– Summer 2010

Flávio de Carvalho

Inti Guerrero

Flávio de Carvalho, Experiência no.3, 1956, downtown São Paulo. Courtesy the estate of Flávio de Carvalho

Flávio de Carvalho, Experiência no.3, 1956, downtown São Paulo. Courtesy the estate of Flávio de Carvalho

In 1930, Brazil's Antropofagia avant-garde group sent the architect Flávio de Carvalho as its representative to the IV Pan-American Congress of Architecture, which took place that year in Rio de Janeiro.1 De Carvalho (1899-1973), who had returned to Brazil in 1923 after having studied engineering and painting in Durham and Newcastle-upon-Tyne, delivered a lecture to the Congress introducing a master plan for a new city to be built in the tropics. His proposal, 'A cidade do homem nu' ('The City of the Naked Man'), imagined a metropolis for the man of the future, which he saw as a man without god, without property and without marriage. A 'naked mankind' that had stripped itself from its cultural constructs - or in de Carvalho's words, from 'scholastic taboos' - would be 'free for reasoning and thinking', and could begin a painstaking process of wonderment, change and becoming in this new city.2 In his proposal, de Carvalho also urged the architects participating in the Congress to understand the anthropophagic nature of their subcontinent on which the city would be built: 'the City of the Naked Man seeks the resurrection of the primitive, free from Western taboos […] the savage with all of its desires, all of its curiosity intact and not repressed […] as it was by colonial conquest. In search for a Naked civilisation!'3

De Carvalho envisioned this anthropophagic urban utopia as a number of centres and laboratories placed in concentric

  1. The term 'antropofagia' was used by the Brazilian artist and poet Oswald de Andrade (1890-1954), for his 'Manifesto Antropófago' from 1928. The term, synonymous with cannibalism, was used by Andrade to mean cultural appropriation, a kind of 'cultural cannibalism'. The Antropofagia avantgarde movement represented the attitude of a group of modern painters, sculptors and writers based in São Paulo who self-consciously mixed and layered references, origins and genealogies within a territory and a population that shared a mixture of indigenous, African and European lineage. 'Tupi or not Tupi', the third line of the manifesto, announces this type of unfixed cultural identity: phonetically, the sentence refers to Shakespeare's Hamlet, but the Tupi were the main indigenous population of Brazil.

  2. Flávio de Carvalho, 'A cidade do homem nu', lecture presented at the Pan-American Congress of Architects in Rio de Janeiro (1930). The lecture was later published as an article in Diario da noite, 1 July 1930, republished by Luiz Carlos Daher, in Flávio de Carvalho: Arquitetura e Expressionismo, São Paulo: Ed. Projeto, 1982, and published in English in Valeska Freitas (ed.), 100 years: Flávio de Carvalho: Revolucionario romantico (exh. cat.), Rio de Janeiro: CCBB, 1999, p.58.

  3. Ibid.

  4. Ibid.

  5. Le Corbusier was a key figure in the development of modern architecture in Brazil. His esprit nouveau resonated with powerful intellectuals in the country in the early 1930s. He was commissioned to design, with Lucio Costa, a new building for the Ministry of Education and Public Health-MESP in 1936, for which Oscar Niemeyer was an intern.

  6. The questionnaire that structured this interview included the following questions to Le Corbusier: '1. Do you think architecture is a philosophical problem?; 2. Should architecture be logical? What logic?; 3. Should architecture have colour? Which is the predominant factor: colour, form or the functional idea? What qualifies as pleasant in colour and form? […]; 6. Is that pleasantness subjective or objective?; 7. How to introduce the psychic factor in architecture?; 8. Should the idea of the structure be sacrificed because of the psychic factor or not?; 9. Should the desire to progress grasp humanity or should mankind grasp the desire to progress?' Geraldo Ferraz and Flávio de Carvalho, Diario da Noite, 24 October 1929. Questions translated by the author.

  7. Antonio Carlos Robert Moraes, Flávio de Carvalho, São Paulo: Editora Brasilense, 1986, p.17.

  8. In Privacy and Publicity: Modern Architecture as Mass Media (Cambridge, MA and London: The MIT Press, 1998), Beatriz Colomina compares the experience of the gaze favoured by the architecture of Adolf Loos to that of Le Corbusier: the first keeps the inhabitant's eyes within the house, experiencing its interiors, so that when you walk through a space in a Loos house you always turn back to see it again. In contrast, Le Corbusier's houses, because of their 'horizontal window' principle, produce a cinematographic perspective from the inside towards the panoramic outdoors. De Carvalho, through his interest in psychology, brings yet another approach to the gaze in modern architecture: the psychological interiority of the individual.

  9. Although de Carvalho's Eficácia is considered a founding moment of modern architecture in Brazil, two years earlier, in 1925, Russian émigré architect Gregori Warchavik wrote the foundational manifesto 'A cerca da arquitectura moderna' ('About Modern Architecture'), and in 1927 he constructed his Casa Modernista in São Paulo, considered the first modern house in Brazil. However, if we take into account the domestic aspirations of Warchavik's architecture, Eficácia may well be the first truly modern public building in Brazil.

  10. De Carvalho did build two architectural projects, but they both were private houses. One is known as Alameda Lorena (1936) and another, his own country home, Fazenda Capauva (1929).

  11. Flávio de Carvalho's biography O comedor da emoções (São Paulo: Unicampi 1994), written by his friend J. Toledo, and the book Flávio de Carvalho by Antonio Carlos Robert Moraes speculate over what would have been Experiência no.1. According to both, Experiência no.1 may have been a public action at a social event during which de Carvalho faked choking to death.

  12. '[D]esvendar a alma dos crentes por meio de um reagente qualquer que permitisse estudar a reação nas fisionomias, nos gestos, no passo, no olhar, sentir enfim o pulso do ambiente, palpar psiquicamente a emoção tempestuosa da alma coletiva, registrar o escoamento dessa emoção, provocar a revolta para ver alguma coisa do inconsciente'. Flávio de Carvalho, Experiência no.2, Rio de Janeiro: Nau, 2001. Translation the author's.

  13. André Breton, Nadja (trans. Richard Howard), New York: Grove Press, 1960, p.113.

  14. From the writing on Flávio de Carvalho's sketch drawing of the New Look. Translation the author's.

  15. Ibid.

  16. 'Brave New Look', Time, 25 June 1956, p.30.

  17. Between August 1934 and February 1935, after having delivered a lecture at the VIII International Congress of Psychotechnique in Prague, de Carvalho travelled throughout Europe. His notes and drawings made during that period became the foundation for 'House, Man and Landscape', and were also printed in his book Os ossos do mundo (Rio de Janeiro: Ariel, 1936; republished by Editora Antiqua in São Paulo in 2005). The book narrates his departure from São Paulo, conversations with intellectuals at bars in London, his quest to interview the King of Gypsies and the Nazi participation at the congress in Prague, amongst other subjects.

  18. The 'Manifesto neoconcreto' ('Neo-Concretist Manifesto') was published in the Jornal do Brasil in March 1959.

  19. 'Already Hélio's earliest parangolé capes, as clothing, are by nature transsexual. They have no attachment to conventional signs of either masculinity or femininity. […] Gay sexuality could be traced in his work, but all his proposals related to sexuality seem to be non-divisive, transexual.' Guy Brett, 'The Experimental Exercise of Liberty', in Hélio Oiticica (exh. cat.), Rotterdam: Witte de With Centre for Contemporary Art, 1992, p.233.

  20. In 1956, a woman's skirt would reach roughly below the knee.

  21. By 'modern architecture' I do not only refer to the historical avant-gardes where de Carvalho's utopias can be located, but also, to the great civic reforms which purified urban and domestic pace (i.e. eighteenth-century sewage) where hygiene was used within the discourse of progress, creating social, racial and religious divisions. 'What emerges during the last decades of the 18th century is a "curing machine" [machine à guérir] […] a technology of power that allows a whole knowledge of the individual, but through this also a new form of individuation to take place. The forms of architecture have to reflect in the most precise way the new forms of techniques for assessing and determining health (to separate, but also to allow for ciculation, survelliance, classification, etc.).'Sven-Olov Wallenstein, Essays, Lectures, Stockholm: Axl Books, 2007, p.384.

  22. During the first mandate of Getulio Vargas (1930-45), architects Costa and Niemeyer built the Brazilian pavilion for the 1939 New York World's Fair in an austere modern language, showing to an international audience that Brazil was modern and progressive. In 1943, the Museum of Modern Art of New York endorsed Brazil's specific take on what the museum itself had coined as the 'international style' by programming the exhibition 'Brazil Builds: Architecture New and Old, 1652-1942'.