Throughout the course of its history, the Museu de Arte Moderna do Rio de Janeiro has always been mindful of its role and performance within the society for which it was created. As a Carioca institution par excellence, it has never shied from historical participation in Brazilian art’s key moments or, indeed, in those of our city. In addition to being a space for creating and reflecting on art and the city, the MAM Rio is also part of a history broader than that of the institution itself. Located in one of modern Brazilian architecture’s most representative buildings, overlooking one of the world’s most famous postcard views, our museum successfully articulates its everyday activities with the beauties of art and nature. From the inception of his project, architect Affonso Eduardo Reidy was intent on bequeathing to the city an institution whose seat is, to this day, in and of itself, a monument to the modern idea of a Brazil in permanent transformation. With its simultaneously Brazilian and universal architecture, Reidy succeeded in transforming the Museu de Arte Moderna do Rio de Janeiro into a museum that showcases not only Rio but all of its visitors. For more than fifty years, its building has been a landmark for architects and tourists from every corner of the world. The finest way that it was able to find of giving something back to all those who, throughout its history, have admired its buildings and vistas in one way or another was to prepare a exhibition about the museum’s construction that would have visual appeal as well as research value. With this show, the Museu de Arte Moderna do Rio de Janeiro offers the public a fundamental piece of the history of the nation’s architecture and that of its memory. (Carlos Alberto Gouvêa Chateaubriand | President | Museu de Arte Moderna do Rio de Janeiro)
If the correspondence between an architectural work and the physical environment that surrounds it is always a matter of highest importance, in the case of the Museu de Arte Moderna do Rio de Janeiro building this condition takes on even greater consequence, given the privileged location in which it is being constructed – within the very heart of the city, in the midst of a vast area which is soon to be a beautiful public park overlooking the sea and facing the entrance to the bar and encircled by the world’s most beautiful landscape. As much as possible, it was the architect’s ongoing concern to prevent the building from becoming an element that would disturb the landscape or clash with nature. Hence the decision to adopt predominantly horizontal lines counterposed to the busy outline of the mountain range and the use of a thoroughly pierced, transparent structure that would allow its gardens to continue through the building itself all the way to the sea, leaving a considerable part of the ground floor free. Rather than confine the art works between four walls, totally isolated from the world outside, an open solution was adopted in which the nature around it might participate in the spectacle offered to the museum visitor.
The traditional concept of a museum has undergone a great many changes over the past forty years. It ceased to be a passive organism and took on an important educational function and a high social meaning, rendering knowledge and understanding of the most striking manifestations of world artistic creation accessible to the public and providing adequate training to a contingent of artists who are perfectly attuned to the spirit of their time, all of them potential influences upon standards of quality in industrial production.
Yet it was not only the concept of museums that was transformed: the very notion of architectural space has been modified. The development of new construction techniques has paved the way for the “independent structure” and, consequently, to the “open floor plan” – this is to say that function is therefore performed now exclusively by columns; freed from their former structural responsibility they have therefore – and with freedom unimaginable before – come to play the role of simple screening elements; freely arranged lightweight panels made of various materials offering the widest possible range of spatial organization. Thus a new concept of architectural space emerges – channeled “fluid space” has replaced the outdated notion of “confined space” within the boundaries of a cubic compartment.
Encompassing all the contemporary manifestations of the visual arts, the Museu de Arte Moderna do Rio de Janeiro’s eminently dynamic action requires an architectural structure that will provide it with maximum flexibility in the use of its spaces, allowing for the use of large areas as well as the setting up of small rooms in which given works may be contemplated in more intimate settings. The Rio de Janeiro’s exhibition gallery was designed with this objective: it occupies an area 130 meters long by 26 meters wide that is entirely free of columns so as to offer absolute freedom in the setting up of exhibitions. This area will have a variable height: part of it will be 8 meters high, part of it 6.40 meters and the remainder 3.60 meters high.
Natural light imparts a sense of life and movement to these spaces, enhancing the works on exhibition through the variety of sensations provided by daylight. At its zenith, light is diffuse and uniform; there are no shadows, there is no relief, the environment becomes neutral and inexpressive. When it comes from the side, directing space and providing objects with relief, it further provides visitors with the possibility of visual contact with the exterior. Nevertheless, a rigid and exclusive system would limit the freedom of showing under the most favorable conditions works that might occasionally be enhanced by overhead or even artificial lighting. The parts of the exhibition gallery with the lowest ceiling height will be sidelit and in those with a double ceiling height - lit from above, through shades and rooflights.
Generally speaking, the fact that natural light presents more advantages than artificial light for the presentation of works does not diminish the importance of what the latter represents to the Museum nowadays. Artificial lighting is obviously indispensable, not only for the evening, but for the exhibition of objects that might be harmed by sunlight such as drawings, fabric, etc. The quality of light to be employed is another point of importance in an art museum. Incandescent light is rich in red and orange rays that modify the aspect of certain colors. In turn, fluorescent light imparts a sensation of coldness and likewise alters the aspect of colors. However, combination of the two will allow a closer resemblance to the effect of sunlight. A very flexible system has been projected for the Museum: the exhibition gallery ceiling will be garnished with clear sheets of plastic vinyl that will diffuse the light emitted by fluorescent tubes, providing the environment with soft lighting. The luminous surface will thus be interrupted every two meters by reflectors of incandescent set in transversal slits and equipped with the appropriate lenses, directed precisely to the spots which need to be lit, without producing reflections or blinding the visitors. The whole of the building’s second floor will be used for exhibitions and the third floor will be partially occupied by a 200-seat auditorium with film projection equipment, a film library, a library, the museum’s board offices, administrative services and a storeroom for works not on exhibition. This storeroom, in which the works shall be kept in perfect safety, will be temperature and humidity-controlled as well as completely isolated from the atmospheric variations of the exterior. Canvases will be fixed on lightweight runners set at a small distance from one another, thus allowing storage of large numbers of canvases within a small space while ensuring perfect climate conditions and easy examination by interested parties.
The museum’s auxiliary services and installations will occupy part of the building’s ground floor and basement, including the service entrance and locations for unpacking, identification and registration of works, deposits, workshops and laboratories, the print room and a large room for preparing exhibitions. The ground floor will also house the Technical School of Creation. The school’s installations will also include spaces for administrative services, several classrooms and studios, a photo lab, typography, bookbinding, a canteen for students, etc. A restaurant and a garden terrace which communicate with the exhibition gallery will be located on the second floor of the building.
A one-thousand-seat theater will be located on the eastern extremity of this complex. Its stage will be 50 meters wide, 20 meters deep and have 20 meters of free space between the stage and the fly system. The stage is complemented by an electronically activated system of carts that may be moved into the lateral wings and upstage. The front of the stage will be 7,50 meters high and 12 meters wide, although the side panels may open to a full width of 16 meters for symphony concerts.
"Descriptive Memorial" (Affonso Eduardo Reidy, Architect, 1953).
MAM Rio, 2016.