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.

While conscious of the power exercised in sexual relations between owners and slaves, he describes a sexual landscape of apparently far greater range and licence than that possible in the world of the urban bourgeois of the early twentieth century. There is in Freyre and his circle nostalgia for an erotic life they knew of by rumour or hearsay, but in all probability had never experienced themselves. This nostalgia has a large amount of fantasy (after all, sex in the fazenda, as Freyre himself acknowledges, could be a vehicle for oppression as much as pleasure), but, nevertheless, it is a vital part of Brazil’s self-perception. Specifically from the point of view of architecture, the erotic is an integral part of early Modernism in Brazil. It is sometimes more explicit than others; sometimes the erotic is manifest in sublimation of the realm of the senses, sometimes in the provision of spaces in which flirtation may be positively encouraged, sometimes by designing buildings that allude specifically to sex. But it is, arguably, always there, above all in Niemeyer’s work. Sex is central to his visual repertoire, from the comparison he has repeatedly made between the female form in his curvaceous architecture, to the women sunbathers who populate his architectural sketches, to the photographs of female nudes that decorate his desk. This blog explores these manifestations of the erotic in Brazil’s Modernist architecture, centered on the architecture and architectural discourse of the 1940s, but also showing how they persist into the present day.
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