Rio’s Mayor Stops Niemeyer Renovation

By Leo Byrne, Contributing Reporter

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Rio’s mayor, Eduardo Paes, recently called for renovation works on a building designed by the late Oscar Niemeyer to be halted amidst strong protests from the architectural community. The structure was originally part of a 1980s building program called Ciep (Integrated Centres of Public Education), and sits close to the Carnival Sambódromo.

Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer in 1977, photo courtesy of Wikimedia/Creative Commons License.

Rio’s Tourism Board (Riotur) and The Independent League of Samba Schools of Rio de Janeiro (LIESA), the organization that organizes the Rio Carnival, earned the ire of Brazil’s architects with hasty renovations that drastically altered both the form and function of the building.

The new design sought to replace Niemeyer’s signature molded concrete in favor of a red brick boxy structure. The work also provoked a strong reaction from Mr. Paes, who expressed disbelief at how such a project could have been given the go ahead in the first place, adding that the ‘tacky’ remodeling would have to be scrapped and the building restored to its former condition.

The building in question is part of the Sambódromo and Marquês da Sapucaí complex, also designed by Niemeyer, and was once a school and gymnasium.

The subsequent remodel would have seen the building used as a two story food court consisting of two snack bars and two restaurants. The project also included extra bathrooms and a new press office for Riotur.

The president of the LIESA, Jorge Castanheira said that the purpose of the renovations was to provide more comfort for the large number of people visiting the area during the Carnival.

Riotur’s President, Antonio Pedro Figueira de Mello, also defended the remodel by pointing out that the structure was no longer used for either sports or education. He claimed that the renovations were carried out as part of the government review and aimed to improve the heritage of the site, not to attack it. The cost of the project was an estimated R$600,000.

Rio’s Mayor Eduardo Paes, photo by Tânia Rêgo/ABr.

While critics agreed that the space could be better used, it is the incongruous nature of the new building that caused concern. When compared to the sweeping arches of the Apotheosis Square or the monolithic concrete of the Sambódromo, the new red brick building does little to match the area’s general aesthetic.

Among the project’s many detractors was the director of the Institute of Architects of Brazil (IAB) Pedro da Luz who called the work ‘absurd’.

Portuguese architecture student Maria Negrão at UFRJ, told The Rio Times, “[A building’s] function can change with time and need. But like any other type of art you should not just take it and mistreat it in the way it is faster or more efficient at the moment without consulting the artist or, someone that knows what they are doing.”

“It is not only disrespect for Niemeyer’s work, but also a bad project that could have turned out to be very interesting if it was taken care of carefully by architects as well as the people that are going to use the space,” she continued.

Oscar Niemeyer’s recent death in December aggravated the public outcry as he was widely regarded as Brazil’s most influential architect. He is best known for designing many of Brasilia’s striking buildings including the National Congress of Brazil and the Itamaraty Palace.

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