An early example of this tendency is the house that Gregori Warchav chik built for himself and his wife (1927–8, cited before). As much as this house broke with tradition, it also made explicit reference to the local context: its tiled roof, whitewashed facade and extensive veranda clearly refer to the vernacular architecture of the casa grande, of which more later. But Warchavchik is an isolated case. The crucial ideas in this context come from an institution, SPHAN (Sociedade do Patrimonio Historico e Artistico Nacional, or Society of National Historical and Artistic Heritage), created in 1937, and in which Lucio Costa was closely involved at the same time as designing the sensational MES. SPHAN was an organization that understood the codification and protection of the past as integral to the Modernist project.

In short, Brazil’s Modernism coexists with the desire to preserve the past; not only that, but its processes of modernization and preservation were often to be found in the hands of the same people. Modernization and historic preservation were not ranged against each other like implacable enemies as they so often are in Europe. Rather, in certain crucial contexts, they were regarded (and regard themselves) as coterminous. The shared enemy of both was unrestricted commercial development – hence Costa’s well-known essay of 1951, ‘Muita Construcao, Alguma Arquitetura e um Milagre’ (With so much construction, any architecture is a miracle).

As Lauro Cavalcanti has written, ‘Lucio Costa and Oscar Niemeyer planned the capital of the future at the same time as they remodelled the face of the symbolic capital of our colonial past.’ In the European tradition; this is an unfamiliar conception of the modern, which is generally more ruthless with the past. What it does resemble, however, is the British approach to Modernism seen in the circle around the Architectural Review in the 1930s. In this case, the same advocates of European Modernism – such as Nikolaus Pevsner – were also advocates of the English tradition of the Picturesque. The difference in Brazil is that such a vision was not marginal, in the true sense avant-garde, as it was in Britain. Instead, it was de facto government policy.
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