forms of certain modern buildings. The architects (in every sense) of the Modern Movement in Brazil therefore came from the privileged classes, and retained – albeit in modified form – much sympathy with the values of the class from which they came. Hence the curious paradox of Modernist buildings being designed for a future classless society, yet deploying the vocabulary and reference points of the elite. It is Brazil’s manifestation of a similar paradox seen in Modernist architecture from the Soviet Union to Britain.

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