Glass, concrete

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Of Glass and Concrete Internal versus External Space Relations in Oscar Niemeyer's Architecture

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Frederico Holanda Universidade de Brasilia, Departamento de Teoria e Historia, Brasilia, Brazil Keywords internal space x external space; Oscar Niemeyer Abstract Oscar Niemeyer’s buildings from the 1940’s to the 1960’s are almost unanimously praised. Some recent projects are very controversial, to say the least. Why so? Relations between internal and external space in Niemeyer’s architecture are examined, by referring to the fundamental syntactic notions of accessibility and visibility – how we can move between inside and outside and how we can see between these instances. In Niemeyer’s works, relations between these domains vary radically along the intervals of closure/openness and opacity/transparency. Attention here thus concentrates in the buildings’ skin. Towards one pole, there are radical examples of transparency and openness in which a simple “shade” – a horizontal slab totally open to the surroundings – is the project’s key element. In other instances, the architect’s preoccupation with integration with nature or with the urban setting around leads him to create a new structural type: a building cut through transversally by a transparency is found in many transformations, from Pampulha (Belo Horizonte, 1940), through his own house (Rio, 1953), to the Itamaraty Palace (Brasilia, 1962). Even when programs demand solemnity, traditionally equated with greater separation between inside and outside, the architect tempers the morphological distance by creatively re-interpreting devices historically employed to do so: surrounding pools and gardens, flyovers, a slightly elevated piano nobile reachable by delicate ramps, an entrance tunnel etc. (e.g. Brasilia’s Palaces and Cathedral). Also, façades are made of transparent glass, another way to soften formality. On the other pole of the spectrum, volumes of pure geometrical forms


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