By George Utley, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Since opening in 1952, the Conjunto Prefeito Mendes de Moraes, more commonly known as Pedregulho (The Boulder) has become one of the World’s most recognized tower blocks. It is located in Rio’s Benfica neighborhood of São Cristóvão (Centro), and is currently benefiting from a government sponsored R$10.5 million refurbishment.
In recent years, wear and tear have taken their toll, and the quality of life inside the condominium was starting to suffer. To the approval of residents, a major renovation project on the site has now entered its second phase. The project is being organized by Companhia Estadual de Habitacão e Obras (CEHAB), and it aims to exactly replicate the original designs, as drawn up by the legendary architect, Affonso Reidy.
Reidy trained under Lúcio Costa and was a contemporary of other luminaries such as Oscar Niemeyer, and is considered as one of the greats of modern Brazilian architecture. Pedregulho is considered one of his finest achievements in Rio de Janeiro from his tenure as Minister for Urban Planning.
“Pedregulho is important in the architectural history of Brazil because it was an architectural experiment by the Left-wing government that represented social and political reforms,” explains Rogélio Córdoba, a Colombian architect traveling in Rio.
“It was built for people whose salaries did not afford them to live in the city center, but still wanted the community feel of city life. But under the Military Dictatorship perhaps people were more private, and the community areas deteriorated. For example, Pedregulho appears in (the Academy award nominated Brazilian classic) “Central Station” as the scene of government tolerated crimes.”
Still the Pedregulho Residential Complex is applauded for its ingenious use of space, its economy, and its consideration of the necessities of modern urban life. It is visited annually by around 4,200 tourists and 6,700 students of architecture. It is recognized by Iphan (Institute of National Historical and Artistic Heritage) and protected by Inepac (State Institute of Cultural Heritage), and listed by the IRPH (River Heritage Institute).
Pedregulho consists of residential blocks and common service areas: a primary school, a nursery school, a primary school, a market, a laundry, a health center, sports courts, gymnasium, a swimming pool, changing rooms and a commercial center.
The most recognizable stand-out attraction of the complex is the main residential building, which snakes along the contours of the original terrain, providing and unimpeded view of the Bay of Guanabara from each of the 272 apartments’ windows.
The building is also well known for its cobogós – ventilated ceramic facades which regulate sunlight and air supply, notable for their economy and practicality as well as beauty.
Authorities announced R$10.5 million is being invested into the project, which will benefit 1,700 residents. Around two hundred construction workers were employed on the first round of renovations, which were completed in December last year.
Improvements included a full structural overhaul of the site, replacing 800 meters of plumbing, completely replacing of the gas pipes, re-tiling the exterior and the painstaking removal, restoration and replacement of the wooden brise-soleils (sun-shading structures).
The construction site has a custom-built tile furnace and a workshop which serve to exactly replicate the original pieces.” What we do here is art, it takes a lot of care, attention and time to restore. We work with dedication,” said on-site carpenter Manoel da Silva.
The next stage entails further restoration of the facades of the complex, including painting 13,000 square meters of wall, and replacing the cobogós in the original style. “The community is very satisfied with the renovation. The building had structural risks. Now, we feel safer. The changes which are being made attend to all the needs raised by the residents” said the President of the Residents’ Association, Hamilton Marinho.