The entries to this logbook do not follow a linear narrative. They are findings and respective analyses of material and sources that comprise a curatorial research centered around the way in which Brazilian artist Flávio de Carvalho understood the relationships between architecture, the body and the psyche. The inquiries of such research depart from a list of questions that structured an interview made by de Carvalho to Le Corbusier in 1929 in Rio de Janeiro. They are interrogations that will be disembodied by cross-referencing the material found throughout the process, some which is being made public in this blog.
Question by Flávio de Carvalho to Le Corbusier:
- Do you think architecture is a philosophical problem?
- Should architecture be logical? What logic?
- Should architecture have colour? Which is the predominant factor: colour, form or the functional idea?
- What qualifies as pleasant in colour and form? Is that pleasantness subjective or objective?
- How to introduce the psychic factor in architecture?
- Should the idea of the structure be sacrificed because of the psychic factor or not?
- Should the desire to progress grasp humanity or should mankind grasp the desire to progress?
There is no doubt from these witty questions, that Flávio de Carvalho wanted to expand the idea of architecture to an epistemological field that perhaps was not in-sync to the main agendas of Le Corbusierian functionalist architecture. With this I do not wish to set a hierarchy amongst them, but actually try to understand that the work and thinking of De Carvalho may well have catalyzed premises of modernism, taking them to propositions that simultaneously instigated forms of emancipation from given normative socio-cultural behaviors.
Such was indeed the case of his “New Look; male fashion for the modern man of the tropics” from1956; a clothing design that justified its function and context-specificity by means of the language and thesis of modern design. In an article I wrote for Afterall magazine, this idea of understanding the New Look as architecture was framed within the symbolic meaning of Flavio de Carvalho having produced this modern tropical fashion design, precisely in the same year of the construction of Brasilia, the emblem of how ‘the International Style’ had been used in Brazil as the aesthetics of a tropical modernized state. But another direct dialogue with Le Corbusier may well have took place when de Carvalho proposed the implementation of such men’s clothing: (image 1)
“While federal classic in Washington, Royal Academy archeology in London and Nazi classic in Munich are still triumphant, Brazil has had the courage to break away from the safe and easy path with the result that Rio can boast of the most beautiful government building in the Western hemisphere”
Philip L. Goodwin, Brazil Builds (exh. cat.) MoMa, 1943
So were the words of architect Philip L. Goodwin, when describing the magnificent modernist structure of Rio de Janeiro’s Ministry of Education and Health, designed in the late 1930’s by Le Corbusier together with Lucio Costa (the urbanist of Brasilia). His statement is found in the exhibition catalogue of Brazil Builds, a referential exhibition for the history of international modern architecture, held during WWII at the Museum of Modern Art of New York. The Ministry in Brazil was the first building that applied Le Corbusier’s brise soleil concept (those louvered sun-screens incorporated into the facades of buildings), which regulated the high tropical temperature by means of controlling the amount of sun entering throughout the day. By creating a sort of respiratory system within the symbiosis of form and function of the building, Le Corbusier was adjusting his international modernist architecture to the climatic specificity of the site.
Because at the end it was the tropical weather conditions that took Flavio to design his New Look, one may well associated his creation to yet another direct dialogue with Le Corbusier. If design had to improve daily living conditions, the proper circulation of air offered by the New Look “simply followed” the function behind the concept of the brise soleil, but incorporated to an individual corporal experience. However such peculiar take on functionalism had to be courageously embraced by men who would wear it, as it simultaneously de-constructed the inherited cultural paradigm; the binary relation of male and female gender, whose divisional lines were blurred by the mini-skirt and fish net stockings that comprised Flavio’s the New Look.
One of the vintage 1956 magazines from Brazil that documented the fabrication and public (street) showing of the New Look, serves perfectly to show us the gender blurring proposed by FdC. As you can see on both left and right edges of the magazine, there are two advertisements that show the way in which cultural industry, through the gender specificity of commodities, render the magazine’s reader/consumer’s cultural constructs of maleness or femaleness. It is precisely right in the middle of this literal, graphic binary relation, where we can find the zombie in-between, ‘androgynous’ figure of the New Look.