A historic Modernist building in Rio de Janeiro that was engulfed by fire in April last year, and which held the most comprehensive archive related to Brazilian architecture and urbanism, has received a $240,000 grant from the Getty Foundation.
The Jorge Machado Moreira-designed architecture and urbanism building of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ) held a 300,000-piece archive spanning nearly 200 years related to Brazilian and European Modernist architecture, including more than 50,000 documents, 5,000 photographs and equipment that was damaged by soot and water.
The Getty grant will specifically support an 18-month conservation project led by the UFRJ that entails rehousing the salvaged materials in a newly-constructed, temperature-controlled space in an area of the same building that was not hit by the fire, as well as restoring and evaluating the condition of the materials to update the archival database. The UFRJ has identified nearly 40,000 materials that could be conserved.
The building was completed in 1957 and is listed as a federal heritage site, requiring restoration to be carried out in collaboration with the patrimony and humanities department of the Rio de Janeiro government. The UFRJ estimates that the total restoration—including waterproofing and electrical and structural updates—will cost around $2m, with most of the work concentrated on the building's second floor.
The fire originated from a faulty air conditioning unit, similar to the fire that struck the National Museum of Brazil in 2018, another site overseen by the federally-funded UFRJ. The parallel tragedies underscore the Brazilian government’s historic neglect of cultural sites, which has been exacerbated in recent years by the administration of the far-right president Jair Bolsonaro, which has continuously slashed cultural funding.
The French-Brazilian architect Machado Moreira is best known for designing several buildings for the UFRJ and for his contributions to the Ministry of Education and Health building in Rio de Janeiro, a project realised in 1932 alongside Lúcio Costa and Oscar Niemeyer, with Le Corbusier as a consultant, which represents a watershed moment in the history of Modernist Brazilian architecture, having at first been rejected in favour of a historicist proposal. Bolsonaro’s administration announced plans to auction the building in August last year, though the sale was reportedly blocked by an injunction last month.
Other notable projects by Machado Moreira in Rio de Janeiro include the Antônio Ceppas Building, completed in 1964, which features a lush landscape design and artwork by the artist Roberto Burle Marx.
The Getty Foundation has awarded grants supporting Modernist architectural conservation since 2014 as part of an ongoing initiative to guide long-term maintenance of sites facing considerable risk. The initiative has funded several projects in Brazil, including the Museu de Arte de São Paulo and the Casa de Vidro devised by the Brazilian architect Lina Bo Bardi, which received $150,000 and $195,000 in 2017 and 2016, respectively.