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Rio - Modernist optimism and the poetry of people

Only the Rio de Janeiro section of the Tate Modern's ambitious 'Century City' exhibition shows any examples of the heroic Modernist architecture which originated in Europe and subsequently defined the shape of the major urban economic centres of the world. The identification of Le Corbusier's vision with Rio, rather than anywhere else, comes about by the choice of the city to represent the period 1950 to 1964. This was a period of particular importance in Rio's recent past - although the same post-war boom represented a time of rapid growth and architectural development in most cities.

In the case of Rio, the architectural expression of optimistic modernity was paralleled with equal significance by movements in other areas of the arts - such as Neoconcretism, Bossa Nov, and Cinema Novo. But, as John Gledson argued, speaking at the Tate Modern's seminar on the subject, it was Le Corbusier's Ministry of Health and Education in 1943 which really seemed to symbolize the opening of the modern age. For Martin Grossman, of Sao Paulo's Museum of Contemporary Art, this could only have happened in Rio - even though Sao Paulo is a bigger and more significant economic centre, and therefore might be considered the more 'modern' city. Grossman seemed to suggest that the 'singularity' of Rio, expressed in a 'distinct cultural production', is predominantly a result of its topographical condition. He indicated an implicit connection between the work of Oscar Niemeyer and Burle Marx, demonstrating an integration of 'internal and external environments', with the geographical characteristics of the city.

He suggested that this form of 'dialogic architecture', involving the surrounding landscape in the occupation of space, had a profound influence in other parts of Brazil, particularly in the construction of Brasilia.

But other seminar speakers were concerned to show that, behind Rio's Modernist triumphalism and the political agenda during this period, there was a significant undercurrent of ambiguity about modern urban existence, and a strong awareness of its non-inclusive nature. Gledson quoted from a poem of 1942 by Carlos Drummond de Andrade, evoking a building of Niemeyer's: 'On the sand of the beach/ Oscar sketches his project. / The building jumps/ from the sand of the beach. / In the cement, not a trace/ of the sufferings of men. / Families are shut/ in closed, still cells. / The lift, with no affection/ expels and absorbs human substance/ with a monotonous creak.'

Maria Esther Maciel discussed the banning of the film Rio 40 Degrees, by Nelson Perreiro do Santos, which opened with an aerial shot of the favelas, deemed highly subversive because it showed a disorganised city full of misery. For artists such as these, the real poetic force of the city came from its people, not the external characteristics of the landscape: a notion which Modernism, with its emphasis on universalism and standardisation, always found difficult.

The seminar 'Rio de Janeiro: Ideals of Modernity' was held at the Tate Modern vital statistics The number of houses built in the UK has fallen to its lowest level for 75 years, according to the House Builders Federation. Last year 166,400 homes were built, compared with 171,400 the previous year.The average for the 1990s was 191,000.

Housebuilder Barratt completed 4,990 houses in the second half of last year, an increase of 7 per cent compared with 1999. The company also acquired 6,590 plots of land, taking its total to 33,300.

The power generated from hydro-electric schemes in January and February fell by 41.1 per cent compared with the same period last year due to precipitation falling as snow rather than rain.

An exhibition on the art of the motorcycle at Bilbao's Gehry-designed Guggenheim Museum attracted 870,000 visitors, dwarfing the next most popular event 'From Degas to Picasso' which was visited by 340,000 people.

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