The erotic programme described by Pampulha became part of fashionable architectural taste. In the private realm, Brazil’s wealthy commissioned an enormous variety of modern houses from the 1930s onwards, many of which have since become iconic. The range, variety and quality of these houses is as high as anywhere in the same period. 

The erotic potential of the Casino is reiterated in the much smaller Casa do Baile, a kind of outdoor nightclub. It takes up, in simplified form, the shapes of the hotel terrace, making a combination of a restaurant and a dance-hall, set directly across the lake from the more monumental Casino. Unlike the Casino, it is a calculatedly informal space, which confuses indoors and outdoors, private and public, providing a variety of spaces to frame a number of activities, from the public activity of dancing, to flirting, to (perhaps in the bushes by the lake) something more serious.

The Pampulha hotel is also, unquestionably, a space organized primarily for pleasure. The curves alone suggest organic, bodily forms, but they are filled with spaces for all kinds of physical pleasures: dancing, sleeping, relaxing, and flirting. The furniture is virtually all horizontal. Bar the inevitable Barcelona chairs, the terrace is scattered with chaises lounges and easy chairs. The terrace merges imperceptibly with the beach; one is virtually commanded to lie down. And as Niemeyer draws it, it is a scene that is full of erotic activity. 

Inside Brazil, the erotic potential of Modernism is manifest on a grand scale at Pampulha (1940–42), Niemeyer’s first major solo commission. The project was a high-class housing estate built around an artificial lake, in an outer suburb of Belo Horizonte, Brazil’s third largest city and the capital of the inland state of Minas Gerais. It was initiated by the governor of the state of Minas Gerais, Juscelino Kubitschek (later president of Brazil, 1957–61), who proposed it as both a significant extension to the city and a piece of real-estate development through a publicly funded scheme to prime a new area with infrastructure. Designed in 1940, the complex was largely completed by 1942, in time for it to be featured prominently in the MOMA exhibition Brazil Builds.

The first large-scale exercise of this erotically charged Modernist architecture materialized outside Brazil, however, in the form of the Brazilian Pavilion at the New York World’s Fair of 1939–40. This, the first complete collaboration between Niemeyer and Costa, was located in the section of the fair given over to national pavilions. The two architects arrived in New York in 1938 and took up space in the office of Wallace Harrison, who would later coordinate the work with Niemeyer on the headquarters building for the United Nations.

The sketch relates closely to a series of slightly later erotic sketches of mulatas, mostly unclothed, by which Le Corbusier was clearly fascinated. They are big women, large-hipped and muscular, buttocks and breasts highly pronounced the opposite in every way from Le Corbusier himself, a pale, angular, awkward-looking European male. Look at these sketches side by side with the Baker sketch and the connection is clear enough, Baker as quasi-mulata, a safe form of exoticism, temporarily within the architect’s orbit.

Le Corbusier visited Brazil twice before the Second World War, visits that were of signal importance in the architect’s own career, but also of importance more widely in advancing an erotic conception of modern architecture. Kenneth Frampton wrote of the first visit (1929, organized through contacts of the French poet Blaise Cendrars) in particular as a ‘personal epiphany’ for the architect, and (later) probably the happiest time of his life. It also seems to have been an erotic epiphany, since Le Corbusier seems to have enjoyed a ‘close relationship’ (as Frampton coyly puts it) with the African-American jazz singer Josephine Baker, whom he met en voyage to Rio, and who is the subject of a number of drawings. 

Both Zweig and Castro are also preoccupied with the eroticism of the beaches. For Zweig, writing in the late 1930s, the beach is the place where dress codes relax, a place ‘devoted exclusively to luxury and sport, to the enjoyment of body and eye’. For contemporary commentators like Castro, the eroticism of the beach has come to subsume everything else. Copacabana (along with its prolongation, Ipanema) is the only place in a metropolitan city where it is entirely acceptable for diners to enter an expensive restaurant almost naked, in ‘bathing costume, no shirt, in sandals or barefoot, with the vestiges of the Atlantic Ocean still on their bodies . . . 

Niemeyer’s small architectural office can be found on the Avenida Atlantica, the great boulevard that defines Copacabana’s beach. There is in all probability no better-known beach in the world, its fame a product of such films as Flying Down to Rio (Thornton Freeland, 1932), starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, where Copacabana is represented as the apogee of urban eroticism. In thinking about the erotics of modern architecture, the beach is surely the best place to start. It is a landscape of vital importance, defining an ideal of sociability that architects have frequently tried to emulate or represent. 

The desire to assimilate the architectural past into the present described earlier was motivated in no small part by the erotic. One motivation was certainly – as with Costa – the desire for cultural continuity between past and present, as a part of an ultimately conservative worldview. But both Costa, and (particularly) Freyre found an erotic nostalgia in the casa grande, a longing for a slow, sensuous way of living in which nature was beautiful and abundant, as was sex; indeed, for contemporary readers of Casa Grande e Senzala, it is the frankness of Freyre’s account of the sexual life of the fazenda that stands out as most prescient.

There are a few other structures built on similar principles. There is a country house for Hildebrando Accioly near Petropolis by Francisco Bolonha from 1950, and a resort complex by the Roberto brothers from 1944, both large-scale exercises in Costa-style Modernism. For Bruand, the latter was a real triumph: ‘a perfect example of the application of the theories of Lucio Costa . . . here the synthesis between local tradition and the modern spirit reaches the high point of perfection’. But the real legacy is perhaps simply in the legitimacy Costa’s theories gave to the use of historic elements in otherwise Modernist buildings

The second case is Niemeyer’s so-called Catetinho (‘little Catete’), named after the president’s palace in Rio de Janeiro. This house for President Kubitschek was designed and constructed by Niemeyer in ten days in November 1956 from locally available materials. It is celebrated as the ‘first’ building in Brasilia, although that honour should really go to the favela of the Cidade Livre. 

The work of Costa, Freyre and MOMA amounts to a coherent intellectual attempt to project the past into the present, with the Grande Hotel at Ouro Preto perhaps its most highly developed manifestation. In terms of architecture, the Grande Hotel produced several significant derivatives, two of which are worth describing in detail. First is Costa’s own Park Hotel, in the Parque Sao Clemente at Novo Friburgo, a mountain resort town in the state of Rio de Janeiro (1940–44). In Cavalcanti’s view, this is no less than ‘Costa’s masterpiece’. In appearance, the Park Hotel is at first sight strikingly similar to Niemeyer’s Grande Hotel. 

Brazil Builds presents colonial architecture as a kind of proto-Modernism: austere, site-specific, using local materials and techniques, fit for purpose. Hence-consistent with Costa and Freyre – the enthusiasm for the casa grande, the form most amenable to this Modernist revisionism.
The Fazenda Vassouras, in the state of Rio de Janeiro, is a simple square mass on a huge monumental terrace, barely decorated outside, but housing some spectacularly florid interiors. The Fazenda Colubande, in Sao Goncalo, state of Rio de Janeiro, is an austere, horizontal building, with a grand terrace affording a splendid view – a prototype Grande Hotel.