There is a history of pre-colonial indigenous building that is rarely part of any architectural discourse. And there were other European presences besides the Portuguese. In 1816 the Portuguese emperor Joao VI brought a number of significant French artists to Brazil, including the architect Grandjean de Montigny, who designed the first significant French-style building in Brazil, the Escola de Belas Artes in Rio de Janeiro – thus began a significant period of French influence.

This piece of restrained Neoclassicism was the model for a small number of semi-public buildings in the middle of the nineteenth century: the Imperial Palace in the summer retreat of Petropolis, for example (1845–62). But this influence was limited to the royal sphere. The years immediately after the formation of the republic (1889) saw far more dramatic changes in Brazil’s built environment, especially in the big commercial centers. This period, at least the appearance of the Vargas regime in 1930, is characterized by architectural eclecticism, planning on a grand scale and giganticism in architecture to match a booming economy.

In architectural terms all this signified a literal turning away from Portugal. Rio was the centre of this process, which saw it partially reinvented as a subtropical Paris with vast Second Empire public buildings, formal parks and boulevards. This process was planned as early as 1871, and finally begun in 1903 under Francisco Pereira Passos, Rio’s municipal prefect. The crucial work was the creation of the Avenida Rio Branco, a major boulevard cutting straight and level, north–south across the old centre of the city.
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