Brasilia at 60: A Visit to the Brasilia Palace Hotel
Story & photos by Paul Clemence
This week, Brasília, the modernistic capital of Brazil, celebrates its 60th anniversary. The city is the result of a dream by three very ambitious men: Juscelino Kubitchek, then the country’s president, Lucio Costa, the urbanist, and Oscar Niemeyer, the architect. Today, while some of its utopian design ideas are still heavily debated and under perennial criticism, the city that was built from the ground up has established itself and asserted its relevancy: Brasília is Brazil’s third most populated city and the center of its political power and administration.
Thanks to the visionary Architecture by the late Modern master and Pritzker Award laureate Oscar Niemeyer the city has become a top archi-tourism must-see destination. Most certainly, the collection of iconic buildings by Niemeyer is the main draw and an important factor in the city’s Unesco World Heritage Center status. But little known is the fact that one of the very first buildings designed by Niemeyer that was built in the city was actually a hotel.
Located next to Lake Paranoá and a mere mile from the Alvorada Palace, the official presidential home, the Brasilia Palace Hotel was inaugurated in 1958 to host the dignitaries and high-level personnel coming to visit the capital’s bustling construction site. Given that amid the bustling, ongoing construction action the hotel was the sole already built and operating structure, it quickly became the de facto construction headquarters. It continued to be a favorite hospitality choice after the city was inaugurated, attracting tourists eager to see the new capital and VIPs. It’s events space, the Athos Bulcão salon ( named after the artist that created the sprawling painted mural gracing the space) in its prime hosted some of Brazil’s top musicians like Roberto Carlos, Chico Buarque, Elis Regina, Toquinho and Bossa Nova classic “Agua de Beber” was first played by Tom Jobim and Vinicius de Morais in the hotel bar in 1959.
After a period of downturns and neglect, in 1978 a coffee machine left on caused a major fire that left the hotel closed for over 20 years until a renovation by Niemeyer’s office ( with subtle alterations to the original design) brought the property back to its glamorous days. The redone interiors feature modern furnishings that further enhance the mid-century modern feel, with a collection of chairs scattered through the building that reads like who’s who of Modern design, with pieces by Le Corbusier, Mies van der Rohe, Harry Bertoia, Brazilian Jorge Zalzupin, and of course, Niemeyer himself.
Not having missed a beat since its reopening, the hotel has hosted guests like top model Gisele Bündchen and the Brazilian soccer team. But beyond its cool factor, the hotel main appeal is its relaxed atmosphere. Whether relaxing by the oval-shaped pool under that big Brasilia sky or taking in the sunset by the lake, the Brasilia Palace is a great choice to soak in the city’s modernity in all its glory.
Paul Clemence is an award-winning photographer and writer exploring the cross-section of design, art and architecture. A published author, his volume Mies van der Rohe’s FARNSWORTH HOUSE remains to this day the most complete photo documentation of that iconic modern residential design, and a selection of these photos is part of the Mies van der Rohe Archives housed by MoMa, New York. He is widely published in arts, architecture and lifestyle magazines like Metropolis, ArchDaily, Architizer, Modern, Casa Vogue Brasil and others. Archi-Photo, aka Architecture Photography, his Facebook photo blog quickly became a photography and architecture community, with over 970,000 followers worldwide. An architect by training, Clemence is originally from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and now lives and works in Brooklyn, New York.