Pampulha #01: autochthonous research in review or spicy penguin stew


Pure Devouring

Volume 7, Issue 02
October 10, 2021

Pampulha #01: autochthonous research in review or spicy penguin stew 1

Gabriel Biselli
Master in Architecture Faculdade de Arquitetura da Universidade de São Paulo

Already in Pampulha’s first issue – which contains among other things interviews with Oscar Niemeyer and Lucio Costa in their respective offices, accompanied by historical photographic records2 – the reader is presented with a full-service buffet: conflicts between tradition and rupture; disputes of national and international, universal and local narratives; political and ecological tensions; cultural and economic liberalization of the country. In short, matters of recontextualization. The editorial itself provides us some crumbs in presenting hybrid identity formulations that tie threads through the likes of Guimarães Rosa, Villard de Honnecourt, Brunelleschi, Gaudí, Corbusier, and Niemeyer3 .

Another example is Niemeyer’s interview – a conversation he would later deny4 and replace with a testimony5 –, which was criticized and mocked in Costa’s interview on the following pages. Unlike Niemeyer, Costa’s testimony is frank and revealing of an old man exhausted from persistent reproductions of the same answers to many other ongoing problems, two decades after Brasília. Bitter yet poignant, Costa sneers Niemeyer’s perspective6 , comparing his use of the human scale7 with penguins8 ‘another drawing, for the cover’, he [Lúcio Costa] said ‘no less…, with the square in front of the Praça do Planalto (Brasília, DF) with, in the words of Lucio Costa, ‘penguins in the guise of people…’”.]- a provocation made by Costa probably addressed to the turbulent “slow, gradual and safe”9 resumption of democracy in the country after the 1964 military coup. It is fair to say that there is no report of any political engagement by members of Pampulha’s team with any Marxist orientation à la lettre , such as those of the militant youth responsible for the 1970s student riots10 . If we compare Niemeyer’s dated perspective on the cover with the date of the magazine’s launch11 , there is an air of apathy and assimilation of hegemonic discourses that avoids any type of call to action or theoretical rigor12 , meaning: Niemeyer defaults to hybrid and encrypted suggestions.

The same can be said about architectural literature and theory. While drawings, images, and written discourse published in the magazine directly or indirectly mention the work of theorists like Robert Venturi, James Stirling, or Peter Eisenman13 , at the same time there is a negative attitude towards erudition, scholarship, and ideological patrols. Theory as fried food, tasty but a vice to be avoided. This attitude towards a third way of ingestion14 is also notable in the cultural implications and involvements of the 3 Arquitetos’ group. Their friendship with artists like the members of Clube da Esquina15 is evidence of this. Nascimento, the band’s singer, for example, who despite not having any ties with left-wing parties or even having produced songs of protest16 , was harshly persecuted during the dictatorship.

Complexity and contradiction are not exquisite sauces dressed over this production around Pampulha’s magazine. By prompting a renewed discussion of the field at the same time that two of the greatest bastions of modern Brazilian architecture were honored17 , and composing visual experiments that courted practices of the most varied lineages and origins, without a defined agenda, this production can help us fill a gap in the understanding and location of the current state of Brazilian contemporary architecture. If the very discussion about postmodernity and contemporaneity encounters difficult deglutition, either because of the density, acidity, and amplitude of the term or because of the political-ideological implications that they may represent18 , flavored blends19 like these, between this production from Minas Gerais and others in national scope, become possible.

So, one could add to this cauldron, for instance, the work of Anne Marie Sumner and Sophia Telles, and their reverberations in the country’s re-democratization. Architect and critic, respectively, both of them engaged Trotskyist student tendencies20 and produced a decisive knowledge for the history of architecture made in Brazil. Sumner favored the internationalist vocation of yesteryear first as an intern at Peter Eisenman’s office , later organizing one of the architect’s first solo exhibitions outside the US at MASP – Museu de Arte de São Paulo Assis Chateaubriand- in 1993; Telles wrote, three years earlier, one of the most definitive essays for the consolidation and understanding of the work of architect Paulo Mendes da Rocha. Perhaps this is a cautionary tale that, although worthy of pursuit, any legitimate attempt of blending such distinct tastes would certainly make you late for dinner.

  1. This piece aims to briefly present the architectural culture produced in Belo Horizonte (Minas Gerais, Brasil) through the magazine Pampulha: revista bimestral de arquitetura, arte e meio ambiente (12 issues, 1979–1984), which was led by a group around the office 3 Arquitetos – whose members were Éolo Maia, Jô Vasconcellos, and Sylvio de Podestá. Besides buildings, this group produced periodicals, books, and exhibitions that fostered an unprecedented debate on post-modernity during the country’s re-democratization period. As part of a broader research, this short contribution also intends to insert the referred production into the debate on visual culture and into the intellectual history of the discipline, questioning issues of editing, publishing, exhibiting, and disseminating architectural thought and how one devours it. ↩︎
  2. A chewed-up analysis of these photographic records deserved to be a dish off today’s menu. In the first, we see three photographs: a) a haughty Niemeyer looking at the horizon, a plump cigar in hand, almost as if he were about to toss it – this image would later be made into a collage, published in a later issue of the magazine, turning Niemeyer’s cigar into a plump dart aimed at a target whose center was an image of the AT&T headquarters building, designed by Philip Johnson between 1980–1984 in New York; b) him tracing one of those shaky freehand drawings that explain design choices; c) his desk filled with Don Draper’s “elements of virility”: bureaus and file cabinets, the telephones, the lamp, a likely gift-wrapped bottle of liquor, folders, paperwork scattered around, and an image of a female nude by French photographer Lucien Clergue; a completely opposite atmosphere to the photographs of Costa and his office. In them we see a contained and involved elder: “in a mess between photos of his daughter, Byzantine coat of arms, a can of Ovaltine and a room completely full of newspapers” (FEROLLA, 2013). All photographs were taken by José Eduardo Ferolla and Maurício Andrés during the visits to Rio de Janeiro, in which the architects were interviewed by the young Álvaro Hardy, Éolo Maía, and Paulo Laender, in addition to the previous two. ↩︎
  3. As well as the interest in both architecture d’auteur and “native and anonymous contributions”; the enthusiasm, innocence and desire to overcome the golden years of Juscelino Kubitschek and Brasília; the list goes on. ↩︎
  4. The original remains unpublished. ↩︎
  5. In a certified copy style. ↩︎
  6. Perspective of the Praça dos Três Poderes in Brasília, transferred from an original drawing, in white above an indigo blue background and rendered especially for the cover of the magazine with the words also made by hand: “One day the people will hear what they want and freedom and human rights will be irreversible achievements”. Above the drawing and completing the colors of the Brazilian flag, two strips in green and yellow open the white field where the magazine’s logo was printed. By the way, its typography is noteworthy: its cursive style, originated from a black marker pen with a beveled tip, somewhat resembles the contours of the posterior elevation of the Church São Francisco de Assis da Pampulha, designed by Niemeyer in 1943. ↩︎
  7. What Niemeyer describes as ‘the people’. ↩︎
  8. In a testimony published in the Minas Gerais magazine mdc, José Eduardo Ferolla tells the anecdote: “[… ↩︎
  9. In the words of the already weakened General-President Ernesto Geisel. Grosso modo, the 1970s in Brazil were marked by student riots, which were associated with the crisis of the so-called economic miracle propagated by the developmentalist State; in one way or another, this contributed to the downfall of the regime – whether by the tacit and unscathed agreement of the Amnesty Law. In August 1979, the situation thickened, allowing the well-known ABC Strikes in the early 1980s and the legality of opposition (communist) parties, among other factors, forwarding the country to a series of political, economic, social, and cultural transformations. This was in progress until the 2016 coup, especially with the creation and performance of the Partido dos Trabalhadores (Workers’ Party). ↩︎
  10. As described in previous note. ↩︎
  11. Add up more than a year and a half of production. ↩︎
  12. Diametrically opposed to what left-wing Trotskyist youth groups, like the tendency LIBELU – Liberdade e Luta (Freedom and Fight), were doing: occupying the streets and shouting slogans against the dictatorship. ↩︎
  13. To name a few. ↩︎
  14. Neither (commercial’s) fast or (academia’s) slow food. ↩︎
  15. The band led by singer and songwriter Milton Nascimento and the Borges Brothers (Milton and Lô) and which integrated other excellent musicians like Toninho Horta, Beto Guedes, among others. ↩︎
  16. As Chico Buarque, Geraldo Vandré, and others. ↩︎
  17. Offering a complete feast for the construction and maintenance of established discourses, both with Niemeyer’s rewritten testimony and with the republication of the famous text by Costa Razões da Nova Arquitetura (1930) as an introduction to his interview. ↩︎
  18. As authors like Jean-Louis Cohen (1984) and Pier Vittorio Aureli (2008) that elaborated formulations on the relationship of some postmodern Italian groups with Marxist criticism, others like McLeod (1989) developed promiscuous links between American postmodern architecture and neoliberal conservatism. ↩︎
  19. In a feijoada style or any stew recipe. ↩︎
  20. See note 11. ↩︎

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Volume 7, Issue 02
October 10, 2021