Brazil is one of the fascinating tourist destinations in South America, with a rich dose of history, a warm multi-culture, the colour-loaded carnival with lively rhythms of samba, the intriguing passionate people, delicious food, coffee and their great soccer players. The country is worth a visit to, not only to dive into the uncanny landscapes and their history but also to sightsee their diversity in architecture.
Brazil being the only Portuguese-speaking country on the continent, began to trend in colonial architecture and adapted Neoclassical–, Baroque– and Gothic revival-styles. In 1950, unlike the smoother round edges, some buildings were being designed as a part of a broader movement of brutalist architecture, showcasing the focus on construction techniques and solid massing using the exposed reinforced concrete, glass and buildings with less-refined finishes.
The late centurion architect Oscar Niemeyer played a key role in the development of modern architectural style in Brazil, for many government buildings, churches and even his family house: Canoas House on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro.
An itinerary to Brazil can never miss one of the seven wonders of the world, Christ – the Redeemer, an art-deco statue welcoming everyone with open arms and gazing out over the entire city of Rio de Janeiro. Here are few other examples that one can explore the assorted architectural style that Brazil does offer.
1. A Walk at Colonial Streets of Salvador
During the 18th century, buildings of this period did have features such as – symmetry, constructed with stone and mortar, boxes like structures with alcoves and recessed windows.
This style is seen on the streets of the old small town of the former capital city Salvador with multi-coloured colonial buildings, and a walk around one can discover many squares, plazas and churches.
The San Francisco Church Square is relatively simple with an immense amount of detail in the décor, with its gilded woodwork, monumental set of blue & white azulejo tile panels and intricate paintings, elements of the wall, pilasters and the facade constructed of Bahian sandstone.
2. The Plaza of the Three Powers
Located at the head of the abstract bird-shaped city plan of Brasilia designed by Lucio Costa, the Plaza of the Three Powers is a space where the government executives can meet harmoniously. The three government buildings—Planalto Palace (the Presidential Office), the National Congress (the bicameral Legislative) and the Supremo Tribunal Federal (Supreme Federal Court)—that surround the plaza are bold exposed concrete and glass structures designed by the architect Oscar Niemeyer. He explains: “It is like a moment of pause and reflection to make the freer architecture that I prefer better understood.”
The National Congress
The two-storey National Congress comprises two “cupolas” or half hemispherical domes above the overhanging flat roof; a shallow parabolic and a large inverted bowl-shaped over the Senate and Chamber of Deputies, and two twenty-seven storey linear towers housing the legislators’ office and other administrative functions, interconnected through a tunnel below.
The entrance ramp is at the opposite side of the building for access through the vast green surround and an expansive reflecting pool that separates the complex from the plaza.
The Presidential Palace
The Presidential Palace structure is in simple lines and has curved exterior columns arranged transversely to the building and is a design variation of the Alvorada Palace (designed by architect Niemeyer). A ramp leads to the hall and the Speaker’s platform for public address. A reflecting pool built later around the palace balances the humidity level during the dry weather.
The Supremo Tribunal Federal
The Supreme Federal Court building is into two volumes, the halls and representative function are at the foreground with a colonnade of arches made of reinforced concrete with exposed formwork, while the rear part is a taller, elongated and more discreet main building of the Court, with a neutral treatment of the facade, protected by wood parasols.
3. The Cathedral of Brasília
The Catedral Metropolitana, which is amongst the first buildings inaugurated designed by the architect Oscar Niemeyer in Brasilia, leading to his acceptance of the Pritzker Prize in 1988. The building is in a bundle shape with 70m diameter at the ground with sixteen columns that hyperbolically pinch upwards 40m high. One enters through a dark tunnel into the well-lit interiors by the stained windows in shades of blue, white and brown glasses.
The church has many sculptures like the 3m high four bronze sculptures outside and at the nave hangs the three angelic figurines, each ranging in size of around 2.22 to 4.25m in height. The architectural style of this building translated the power that the church holds in the community.
4. Museu do Amanhã at Rio de Janeiro
The Museum of Tomorrow is undeniably futuristic as one sets foot inside the stunning museum and complements the city’s beautiful landscape. Designed by the Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava and supported by the Roberto Marinho Foundation, this eye-catching architectural marvel is iconic to the local and cultural identity of the city of Rio De Janeiro.
The building operates by using the water for air-conditioning from the site, solar energy from integrated photovoltaic panels in the operable wing element of the cantilevered roof. Its purpose is to be a museum of modern arts and sciences and educate the people about the impact of climate change on the environment.
5. Iberê Camargo Foundation at Porto Alegre
Architect Alvaro Siza proposed to go vertical in design due to the complicated terrain and limited dimensions. Ground floor and three floors for exhibition rooms connected by a path through a smooth continuous ramp within and a slope in zig-zag designed because of the insufficient perimeter of the building to bypass the height, and this drew the facade of the building, detaching it from the main volume.
Pockets of landscape in almost uncharted places are like moving photos. The few openings in the building highlight its simplicity instead of a complex structure that seems closed and self-absorbed.
6. The Slice House at Porto Alegre
The slice house designed by Procter-Rihl Architects conceptualised as a Slice on an urban residue leftover after the opening of a new road. The project represented Brazil in the IV Latin American Architecture Biennale in October 2004 in Peru. The asymmetrical prismatic geometry, tilted walls and ceilings, defies the eyes of the beholder by creating illusions of larger space.
The thin timber formed poured concrete walls camouflaging the beams with the skin of the building and the modular steel component construction with the structural glass pool, making the house a hybrid version—depicting the rawness of Brazilian architecture and the precision of British architecture.
7. The Leaning Buildings of Santos
The coastline of the city of Santos offers a strange sight of buildings, where a chain of high-rise apartments is unambiguously tilted to one side that looks like dominoes about to topple and is now visible to the naked eye. The problem lies in the soil, where below a seven-meter layer of sand is a 30-40m deep bed of slippery clay with a low bearing capacity of the weight of the structures. There are close to a hundred buildings that lean between 0.5 to 1.8m. The people have adjusted to the situation however face a problem of devaluation of the property.
8. Museum of Art of Sao Paulo – MASP
The Museum of Art of São Paulo, MASP, is another symbol of modernist architecture inaugurated in 1968. The Italian architect Lina Bo Bardi designed this suspended building made of glass and exposed concrete, ensuring an unhindered view across the low-lying city street and allowing one to manoeuvre around. The stark voluminous box spans through the two enormous pre-stressed concrete beams, resting on the two massive red formwork columns.
A glass elevator connects the upper section to the below basement level letting one relate to outside and inside in the transition across the exhibition levels. As one passes through the street, one feels a notion of oppression through the mass, though while passing beneath the building one feels a respite.
9. Faculty of Architecture and Urbanism, University of Sao Paulo (FAU-USP) or Paulista School
Brazilian architect Vilanova Artigas with a group of other ambitious professors along with Carlos Cascaldiset to form the new Faculty of Architecture and Urbanism of the University of Sao Paulo (FAU-USP), designed the school building featuring brutalist architecture. The building features simple concrete walls, no entrance door and six levels are connected through the ramps to give the feeling of a continuous plane, to emphasise spatial continuity and facilitate the degree of coexistence and interaction among those who use it. Materials used gracefully express the design to allow ample light within by toning down the heaviness of concrete.
10. The Monkey House at Amazon
Paraty—a UNESCO World Heritage colonial town—having whitewashed and pastel houses with cobblestone streets, beaches and the best waterfalls of the country, a visit to the town one can opt to stay at the Monkey House.
A getaway cabin built during the pandemic, designed by Marko Brajovic, within the Brazilian part of the Amazon Forest, can be a nice escape from a bustling city by renting over Airbnb. Its midst the gap between the trees and is raised over slim stilts anchoring into the earth, depicting the roots of the native Jucara palm trees. The cabin is out of tropical garapeira hardwood with a larger-than-life gable roof made of galvalume corrugated sheets.
Rooms split over two levels with a semi-covered terrace at the apex provide an uninterrupted view into the forests while sipping a cup of Brazilian coffee. Few elements and curtains made from fishing nets are sourced from local communities, while some objects and furniture were made by the Guarani, indigenous people across southern Brazil and Paraguay.
11. Museu Oscar Niemeyer, Curitiba
Curitiba, a city known for the ample green space around 400 square kilometers of public parks or forests, is known to the urban planners for its innovative public transit systems. The city emits 25 percent less carbon footprint emissions than most of the other Brazilian cities. It is home to many monumental buildings, though many tourists come to visit the Museu Oscar Niemeyer(MON), which mainly exhibits the visual arts, architecture and design.
The complex comprises two separate structures: the old educational building, a cuboid of pre-stressed concrete with a single level of columns, revamped to adapt to function as a museum, for which the architect designed the annex, a reminiscent eye resting over a central structure that hovers over the water and is connected by sinuous pedestrian ramps across the pool and by a tunnel.
It showcases the signature style of the architect in the bold geometric form and the juxtaposition of the sculpted extrovert curve objectifying itself against a linear building at the rear. The vast glass entices one within the exhibition space lit during the night.
Overall, Brazil does offer a surreal experience with beautiful beaches, parties, hikes, busy vivid streets, and many more buildings and places to discover.
“The really magical things are the ones that happen right in front of you. A lot of the time you keep looking for beauty, but it is already there. And if you look with a bit more intention, you see it.”
― Vik Muniz
History Salvador’s Regal São Francisco Church in 8 Pictures
AD Classics: Cathedral of Brasilia / Oscar Niemeyer
The Leaning Buildings of Santos, Brazil
Atelier Marko Brajovic builds Monkey House on stilts in the forests of Brazil
See & Do 10 Of The Most Beautiful Buildings in Brasília
AD Classics: National Congress / Oscar Niemeyer
AD Classics: São Paulo Museum of Art (MASP) / Lina Bo Bardi
AD Classics: Faculty of Architecture and Urbanism, University of São Paulo (FAU-USP) / João Vilanova Artigas and Carlos Cascaldi
Houses Slice House / Procter-Rihl Architects
Alvaro Siza’s Iberê Camargo Foundation Through the Lens of Ronaldo Azambuja