Gustavo Capanema Palace
The Gustavo Capanema Palace (in Portuguese, Palácio Gustavo Capanema) is an office building in Rio de Janeiro that is one of the finest examples of Brazilian 1930s modernist architecture. It was designed by a team composed of Lucio Costa (future designer of the layout of Brazil's modernist capital Brasília), along with Affonso Eduardo Reidy, Ernani Vasconcellos, Carlos Leão and Jorge Machado Moreira. Oscar Niemeyer, who was to become Brazil's best-known architect, also took an important role in the design process, as an intern in Costa's office. The group invited Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier to oversee the project, which was designed in 1935-1936. Construction was begun by the Getúlio Vargas government in 1939 and was completed in 1943, to house Brazil's new Ministry of Education and Health (now divided in 3: Ministry of Education, Health and Culture). In 1960 the national capital was moved to Brasília, while the building became a Rio office for the ministry, which it remains today.
The building is named after author and educator Gustavo Capanema, who was the first Minister of Education of Brazil. It is located at Rua da Imprensa, 16, in the downtown Rio area of Castelo. Delighted with the shape of Guanabara Bay, Corbusier suggested that the building should be located next to the sea, instead of on an inner downtown street, but the government declined.
The project was extremely bold for the time. It was the first modernist public building in the Americas, and on a much larger scale than anything Le Corbusier had built until then. Modernism as an aesthetic movement had a great impact in Brazil, and the building—which housed the office charged with cultivating Brazilian formal culture—included various elements of the movement. It employed local materials and techniques, like the blue and white ceramic tiles (azulejos) linked to the Portuguese tradition. Despite being a large office building, the structure has a distinct lightness to it, as it is raised on round colomns (pilotis) with access unobstructed from surrounding sidewalks and pedestrian areas. The building embraces bold colours and contrasts of right angles and flowing curves, such as the vitreous blue curving structures on the roof hiding the water tanks and elevator machinery. An internal concrete frame allowed the two broad sides of the building to be entirely of glass. Tropical sunshine on glass walls is controlled by Corbusian sun-shades (brises-soleil) made adjustable in a system that was the first of its kind in the world. Tropical gardens were laid out by the great landscape architect Roberto Burle Marx; these included majestic Imperial Palms (roystonea oleraceæ) known as the Brazilian order. The building also included specially commissioned works of other Brazilian artists. Most notable are the mural tiles outside and large wall paintings inside by Cândido Portinari, Brazil's most famous painter.
The building is especially important in the architectural history of Brazil. Modernism there gained great momentum as an aesthetic turning of the page against the "old" Brazil, rural, undeveloped, conservative, and poor. Members of the design group developed a modern architectural vocabulary creating a style that became virtually official and predominant in the country into the 1980s. Beside Costa, Niemeyer, and Burle Marx, who respectively were responsible in the late 1950s and early 1960s for the architecture, layout, and landscaping of the new national capital, Affonso Eduardo Reidy and Burle Marx also worked in the 1950s on Rio's grand, modernist bay-side park, the Aterro do Flamengo, in which Reidy designed the Museum of Modern Art.
The Capanema Palace is also interesting and contradictory in political history. Le Corbusier and the European modernist architects formed various leftist schools of thought, and the Brazilian modernist movement was also left-leaning, with some of its proponents, such as Oscar Niemeyer, active in the Communist Party of Brazil. Yet the ministry building was commissioned by a government that had taken power by force in 1930 and moved further right into outright dictatorship in 1937. Vargas jailed leftists and copied elements of Italian fascism in his attempted re-founding of Brazil as an "Estado Novo," or "New State." This was just as fascism and dictatorship were reaching peak power in Europe, and Vargas dabbled with loyalty to the Axis. Brazil, however, ultimately sided with the US and its Allies, and the Gustavo Capanema Palace was finished in mid-World War II as Brazilian soldiers were being sent to Italy to fight against fascism.
There is a footage of the setting of the first stone of the building, supposedly shot by Humberto Mauro, the most important Brazilian filmmaker of the time. In those scenes, minister Gustavo Capanema is shown delivering a speech. Also visible are modernist poet Carlos Drummond de Andrade, aide to Capanema, and the intellectual Roquette Pinto, among others. The footage is currently kept at the CTAv - Centro Técnico Audiovisual (Audiovisual Technical Center) archive, in Rio de Janeiro. It was included in the feature length documentary Pampulha ou a invenção do mar de Minas, directed by Oswaldo Caldeira.
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Media related to Edifício Gustavo Capanema at Wikimedia Commons