These ideas of Costa and Freyre, with all their manifest contradictions, were played out with remarkable clarity in a handful of small buildings. Chief among these is the Grande Hotel in Ouro Preto, whose name belies its small scale. It was designed by Oscar Niemeyer in 1938–9, with the well-documented involvement of SPHAN, and it was completed in 1940. The government of the state of Minas Gerais, of which the town is the old capital, first looked at building a new hotel on 1938, to capitalize on the city’s touristic potential, and considered a number of designs.

Niemeyer’s eventual design is a four-storey building built into the side of a hill near the Casa dos Contos, the old treasury building. It contains 44 rooms, including 17 curiously shaped duplexes, their two floors linked by a spiral staircase. Offices and kitchens occupy the ground floor, with a restaurant and public rooms on the floor above. It is horizontal in plan, and is defined by a veranda extending the width of the building. Each bedroom looks out onto the terrace, all of which overlook the town. The first two floors are mostly unimpeded public spaces. In common with the surrounding buildings, the building has a red tiled roof, whitewashed walls and stone from the nearby Pico do Itacolomi. There is wooden trellis dividing up the first-floor veranda; there are azulejos in the public rooms. In terms of materials the only outstanding concession to modernity is the use of opaque glass on the terrace. It is nevertheless a modern building, however much the exterior fits in with the surroundings. Its horizontal facade has no equivalent in the town; it has a concrete frame; it has pilotis reaching up to the third floor; its duplex apartments and spiral staircases have no historic precedent here.

The insertion of this modern building into a historic landscape was fraught and SPHAN was involved from the start. Its director, Andrade, approached the architect Carlos Leao to produce a design. Leao’s design, for the same small, sloping, site as that originally built on, was a heavy-handed symmetrical neoclassical building of four storeys, with a grand ceremonial staircase leading up to the main entrance. It employed the same tiles and stone as the neighboring buildings, and its squat window openings alluded to the solidity of the surrounding architecture. In its symmetry, proportions and solidity, it resembled the public buildings of the Praca Tiradentes, the city’s central square. Its location, an awkward, narrow site halfway down the steep Rua Sao Rocha Lagoa, was quite different. Leao’s design seems meant for a more open and central location; its grandeur is misplaced here. Andrade’s initial response, however, seems to have been favorable.

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