Thursday, July 7, 2011


Last Sunday before leaving Belo Horizonte, we took a day trip to Inhotim, a stunning garden and contemporary art center about and hour-and-a-half away from the center of BH ("bay-aGAH") in the campo of Minas Gerais. The immaculate and extensive grounds house 17 gallery situated pavilions among lakes, lawns, and spectacular tropical landscaping.

I enjoyed the art to be sure. There was the Forty Part Motet, probably my favorite piece, which put a classical piece of music written in the 16th century for 40 voices in 40 different speakers arranged throughout a large room. It was pretty neat to walk around the room and be able to listen to each individual voice, then step to the center and hear the piece move back and forth all around you. Then there was Através, a study in barriers and transparency, where you walked around on broken glass--but only if you were not wearing sandals! And Celacanto Provoca Maremoto, a larger-than life version of traditional Portuguese azulejos, which I loved because it seemed so very Brazilian to me. Perhaps the most architectural of the art pieces was Invenção da cor, Penetrável Magic Square # 5, De Luxe, which was very much in the spirit of Latin American architecture, including the work of Mexican Modernist Luis Barragán.

But as an architect, I was also taken by the design of some of the galleries in the great spirit and legacy of Brazilian Modernism and the Burle-Marx-esque landscaping. It was really a spectacular day and a great visit to a stunning location.

Caught in the act! The architect taking pictures of an infinity-edge pool!

The main reception pavilion across one of the several lakes. The mountains in the background were really lovely.

This was my favorite of the galleries architecturally speaking (though it also contained one of my favorite pieces too, the one of the giant azulejos).

You entered the gallery across a causeway of sorts though a deep-blue-gree reflecting pool with a thin infinity edge.

After entering underneath the cubic gallery and seeing the artwork in a large, windowless room, a long ramp leads up to the rooftop for a great view of the surrounding landscape...

...then you exit across a metal-mesh bridge out of the opposite side of the gallery from which you entered.

This pavilion was pretty cool, too, with a sinuous bridge a la classic Brazilian Modernism.

The lake in front of this gallery had a much different feel than the reflecting pool in front of the other gallery. The appearance was more natural, but knowing a bit about landscape architecture, even the most "natural" of planned landscapes are planned just the same.

The education center had a really awesome water garden on the roof, with a number of different planting areas including some grasses and, one of my favorite, papyrus.

We ate at this restaurant, which had a series of really cool movable sunshades along the perimeter.

Some of the varied landscape around the grounds, featuring lush tropical vegetation.

Even some of the plants were architectural! I stepped underneath this grove and looked up thinking it was like the fan vaults of some great cathedral.

This was perhaps the most architectural of the exterior artworks, with bright colors and bold shapes. Very Latin America.

The pathways were made of huge irregularly-shaped stone pavers. The grass areas and lawns were immaculate.

A photograph up into a great grove of eucalyptus trees. I really love eucalyptus trees, which remind me of South America. Eucalyptus is found in Curitiba, and also where I was in Peru in February.

I know the photo is blurry, but there is just something about the colors of the houses and the color of the light at sunset in South America. This was taken from the bus on the way back from Inhotim to Belo Horizonte.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Caution! Modern Forms May Abound!

Whenever I travel to Latin America, I feel right at home. There is just something about the people, the sunlight, the landscape, the cities . . . the buildings.

Yes, in case you had not already guessed from previous entries, I love Latin American architecture. I love the courtyards, the gates and fences, the colors, the tiles, the lush gardens, the concrete pile fences, the inside/outside living. I love that in Latin America more than anywhere else I have traveled, Modern architecture with the capital "M" is everywhere and is thriving. Where you can see Modern forms at work, having fun, living a little, stepping out of the box. Yeah, I love fun Modernism!

Brazil is a country that appreciates its Modern architecture, and they are proud of their architectural heritage, especially their own Oscar Niemeyer, last of the great living true-Modernists . . . communist, exile . . . visionary, artist . . . And I might consider him the epitome of the "fun" Modernists!

I am writing this post from Brazil, where I am with my family on month-long vacation. (I have promised them I will not turn the whole event into an architectural tour, but how can I help what I see when we're walking to the market!?) Our first stop is the city of Belo Horizonte, where Niemeyer did some of his early work, that is pre-Brasilia work. In the suburb of Pampulha, Niemeyer designed a number of buildings, including among other works the famous Chapel of São Francisco de Assis. Though a visit to Pampulha is not planned until we return to BH at the tail end of our trip (yes, that I had approval to set aside a day for on the itinerary!), I have already had the opportunity to see one of Niemeyer's residential apartments, the Edifício Niemeyer (1955), located downtown at the Praça da Liberdade.

The Edifício Niemeyer is characterized by its sinuous curved floors plates, giant concrete overhangs, tile work and ribbon window enclosure, and being lifted above the ground in true Modern fashion. It is at the same time very Modern, very Latin American, very Niemeyer, very Brazil.

We were looking for a supermarket, but found cool Modern architecture instead!

It reminds me a lot of a radiator . . . and of a model I once made in architecture school out of stacked paper.

The building sits on a sloped site, on a small triangular block. From the low-side of the site, the building really towers above the street.

A classic Modern detail: lifting the first occupied floor above the ground on columns--or in this case, concrete walls.

If you look closely, you can see the tile work on the exterior walls. I do not think any of the overhangs are balconies. Actually, now that I think about it, there may be 2 or 3 overhanging sunshades per level, which is a sort of visual trick to make the building look taller since you would normally expect them to just be an extension of a floor slab once at every level.

A view of the building from the plaza across the street. Yes, very Modern, very Niemeyer, very Brazil . . .

On another note, here are a few more shots from our walks around the city. The center of Belo Horizonte is actually quite compact, and we walked a significant amount to see what we could see. It has a great urban feel . . . although we have since learned that everything closes early on weekends, and almost all "touristy" things are closed on Mondays! Funny that our visit started on Saturday and we are leaving on Tuesday to fly to Curitiba!

A view along one of Belo Horizonte's main streets, Avenida Afonso Pena.

A view of the Palácio da Liberdade at the end of a palm-lined plaza. Actually, the Niemeyer building is just to the left of this building.

I have been instructed to include my family from time to time as I take pictures of architecture. It is actually a bit of a hard thing to do. I am so used to waiting until all the people leave the frame before I snap the shutter!

This was just a fun angle on a triangular building. Because of the angle of the view itself, it looked like a 25 story tall facade with nothing behind it! It was also an example of something that you never see in North America, but is really common down here: a skyscraper clad in tiles!

Oh, on the ride from the airport (which is a cool Modern building itself), we passed by the newly-consructed administrative center for the state of Minas Gerais, designed by Niemeyer. Very cool!