Public Architecture of Curitiba
by Kevin Matthews
Curitiba, Brazil — called "the world's greenest city" by the New York Times Magazine in May 2007 — is increasingly well known for its long-term success in integrated land use, transportation, and environmental planning, including its exciting public bus system. Less well known is the extensive program of public architecture that helps animate the urban fabric of the city, weaving together parks and open space, tourism, urban identity, and industrial reclamation.
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Is intensive, activist environmentalism antithetical to design and aesthetics? The word from this gritty, hard-working city is, "Heck, no." In Curitiba, broadly integrated environmentalism and outstanding design aesthetics go delightedly hand in hand — and the samba plays all night!
The obvious headliner, known locally as the "Eye Museum," is the Museo Oscar Niemeyer, a recent work by the giant of Brazilian modernism himself. The bulk of the museum is composed of a broad horizontal slab hovering a short story above a broad matching plinth that houses a majority of the program space. This layered block is accessed by sinuously curving pedestrian ramps, connecting across the center of a large reflecting pool, via a sensuously expressive urban-observatory tower, the urban "eye" itself.
With about 1.8 million residents, Curitiba occupies rolling terrain in the southern Brazilian state of Paraná, far from Amazonia. High-rise dwellings and substantial density around thoughtfully planned transportation corridors characterize the urban core, relieved by green belts, parks, and a widely green landscape supported by extensive tree planting and strict tree preservation rules.
One would like to think that, in a city governed for a generation largely by architects, there might be a significant role for public architecture. And so it is in Curitiba.
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