This monumental building by French architect Christian de Portzamparc houses a grand concert hall with 1,800 seats, which can be converted into an opera hall and theater.
By Diana Holguín
When it comes to stunning architectural landmarks, Barra de Tijuca has never had many to speak of until recently. Located in the southwestern zone of Rio de Janeiro, this relatively new and bustling area often conjures up images of beaches, shopping malls, congested roads and large homes. It is in the heart of this sprawling suburb, however, that Christian de Portzamparc, acclaimed French architect and city planner, has built the highly praised Cidade das Artes (City of Arts).
Cidade das Artes is Atelier Portzamparc’s first building in Brazil and pays homage to some of the country’s most well-known architects such as Oscar Neimeyer, incorporating archetypes of Brazilian architecture such as large open spaces, pillars and sculptural ramps, extensive use of concrete and a play of shadows throughout the structure. The architect is well known for many other noteworthy architectural designs including the Philharmonie Luxembourg, LVMH Tower in New York City, Cité de la Musique in Paris and the Musée Hergé in Belgium. Highly respected by architectural cognoscente throughout the world, Portzamparc was the recipient of the prestigious Pritzker Architecture Prize in 1994.
The concrete structure, built ten meters off the ground seems to float above a public park and a tropical aquatic garden. It is now Rio’s preeminent venue for music, theater, film, dance and art, also serving as the new home of the Brazilian Symphony Orchestra. Two highways that intersect at the venue’s location frame its sleek design, and the form of the building reflects the linear planes of the ocean and the curves of the nearby Sierra Atlantica mountain range. The terrace is an open space that connects each of the center’s distinct areas and hovers over a garden designed by Fernando Chacel, Brazilian landscape architect and successor of Burle Marx, Brazil’s most famous ‘paisagista’.
Former Mayor of Rio de Janeiro, César Maia, and other city officials responsible for commissioning the grand project agreed that Barra de Tijuca was in need of a civic and cultural symbol. Originally called Cidade da Música (City of Music), the building soon became much more than just a music venue and now hosts a wide range of high-level arts and performances. Portzamparc believes “architecture is, above all, here for a better living. Every gesture, every shape must be justified by various reasons that would reinforce their reason to be, their use, and will give more sense to their beauty”. With a gross total area of almost 969,000 square feet, his new building has ample room to accommodate any number of events. It includes a main concert hall or grande sala (29,000 square feet), which seats 1,800 people, 21 multi-use spaces, orchestra rehearsal rooms, art gallery, cinemas, restaurants, shops and parking.
Although it took nine years to complete (it was meant to be inaugurated in late 2008), Cidade das Artes finally celebrated its opening in January of 2013. The construction of the highly anticipated cultural complex was delayed a number of times and highly controversial for several reasons; one being that it cost approximately $213 million to build - four times more than Maia’s other large-scale project, Cidade da Samba. Critics maintain that the excessive cost of the complex should have gone towards improving some of Rio’s more pressing issues like education and sanitation. Even so, Cidade das Artes is also recognized as an important step towards improving the arts scene in Rio de Janeiro, an identifiable cultural landmark that will enhance the city's image for upcoming events, like the FIFA World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games while also enriching the lives of native Cariocas.
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