Our trip to Brazil quickly turned into a bit of a Oscar Niemeyer pilgrimage. The architect’s supremacy over Brazilian architecture is of course a cause for debate, but that abundance of buildings and that feeling of “carte blanche” is of much interest for a foreigner. This allowed us to see the evolution of its style through the years and the projects, something you generally don’t get to witness so easily.
When you think of Niemeyer in Brazil you think of Brasilia. But you don’t necessary know that before that utopia-sized project, Kubitschek and Niemeyer had a sort of dress rehearsal in Belo Horizonte. Back then Kubitschek was a mayor and not yet a president, and Niemeyer only a promising architect, following into the footsteps of “the master”, aka Le Corbusier.
Between 1942 and 1944 the Pampulha complex is erected on the shores of a curvy artificial lake. It features a church, a casino, a yacht club and a ballroom, all signed by Niemeyer. He declares is a tropical version of the international style, one that is more in tune with the country’s landscape and climate. Fame will follow and the rest is history…
What is left of it today? How does it feel to see these almost humble beginnings after the monumental Brasilia?
It had a curious romantic feel, to tell you the truth.
Belo Horizonte -or a least what we saw of it- felt like a shapeless and rather ugly place and Pampulha sure looked like the one nice thing to go visit. Probably too nice and polished I thought to myself. Not really though…instead there’s a discreet feeling of abandon in the air. The neighbourhood is certainly well-off but Niemeyer’s buildings are showing a nice patina. The only buildings left open to the public are the church and the casino which has been turned into a museum. This is a much more intimate take on Niemeyer’s style, the scale, the materials and the bucolic vegetation tell the story of a small modernist eden built for a selected few. A big difference from the pharaonic proportions of Brasilia!
Still, like in the capital, you can fathom what they were dreaming of and how they were attempting to domesticate this wild and fierce land to make it this graceful and futuristic paradise. Not a small feat.
Museu De Arte Da Pampulha, 9am-6pm, closed on mondays (but you can still visit the property when the museum is closed)
Belo Horizonte is the third most populated city in Brazil