Oscar Niemeyer designed the Das Canoas House in 1951 as family home.
The house is considered amongst the most significant designs of modern architecture to exist in South America’s largest nation, Brazil. Specialists in art history see the design as a blend of modern architecture and authoritative self-creation – a blend which flourished in Europe and the United States more than in South America.
Now open for tourism, the Das Canoas House gives visitors to Brazil a fixed way of looking into Niemeyer’s concepts of design.
The most intriguing feature of the Das Canoas house is the synthesis of minimalist and organic architectures. Oscar Niemeyer’s design pays obvious homage to the Farnsworth House in Plano, Illinois, which was designed by architect Mies van der Rohe.
The Das Canoas does not support the concept of geometric regularity, as seen in Rohe’s designs. However, it does not change the concept of formal purity either. An evolution in reinforced concrete is obvious as such was increasingly becoming a modern building material.
The house, which is located in a suburb of Rio de Janeiro called Barra de Tijuca, was built into the slope of a hill and overlooks the bay reaching inland from the Atlantic Ocean.
Oscar Niemeyer is quoted as saying, in reference to his idea when designing Das Canoas, “My concern was to project the residence freely and to adapt it to the unevenness of the field without modification, making it into curves, so the vegetation could enter them without separation or departure from the straight line.”
Niemeyer purposely created the living spaces to set in a shadow so there would be no need for curtains. This in turn allowed the home to be transparent. The architect’s intention was a design of absolute freedom – a freedom which came by shaping to the environment and adapting it to its irregularities.
In a truly modernist fashion, doing such allowed the design to be penetrated by the thick vegetation that is very typical of Brazilian terrain.
Das Canoas’ interior was designed by the architect and his daughter with the goal of giving a cozy atmosphere of familiarity to the resident. This concept is evident with the original curves that are in all corners of the design.
Windows are outgoing, making it easy to peer out at the subtropical vegetation. Nature is also fused with the design by the use of granite entering the living spaces from the garden and seeming to almost climb out of the soil.
Sculptures made by Alfredo Ceschiatti sit beside the property’s pool – sculptures which capture the natural beauty of the female body. The property’s garden was designed by Roberto Burle Max. Spaces, such as the shelters, were designed with small windows to show only portions of green outside.
The roof of the design winds and is restrained by pillars that help to emphasize the flow of the fluid glass façade.
Niemeyer’s Das Canoas is known as a work of glass, concrete, and steel that bends to the earth, sitting above the Sao Conrado area of Rio. The property was restored in 1955 and now belongs to the Oscar Niemeyer Foundation.
Photo by Mark Haddawy