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Brazil still builds.

BRAZIL'S MODERN ARCHITECTURE

Edited by Elisabetta Andreoli and Adrian Forty, London: Phaidon. 2004. [pounds sterling]45

LATIN AMERICAN ARCHITECTURE 1929-1960: CONTEMPORARY REFLECTIONS

Edited by Carlos Brillembourg. New York: Monacelli Press. 2004. [pounds sterling]25

Brazilian architecture frequently featured in the pages of the AR, L'Architecture d'Aujourd'hui and Architectural Record from the early '40s until the completion of Brasilia in the mid '60s. Then, at about the time of the military coup in '64, it vanished from their pages. In Britain, it resurfaced ten years ago with the Lina Bo Bardi exhibition at the RIBA, followed by the occasional AR article and, two years ago, Oscar Niemeyer's Serpentine Gallery pavilion. Brazil's Modern Architecture covers--as no other publication has--the 'missing years' (and places Niemeyer's work in a sometimes unflattering perspective).

The introduction provides an excellent overview of Brazilian Modernism and its context. Five essays then explore the particular nature of an architecture that displays considerable technical skills but is hampered by an inadequate industrial infrastructure; building tectonics from the '30s onwards; approaches to urbanisation; the modern Brazilian house; and the construction process and creation of housing. It concludes with some highly accomplished contemporary case studies and a list of publications and places to visit. This is an elegantly produced, generously illustrated and highly readable book.

Among its most interesting aspects is the juxtaposition of Niemeyer and the other Carioca (Rio) architects responsible for the more familiar work up to and including Brasilia with the Paulista (Sao Paulo) architects who have since dominated the scene. The former were very much part of the project to create the trappings of a modern state with public buildings in related settings. The latter, coming from one of the largest, fastest growing and toughest 'world cities', have created a less lyrical, more introverted architecture. Some of the best sections are the accounts of the human cost that underlay the construction of Brasilia a capital city that reflects all too well the tremendous disjunctions in Brazilian society--and the efforts to create self-build housing co-operatives in Sao Paulo.

It is rare to find a book of this kind covering so well such a broad range of issues. These range from the slave-owning roots of Lucio Costa's 'colonial' house plans, to the polar differences between Carioca and Paulista uses of concrete and the imprisonment of architects during the military dictatorship. One surprising omission is the contribution of Roberto Burle Marx. Another, given the recurring theme of modern architecture's social agenda, is the lack of any mention of Curitiba surely one of the most 'sustainable' and socially integrated cities in the world whose success stems very largely from the leadership of its university architecture school.

Latin American Architecture 1929-1960: Contemporary Reflections is a collection of conference papers. Covering the period before the military dictatorships of the '60s, '70s and '80s, it describes a far less populous and more stable continent than today, when undisturbed by war, Latin American Modernism flourished enough to make an impact elsewhere. However, we have far more to learn by following developments since that period. Under the impact of globalisation, immigration and widening social division, Western world countries are becoming more and more like those in the Third World. Indeed, in Brazil's Modern Architecture, reference is made to the view of the German sociologist, Ulrich Beck, that Brazil is the epitome of things to come on a world scale.

Andreoli and Forty conclude that, 'The experience of Brazilian architects in finding ways to develop socially inclusive projects within a society that is socially exclusive begins to look more and more interesting ... There is a lesson of hope here for those who 'have abandoned modern architecture's social agenda as hollow and unrealisable.'
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Author:Carolin, Peter
Publication:The Architectural Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:May 1, 2005
Words:614
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