Reviewed by Benjamin Schwarz
Casa Modernista: A History of the Brazil Modern House
Photographs by Alan Weintraub, Text by Alan Hess
Ever since the Museum of Modern Art’s famous 1943 catalog and exhibit, Brazil Builds, architects have recognized that Brazil developed the first national style of Modernist architecture, an endeavor that has continued, if not always thrived, for nearly 70 years now. Plenty of books have assessed the mid-20th-century apogee of Brazilian Modernism; this opulently illustrated volume, which examines houses exclusively, takes the story up to the present, thereby highlighting the continuity of Brazil’s peculiar adaptation of the International Style. What clearly emerges is that the highest achievements of Brazilian domestic Modernism have been greatly influenced by a local aesthetic with roots deep in the colonial past. At their best, these houses marry the astringent clarity of Modernism with a sauntering and sinuous style. What also emerges, from the dilapidated state of many of these gorgeously designed houses, is that Brazilian Modernist architecture has often been wanting a certain craft and finish in its execution—a problem shared with the houses built in Tel Aviv by Jewish settlers who tried to implant the Bauhaus on the shores of the Mediterranean in the 1920s and ’30s while lacking a sophisticated construction industry. As Brazil, after a century of fits and starts, finally comes into its own as a great economic force, the aesthetic depicted in these pages—at once regional and international—is bound to exercise an increasingly powerful cultural sway worldwide.