Shockwaves Damage Oscar Niemeyer Brasilia Landmark


Newsletter September 2010
Image details

Interview with Elcio Gomes da Silva
By Danilo Matoso Macedo - chair of Docomomo Brasilia

On Sunday, June 1st, a shockwave caused by the passage of two Mirage 2000 fighters, splintered a whole glass-wall of the Brazilian Federal Supreme Court Building, designed by Oscar Niemeyer. The aircrafts were performing during a monthly flag-change ceremony on the Plaza of the Three Powers, in Brasília, the modern capital of Brazil designed by Lucio Costa in 1957, and listed as World Heritage in 1987. At the plaza, The Supreme Court Building, along with the Palace of Congress and the presidential Planalto Palace, form the most emblematic monumental site of the young town.

Along with the Alvorada Palace - the President's residence - they were deeply studied by the Elcio Gomes da Silva in his recently finished PhD thesis, entitled Os palácios originais de Brasília (The original palaces of Brasilia).  Elcio is a Docomomo member and works as an architect at Chamber of Deputies, where - amongst other things - he deals with documentation and preservation issues.

Image: Elcio Gomes da Silva

Here, Danilo Matoso Macedo (chair of Docomomo Brasilia), talks with Elcio about the conservation questions that are raised by last month's supersonic event.

Question: (Danilo) - Did you find common elements in the palaces you studied?

Answer: (Elcio) - The study of the first palaces built for the inauguration of Brasilia showed specific and fundamental strategies of design and construction in Oscar Niemeyer's architecture for these monuments. Amongst them, we may highlight the classical composition, made clear through spatial and structural elements, and through the choice and ordering of building materials. That is the case of the metal and glass composition of the main external envelope, which reveals certain rules. These rules will be the key in the intervention after the recent accident.

Q: Danilo - What is the role of the glass and metal frames in this set?

Elcio - The mullions used in the four palaces are modulated accordingly to the space between the columns. The transoms are set in an alternated way, and both have anodized aluminum finish. The enclosure is made of 6-millimeter sheets of transparent glass, as in the original specifications of those buildings – complemented by a set of internal vertical blinds, with colors chosen by the artist Athos Bulcão.

Beyond these relations, the frames and the marble-clad concrete colonnades emulate the relationship of classical composition "figure-background" that operates in the Alvorada Palace, designed a year before - emphasizing the columns in front of a dark, shadowed, background.

Q: Danilo - Are the palaces' glass-walls original? Will they be preserved? And in which way?

Elcio - Until the accident, the glass-walls were mostly original. Some of the transparent glass had been substituted. However, the original anodized aluminum frames are well preserved, except by some points of corrosion in the internal structure of steel - that can be easily recovered can be recovered. Both in replacing the glass sheets and in restoring the aluminum frames, it is important to preserve the rule identified for the glass-walls as a passive background to the structural elements of marble colonnade.

This interpretation is confirmed by the impact of recent interventions that have altered similar glass-walls elements in another palace of the Three Powers Square: the Planalto Palace. Preserved in its original dimensions, the glass-walls had changed the original aspect over time. The frames were painted gray, with the loss of the metallic luster of the original anodized aluminum. Additionally, changes on the glass color – due to a partial adoption of safety glass –, and the predominance of white blinds inside the building, reduced the depth of the original aspect, and changed the relationship between background and colonnade.

Q: Danilo – Since the accident, where is the building in the course of preservation?

Elcio - The agents responsible for the preservation of the Supreme Court, coordinated by the architect Marineli Monteiro, are aware of these values ??and are concerned with the relations which were presented. They are currently seeking the support of expert technical consultancy, with experience in interventions at buildings of modern architecture to support their actions, not only concerning to the glass-walls of the palace, but also related to other demands of buildings a half a century old. We hope that, in this issue, the Docomomo network will help us get the word out to their importance and their preservation.

Click here to watch a video of the flyover and the damage sustained (pause at 0:02 in video) to the Supreme Court Building.