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Modernist Movement: Lucio Costa
by Cêça de Guimaraens

The Brazilian architect Lucio Costa was born in France in 1902 and died in Rio de Janeiro in June, 1998. The son of Brazilian parents, he was educated in England and Switzerland until 1916, graduating as an architect in 1924 from the School of Fine Art in Rio de Janeiro.

The interest created by the work of Lucio Costa is the result of the strict relationship he established between traditional construction, the Brazilian baroque aesthetic and the modernists, varying them in accordance with an attitude simultaneously humanist and classical. Intellectual and erudite, Lucio Costa defined the theoretical parameters of Brazilian architecture from the 1920s, when the neo colonial style was evident in his initial work which was the first manifestation of the native talent of South America in defence of its Luso-Iberian roots. In 1930-32 Lucio Costa established a highly fruitful partnership with the Russian architect, Gregori Warchavchik, a futurist who introduced modernism to Brazil. Following his studies in Rome and Milan, in 1926 Warchavchik was invited by the construction company, Simonsen, to work in São Paulo.

A controversial involvement in modernism in the teaching of architecture for a brief spell early in the 1930s, as director of the National School of Fine Art, leading the defence of the historical and artistic heritage shared with modernists such as Mário de Andrade, Rodrigo Melo Franco and Manuel Bandeira, led Lucio Costa to be involved in a process of constant revision and updating. The most striking feature of that phase was the building of the headquarters of the former Ministry of Education and Health between 1936-46. The decision by Lucio Costa to invite the French architect, Le Corbusier, to sketch out the first lines of the new ministry design was an act of protest at the result of the contest won by the architect, Archimedes Memória, with a building in the art deco style. This decision gave Brazilian modernist architecture the official seal of approval.

After the ministry building, the Brazil Pavilion for the New York International Fair in 1939 in partnership with Oscar Niemeyer, made possible the use of defining elements of native architectural expression and the inclusion of corbusian themes. The resulting plastic effect of the integration of the pilotis with local tectonics in combination with inner courtyards and terraces with tropical gardens, transformed the pure concepts of Le Corbusier.

In 1948, Lucio Costa executed this model to perfection in the construction of two works that were paradigmatic for architects throughout Brazil: the Parque Guinle residential complex in the city of Rio de Janeiro and the Hotel do Park São Clemente in the mountain city of Nova Friburgo (state of Rio de Janeiro). The houses he designed were influenced by corbusian models and also include his updated vision of traditional techniques.

The organization of new capital cities - including Le Corbusier's draft plans for Chandigarh in India in 1950 and those of Lucio Costa for Brasília in 1956 - form the most significant examples of post war city planning. Lucio Costa is known all over the world for having designed Brazil's new capital and for having consolidated there, again with Oscar Niemeyer, the ideals of tradition and renovation that have become points of reference in contemporary architecture. Despite criticism for being excessively functional, Brasília is a dividing line between Brazilian and international architecture.

Lucio Costa continued his professional career at the Institute of National Historical and Artistic Heritage (Iphan), a world pioneer in actions for the protection of the urban and natural environment, where he remained until 1972. The dual roles of contemporary architect and specialist in preserving the Luso-Brazilian tradition enabled Lucio Costa's ideas to have an influence throughout Brazil. It can be said that even to this day, the Brazilian capitals bear the mark of the colonial and modernist phases as a direct result of his work at the Institute of National Historical and Artistic Heritage.

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