Rio de Janeiro: The First World Capital of Architecture 2020

Rio de Janeiro: The First World Capital of Architecture 2020

Rio de Janeiro, once the site of Louis Vuitton's Cruise Collection, and home to 14 UNESCO heritage sites, proves triumphant in the face of political corruption and gains status as the First World Capital of Architecture.

Rio de Janeiro, once the site of Louis Vuitton's Cruise Collection, and home to 14 UNESCO heritage sites, proves triumphant in the face of political corruption and gains status as the First World Capital of Architecture.

Text: Reshmi Kaur Oberoi

The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated Rio de Janeiro as The World Capital of Architecture for 2020- making history as the first recipient. Unlike most awards in the creative arts that reflect on the prior year’s efforts, not even a month into 2019, Brazil’s capital has proven itself worthy of going nowhere but up. So far up in fact, that the city’s Niteroi Museum of Contemporary Art is in the shape of a flying UFO saucer that is elevated on a cliff side.

While the city’s forward-looking pursuits have become commonplace, what with its successful bid back in 2009 to host the 2016 summer Olympics and its efforts to maintain both rainforests and relics, the city is home to fourteen cultural heritage sites, 7 of which are natural. And as the old adage goes, with great power comes great responsibility. That is to say, Rio must work toward UNESCO’s 11th goal by 2030. Officially the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development’s 11th Goal: To “make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable.” Though expectations for the country are lofty, Rio’s past has proven worthy of the challenge.

Sustainability is exemplified in Santiago Calatrava’s Museum of Tomorrow. It is powered by solar energy. Another example is when in late 2018, Oscar Metsavaht, designer and creative director of Brazilian fashion house, Osklen, decided to join the hospitality industry with an eco-friendly boutique hotel in Rio’s Leblon district. Simply called, Janeiro, Metsavaht’s purpose was twofold: One was to perpetuate the city’s legacy as a welcoming host to newcomers and secondly was to share the “experience” of one’s ideal hotel stay on a human level, regardless of nationality: “the different small details that surprise you when you’re in a place and feel elegant, or cozy, or relaxed, or cool,” he explained. Metsavaht also exhibited inclusion in wanting to share the local penchant for vibrant colors that he believes represent the “vibe of our people.” Just by using the collective pronoun “our” is enough to signal his disregard for being recognized as an exceptional artist.

This cultural dialogue doesn’t stop here. Metsavaht also wants to perpetuate Carioca culture—the mix of aboriginal and hybrid backgrounds—in Rio. He does this via sourcing local art. But Metsavaht, founder of Instituto-E, an environmental organization that pioneered reforestation of several beaches, also created the ASAP campaign. The acronym stands for what you would expect: As Soon As Possible, with “sustainable” also being interchangeable with “soon.” Of the same namesake, Oscar Niemeyer, is arguably the patron saint of modernism, a universal art form that Rio de Janeiro is claimed for pioneering. The contemporary museum of art that is named after Niemeyer, was the site of Nicholas Guesquiere’s Louis Vuitton Resort runway show. Niemeyer’s house, Casa Das Canoas, can only be visited via appointment. A cross between in and out, the curved window-covered was elicits images of a fishbowl and has a pool carved into the mountainside. Much like our nation’s capital, centralized around buildings like The White House, the Pentagon, and the Washington Monument, Niemeyer created Brazil’s Three Powers Plaza, centralized on the main artery, Monumental Axis. These three white buildings include, the, the presidential palace, the National Congress of Brazil building, and the Supreme Federal Court.

Niemeyer’s legacy lives on in another architectural wonder that harps on Portuguese colonial-era design: the Parque Lage Art School. Erected in the 1920s, the building is adjoined to the city’s botanical garden, the school opened 65 years after its original use as a mansion. Like the Taj Mahal, Parque Lage was created by a Brazilian ship craftsman for his wife, a famous Italian singer.

The unprecedented architectural designation comes a few months after the devastating fire that caused the city’s landmark National Museum and a majority of its contents, including ancient artifacts from Luiza-one of the earliest Latin American skeletons, to Judaic scriptures, and Egyptian crypts, to become ash. With a significant drop in tourism, Rio de Janeiro was not only burning to the ground literally, but also economically, and politically - all of which were direct results of the land’s organically derived riches. That is to say, in the early years of the 21st C, the universal Midas resource of oil was discovered along Rio’s coast. As a result, a conglomerate of billion-dollar family-owned companies popped up. Flying high on the heels of an oil-slicken new business opportunity and Olympic status, President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva was knocked off his pedestal, currently serving a 12-year prison sentence for involvement in the Petrobras graft scandals.

Despite a harried past, Brazil remains resilient. The annual weeklong carnival is scheduled for one month away on March 1, before the start of Lent. Fittingly, millions of people both locals and travelers alike, will parade under the gaze of Jesus Christ – the Cristo Redentor statue- that is perched on the Cocovado Mountain in Tijuca Forest National Park. Consecrated in concrete and fabricated of soapstone, it took statue of Cristo Redentor sits on the peak of the 700-meter Corcovado Mountain in the Tijuca Forest National Park. Nine years of construction and decades afterward, it was not until 2007 that the quintessential façade of Rio was given a Wonder of the World. And now the city, in the shadow of turmoil and triumph, has been charged with an honor that makes it an example for the world, now the host country of the International Union of Architect’s World Congress that is held every 3 years.

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