Cradle Work: The Lines of Young Niemeyer

The Obra do Berço project under the coordination of Oscar Niemeyer, as far as is known, went through four stages. The first consists of a preliminary unpublished study, from the period 1935/36, of a building composed of two volumes (fig.1): one cubic in shape with two floors facing the Lagoon and the other in an “L” shape. ground floor. The latter was initially built to house outpatient care activities and the distribution of milk and trousseaus for babies. The study for the prismatic volume resulted in a building placed directly on the ground with only two free cylindrical pillars on the face facing the Lagoon, constituting a setback to mark the main entrance. The side façade would have two openings with brises which, although only sketched in the drawing, approximate the brises later placed on the front façade.

This project presents us with a Niemeyer very close to Lucio Costa's “homeless houses”. He also has an affinity with his contemporary avant-garde colleagues regarding the adoption of architectural expression resulting from the use of concrete structures independent of the masonry and the option for an aesthetic that privileges simple geometric shapes and the absence of ornaments. According to Segre and Barki (2008), the architect acquired experience at the Costa office, where he was an intern and worked at that time:

Niemeyer learned there to also differentiate the traits and representations of the two Masters[1], from which it sought its own graphic language, in a process of decantation throughout the sequence of projects carried out between 1934 and 1937, until the construction of its first building, the Obra do Berço (SEGRE BARKI, 2008, p .7).

Figure 2: Preliminary Study - version 2.

The second version of the project (fig.2) was inaugurated in December 1938. The cubic building facing the Lagoon now has three floors, with a glazed ground floor and an independent structure with external stilts. In addition to these changes, there is a blind side façade and fixed reinforced concrete louvers on the main façade, which clearly refer to those proposed by Le Corbusier a few years earlier for buildings in Algeria (Africa). The volume in “L” gains another floor.

Figure 3: View of the building from the Lagoa.

In the late 1930s Niemeyer is working with Lucio Costa's team on the MES (Ministry of Education and Health) project, where mobile sunshades have an important role, as well as a short time later in the project for the Brazilian Pavilion in New York ( 1939). Niemeyer, upon returning from the US, ordered the removal of the concrete louvers on the façade for the Lagoa da Obra do Berço and install new flexible louvers, altering the main façade. In an article from 1939, the architect does not mention the fixed louvers initially specified by him, but defends the flexible louvers, justifying them as “(…) variants that best adapt to the proposed problems. (...). We verified that a fixed protection solution would not solve…” (NIEMEYER, 1939, p.253). Thus, this year, the third version of the project appears (fig.3).

Figure 4: View of the building from the Lagoa.

The fourth stage of Niemeyer's project consists of the addition of the fourth floor to the block facing Lagoa in 1940 (fig.4). With structural design by Emílio Baumgart, who had worked on the MES project, this floor has continuity of treatment of the facade (the same brises) and the internal cylindrical pillars gain cylindrical capitals, probably to avoid the more costly solution adopted in the MES and even so ensure the modern flat roof slab solution.

In 1948, the building underwent, in the inner courtyard of the ground floor, the addition of a marquee with two pillars (one rectangular in stone and the other oval), a project by an engineering company, which severely mischaracterizes it. Other minor internal reforms have been carried out since then to adapt it to the Institution's new uses, but its volume and façades remain almost entirely defined by Niemeyer until 1940.

[1] These are Le Corbusier and Lúcio Costa, according to an article by Segre and Barki (2008).

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