New Urbanism: Architects reject ugliness and seek a return to tradition

In the ever-creative universe of Twitter, the profile Architects against Humanity has gained a following with its persistent — and humorous — attacks on the professional architect class. A typical post shows a simple, aesthetically pleasing building next to a modernist monster. The caption reads: “Built by a craftsman X Built by an architect.”

Although the page uses a humorous tone, the central provocation is consistent: professional architects are responsible for the apparent lack of criteria. aesthetics in contemporary constructions? And is this part of the explanation for the ugliness that predominates in large Brazilian cities?

The hypothesis makes sense. Whereas the traditional builder drew on accumulated experience—what the test of time has proven to work—and tried to repeat it as best he could, with gradual adaptations as needed, professional—and academic—architecture rewards innovation. The only indisputable rule is the need to make something new.

In fact, most of the national architectural treasure was placed very before the emergence of Architecture as an independent discipline, separate from the Arts and also from Engineering. Until 1930, Brazil did not have higher education courses in Architecture. The Belo Horizonte School of Architecture, later incorporated into UFMG, was the first in South America.

Today, a simple analysis of the works produced in the academy or of the projects signed by architects points to the conclusion that the style that developed and consolidated in the first four centuries of the country (and which can be briefly called colonial, although it also includes baroque and parts of neoclassical) is old-fashioned and has no relevant contribution to offer. Today, houses and buildings with confusing geometric shapes, without ornaments, often with a flat roof (without tiles), scant windows (thanks to air conditioning) and zero concern for an adequate integration into the surrounding landscape predominate.

And yet, tourists continue to crowd the streets of cities whose main attraction is the typically colonial architecture, such as Paraty (RJ), Ouro Preto (MG) and Goiás (GO). In the old centers of these cities, what you see are narrow streets instead of expressways, elegant buildings and in harmony with the neighborhood, and an urban layout that invites walking – among other reasons, because even the carts were rare. when these cities were founded.

It is evident that social and technological changes are reflected in the architecture. The invention of the car, the reduction in the birth rate, the increase in the level of schooling (and urbanization), all of this leaves marks on the city and its streets. The charm of the city of Goiás, which is known as Goiás Velho and was the capital of Goiás for two centuries, does not erase the fact that progress is welcome: the Palácio dos Arcos, home to dozens of governors until the inauguration of Goiânia. , in 1937, there was not even an internal bathroom: only the “little house” outside.

But what happened in the Brazil was much more than the fruit of society’s progress: it was a deliberate effort to recreate architecture and urbanism. A break with the traditions of the past, especially with the rise of the then young architects Oscar Niemeyer and Lúcio Costa, in the middle of the century . It is not by chance that in that period important buildings collapsed, such as the Monroe Palace, in Rio de Janeiro, and buildings in the historic centers of Brazilian cities. São Paulo, a metropolis with almost 25 years of history, has very few original buildings from its first three centuries. Costa and Niemeyer wanted a radically new architecture, and somehow they succeeded. Brasília is, in everything, anti-Paraty, or anti-Goiás Velho: a city of monumental distances, where the car is the protagonist and the residential blocks resemble Soviet buildings. And, despite the different architectural style, it is possible to say that projects like the one in Barra da Tijuca were born from an attempt to reject the traditional model of the city.

New Urbanism: a reaction

The problems that hit Brazilian cities in the middle of the century also manifested themselves in European metropolises and American: with the popularization of the automobile and the modernization of construction techniques, the suburbs were born—away from the center and made for families with cars, who saw no need for the traditional way of life. Historic centers began to wither. Cities gained “gaps” and left to be continuous spaces. In reaction to this model, New Urbanism was born, which proposed a return to a denser human space where people had more options to interact with each other in an organic way.

The New Urbanism has gained strength over the years 1990 and even has a Charter of Principles. The document lists five essential fundamentals: neighborhoods must be diversified in terms of use and population; communities must be designed (too) for pedestrians; cities must be defined by shared spaces; and finally, urban architecture and landscaping should “celebrate local history, climate, ecology and building practices.” In 1993, Andres Duany, one of the movement’s fathers, was already invited to offer a course on New Urbanism at Harvard.

The architect and professor Alvin Holm, an enthusiast of the classical tradition, claims that a return of the style is not only possible, but has become increasingly popular. He says the Institute for Classical Architecture and Art (ICAA), an organization founded in the years 1950 and of which he is a pioneering member, has visibly grown. “From a single office in New York, the ICAA has grown to have 15 active units across the United States,” he explained to Gazeta do Povo. Holm was also responsible for the first course on classical style at the US National Academy of Design since World War II. “Now several generations of my students are teaching the principles and practicing classical design in the country,” says he, who maintains a busy Philadelphia office. Furthermore, ideas of classical architecture are gradually making their way back into college curricula — the University of Notre Dame, in particular, has become a center for the diffusion of this style.

Although it is still in the minority and shows no signs of that it will become dominant so soon, this current has borne fruit.

In the US state of Florida, a recent project tries to resume traditional principles of architecture and urbanism — without the visitor having the impression of being in a period scenographic reproduction in a Disney park. In the Citrus Square area of ​​the city of Sarasota, all buildings are three stories high and allow shop owners or employees to live directly above where they work, reducing the need to use a car (although there are parking spaces at the door). The six architectural styles used in the project emulate the natural variety that has emerged over time in European cities. All demonstrate a concern for classical architectural norms. The project, which cost US$ 25 million, has 37 small residential buildings and about 2.25 square meters of shops.

Another good example comes from an unlikely place: Guatemala . There, an entire neighborhood called Cidade Cayalá was completely built based on classical models, taking into account the identity of the local architecture. The area has some streets closed to traffic, cobblestones and white buildings that evoke Spanish colonial style, carefully harmonized with Greek columned buildings. The space attracts tourists, but also locals interested in living in an area made for humans instead of cars. The person responsible for the project was the Luxembourgian architect Léon Krier, one of the main names in New Urbanism.


In Brazil, the adherents of New Urbanism also exist. In Pelotas (RS), the Quartier neighborhood meets most of the requirements of the Charter of Principles. In Pedra Branca, a planned neighborhood in Palhoça (SC), those responsible for the development also adopted some New Urbanism fundamentals.

But it is still very little. Even in the ongoing attempts, there is a certain neglect of respect for local history. The traditional Brazilian house with its best features — wide windows, generous balconies, high ceilings and graceful lines, surrounded by trees of different sizes — seems to be less popular than prefabricated models that seem to be inspired by TV series. Americans.

In addition, in general, dormitory cities, neighborhoods without adequate living spaces and condominiums designed exclusively for those who own a car continue to multiply. Part of the explanation lies in government regulations and the lack of architects and urban planners interested in applying these principles. But the other part has to do with demand: there just don’t seem to be enough home and apartment buyers willing to live in a neighborhood where New Urbanism principles predominate.

It’s an apparent contradiction: upper middle class Brazilian tourists are enchanted by the narrow streets of medieval Italian cities, or even with the colonial buildings of Paraty (RJ) and Ouro Preto (MG). But most of them seem to opt for a life of modern horizontal or vertical condominiums, where they only leave in their cars and where they live protected by doormen, electric fences and countless security cameras. “Often, those who go to Paris and are delighted to walk up six floors cannot go up more than three floors to reach their apartment. It has a certain fashion and pretense”, says professor Frederico de Holanda, who teaches Theory of Architecture and Urbanism at the University of Brasília (UnB).

Despite skepticism about the popularity of the more traditional style of architecture, the professor agrees that metropolises have something to learn from places like Pirenópolis (GO), full of colonial-style semi-detached houses. “We are not delusional. There is an increasingly strong current of revitalization of traditional areas. It is not to imitate the style of houses in Pirenópolis, but to recognize the fact that Rua Direita de Pirenópolis is continuously configured, without lateral or frontal separation”, exemplifies the professor. “There is a whole chain of architects and urban planners who do not want to rescue the colonial house, or copy Another Black, but rescue certain principles that fit in contemporaneity — such as the resumption of the use of public, shared space”, he says.

Netherlands adds that it is possible to extract the good in older architectural styles without copying them completely. “Our obligation is to try to capture what is useful and appropriate in this pre-modern architecture. Nobody is going to try to make a pastiche”, he says.

In the short term, it is perhaps unlikely that traditional architecture will be reborn in Brazil. But, immediately, the application of some of its principles would do our cities a lot of good.

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