Without spoiling the beauty of the park, a residential quarter was to be built putting into practice modern principles of architecture and town planning
First published in AR August 1950, this piece was republished online in May 2015
In 1909 Eduardo Guirtle began the elegant park at Rio de Janeiro which today bears his name. Buying up various small properties and old houses in Gago Coutinho he extended his land upwards over the slopes of Santa Teresa Hill. He then engaged the architects Armando Telles, Gire and Bovet and other French artists such as the landscapist Cochet, the sculptor Emile Guillaume and the painter Piccard, to whom he entrusted the planning, decoration and landscaping of the park. By 1916 his project was realised; in addition to wide expanses of lawns, the lake and the pergolas, the park possessed works of art, varied but carefully selected flora, a hothouse full of rare plants, a powerhouse and, dominating it all, a residential mansion in the formal style of the period.
After Eduardo Guinle’s death in 1941 his heirs decided to construct in the estate - without spoiling its beauty – a residential quarter in which modern principles of architecture and town planning could be put into practice. Cesar Guinle entrusted the problems of an architectural nature to the architect Lucio Costa and the structural problems to the engineer Sydney Santos. A plan was made for six blocks of flats fitting in with the topography of the park. The landscaping, gardens and mansion were to be preserved, so the flats were disposed along a new road, well away from the road serving the existing mansion. Its exact line was determined by the slope of the land and by the need for approaches to the hilliest sections of the estate.
There was no alternative site for the new buildings, once it had been decided to preserve the park, but it meant partially sacrificing their orientation. In Rio de Janeiro a south aspect is the most satisfactory. An eastern exposure, whilst getting a good deal of sun, gets it in the early morning hours but is not cut off from the prevailing winds. A north frontage is exposed to strong insolation from the low winter sun, which, during certain months, can be very trying. Moreover this situation gets very little wind. The western exposure is the least satisfactory. The first, fifth and sixth blocks, therefore (reading from right to left in the sketch of the whole scheme, above), are satisfactorily situated: bedrooms and sitting-rooms facing south, service and circulation areas facing north. The second and third blocks have the least desirable aspect, with their main frontages facing west. The orientation of the fourth is more or less satisfactory.
Lucio Costa is the architect of the first three blocks, two of which (called ‘Nova Cintra’ and ‘Bristol’) are now finished and are illustrated on these pages, and the third of which (called ‘Caledonia’) is under construction. The architect of the remaining three blocks, not yet begun, will be Oscar Niemeyer.
NOVA OINTRA The ground floor of this block accommodates retail shops as well as the approaches to the upper storeys. The first floor, differently divided up from the rest, is planned for small apartments. The upper storeys of both ’ Nova Cintra ’ and ’ Bristol ’ consist of a mixture of duplex and one-floor apartments, only differing in detail. Plans of ’ Bristol’ only are therefore given on these pages. ‘Nova Cintra’ has duplex and one-floor apartments on the second to sixth floors and on the ninth floor, which has a smaller floor area than the others, one large apartment-about 10,000 sq. ft.-situated in the centre of a spacious roof garden. The single-floor apartments consist of a large living-room, three bedrooms, two bathrooms, and services. The duplex apartments, in addition to these rooms, have a study or office.
The living rooms and practically all the bedrooms face south-east and the other bedrooms and services face north-west. The principle of plan libre was adopted, with a uniform structure and four rows of columns, with a span of 13ft. 4ins. between each. Generally the floor sections are formed by double slabs of reinforced concrete jointed in two directions. The joints are filled by thin sheets of plywood supported on the lower slab and acting as a stiffener for the main floor slab. The thickness of the slabs varies slightly throughout the structure, but in general the upper slab is a little over ¾ in. and the lower panel is twice that amount. The structure is exceptionally light.
The two staircases, also built of reinforced concrete, stand out from the main body of the building. They wind spirally round a cylindrical column from which small console beams spoke out-these are the risers of the steps. The treads of the steps are trapezoidal panels which are supported between two successive risers. The wall consists of a framework of vertical concrete posts, between which are glass panels. The treatment of the external surfaces of the building varies. The main façade, which is exposed to very little insolation, is treated as a pan de verre glass wall. Rio de Janeiro’s daylight is however too intense for an entire surface of glass. To give a uniform treatment to this surface guillotine windows were decided on. These have two mobile leaves, with a third leaf, immobile and externally fixed, from floor to parapet level, with a space between it and the parapet into which both the other leaves can slide and disappear entirely.
All divisions on the rear elevation are protected either by verandahs or by terraces, the exterior cladding being varied to suit the purpose of each. The services are protected by vertical, fixed brise-soleils of fibro-cement set at an angle of 45° to the façade. The bedrooms and spans linked to the living-rooms are filled in with specially designed ceramic grilles, with a motif similar to that used in Arab architecture. The surface thus created forms a sort of brise-soleil of reduced depth, over which suitably chosen creepers will eventually spread so as to reduce still further the intensity of Rio de Janeiro’s daylight. This effect has been made use of in some of the apartments in order to create verandah living-rooms.
Internal divisions are generally in brickwork rendered with gypsum plaster. Others consist of light wooden partitions forming grilles, as in the partitions between entrance galleries and the sitting and dining rooms. The floors of the bedrooms and sitting-rooms are generally of parquet blocks. Some sitting-rooms have a flooring of local marble, and the verandah sitting-rooms have red tiling. The outside finish of the end wall of the building is of red arenite. The framing of the front elevation is painted in light colours, and the glass of the fixed guillotine, forming the outside of the parapets, is blue.
BRISTOL AND CALEDONIA In the second block, ‘Bristol’ (plans on next page), part of the ground floor is used for garages while the rest is clear, with pilotis. The upper floors, from the second to the seventh, consist of single-floor and duplex apartments. The first, third and fifth floors consist of two apartments of 3,150 sq. ft. and the lower floors of two of the duplexes. The second, fourth and sixth floors comprise single-floor apartments of 3,680 sq ft and the upper floors of the duplexes. These measure a total area of 3,360 sq. ft. The top floor is composed of one apartment only measuring 5,800 sq. ft. surrounded by a landscaped terrace. The third block, ‘Caledonia’ (now building), is similar.
Greater protection of the main frontages of these two blocks was effected by use of alternate masonry and hollowed ceramic blocks, differing from the type used in the first building, and by the use of panels of fibrocement forming brise-soleils. The frames of the buildings are formed by three rows of columns of reinforced concrete set at regular intervals, on which lie the jointed floors. The first floor, which houses some of the installations, is of greater thickness and without the internal framing used in other floors. Also precast slabs ½ in. thick with reinforcing on the outer edges are used, supported by small lateral shelves jutting out of the beams on their lower surface. The lower surface of this floor, like all others, is unbroken, the beams being contained in their thickness. The construction and finishes of the two blocks are otherwise similar to those of ‘Nova Cintra.’
Flats at Rio De Janeiro
Architect: Lucio Costa