When I was student in New York City, I would often spend hours thumbing through the titles of books at the Strand Bookstore. One day I came across Latin American Architecture Since 1945. The black and white book, written by Henry-Russell Hitchcock in 1955, showed a world of precise modernism. The buildings, situated in a tropical climate, set atop pilotis with gardens flowing in and under them, with brise soleils filtering the strong equatorial light, were perfect. I often would stare into the pages and attempt to create similar projects on my drafting board.
Fifteen years later, on a journey to Brazil, I sought out the projects that were indelibly written into my memory. I expected, or hoped, to find them as they were on the pages. But what I found instead are buildings that are used and worn, showing age like the yellowing pages of the book itself. Despite this, the buildings were very much alive. Children were kicking a ball around in the housing bar and patients were still healing in Neimeyer’s hospital. These projects were not the crisp sun drenched modernism of my imagination, but they exceeded my expectation with an unexpected vibrance.
Affonso Eduardo Reidy, Pedregulho Housing (1950-52)
Lucio Costa, Guinle Park residential buildings, Caledonia (1954)
Lucio Costa, Guinle Park residential buildings, Nova Cintra (1948)
MMM Roberto, Julio de Barros Barreto Apartment Building (1947)
Oscar Niemeyer, Hospital Da Lagoa (1952)
John Hartmann is a principal at Freecell Architecture and is currently teaching at the School of Constructed Environments at Parsons. He was in Brazil with his wife, Gia Wolff, who received the 2013 Wheelwright Prize to study the spectacle of carnival floats in the city.