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House Plan: Brian Vermeulen on Oscar Niemeyer's Canoas House

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In the seventh of a new series looking at influential housing plans, Brian Vermeulen chooses Oscar Niemeyer’s Canoas House in Rio de Janiero (1953)

The house sits in a level clearing on a forested hillside in Canoas south east of Rio. The view on arrival at the house, designed by Niemeyer and landscape architect Burle Marx, is a sculptural composition of white roof and lambent pool against a tropical forest, the sound of shrieking birds and crashing breadfruit.

The starting point of the house is a large natural rock in the forest clearing. The  rock appears to grow out of a emerald green mondo grass carpet and connects an avoid turquoise pool with the upper living level. The rock, a dark polished quarry tile floor, and the planted carpet extends from indoors to outdoors dissected by almost invisible curved curtain walling. A sinuous slender roof floats with minimal visible support, extending into the landscape to create shaded outdoor living space. 

Entering the house you are presented with a view to the forest beyond and sea glimpses. To the left and right of the entrance curved timber lined walls create a homely enclosure for arranging furniture and wall hangings with views of the large rock. The glazing meets the roof with a minimal frame, and combined with sliding floor to ceiling glazed walls Niemeyer has created an illusion where outdoors and indoors are indiscernable, landscape and architecture are one.

Oscar Niemeyer’s Canoas House in Rio de Janiero (1953)

Oscar Niemeyer’s Canoas House in Rio de Janiero (1953)

A wall painted with ‘mondo grass’  green gloss paint provides a vertical connection to the lower bedroom level and supports a stair balustrade. The gloss paint reflects the large indoor outdoor rock that impedes into the staircase. The lower living spaces are cellular and cosy with truncated ‘pyramid’ shaped windows facing the ocean beyond.

The plan of the house has inspired me in the way it effortlessly represents the essentials of the design, inside and outside have equal weight, landscape and architecture are one.

Brian Vermeulen, co-founder of Cottrell and Vermeulen Architecture

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