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Buildings in the modernist style. In the foreground, the Arthur Neiva Pavilion (also known as the Classes Pavilion), designed by architect Jorge Ferreira, with a tile panel by Roberto Burle Marx. In the upper right, the Pathology Pavilion (now the Carlos Chagas Pavilion), designed in 1944 by architect Olenka Freire Greve. In the upper left, the Moorish Pavilion; immediately to its right and in the background, the Quinine Pavilion. N.d.

In the latter half of the 1930s, Brazil caught the world’s eye as it began creatively reworking the principles of modern architecture in the design of a series of new buildings. Central to the approach was a re-interpretation from a modern perspective of solutions and elements used in traditional Brazilian architecture. The new style is visible in the aesthetic treatment of façades decorated with tile panels, in sloped roofs and wood window frames contrasting with broad white planes, and in the use of perforated bricks, trellises, and verandahs to afford protection from the tropical heat.

At the Oswaldo Cruz Institute, the buildings that reflect this architectural style were designed by architects who trained between 1930 and 1940 at Brazil’s Fine Arts School or at the University of Brazil’s National School of Architecture and who were on the staff of the Works Division of the Ministry of Education and Health, an agency established in 1934 with the purpose of designing architectural programs, overseeing public works, and providing maintenance services to the ministry’s agencies. Works Division staff included Jorge Ferreira, Nabor Forster, Olenka Freire Greve, Floroaldo Albano, Waldir Ramos, Evaristo de Sá, Humberto Cavalcanti, and Audomaro Costa (Lúcio Costa’s brother), among others.

About 20 structures were built, countless reforms undertaken, and new additions made at the Oswaldo Cruz Institute during the lifetime of the Works Division (1934-1977). Modernist style buildings include: the Classes Pavilion and the Carlos Augusto da Silva Pavilion (commonly known as the Central Cafeteria), both designed by architect Jorge Ferreira, built between 1947 and 1951, and designated part of Rio de Janeiro’s cultural heritage in 2001 by the State Institute for Cultural Heritage (INEPAC); the Avenida Brasil Entrance, designed by Nabor Forster in the 1950s; and the Yellow Fever Pavilion, designed by Roberto Nadalutti and built between 1954 and 1960.

The Classes Pavilion, which served the Department of Tropical Medicine, was built between 1947 and 1951 following a design by Jorge Ferreira, an architect who was then head of the Works Division and had graduated from the Fine Arts School in 1937. The building is composed of two sections, one rectilinear and the other in the shape of a parabola, connected by a concrete slab suspended on pilotis and intersecting at right angles. The rectilinear wing was designed for classrooms, while the other holds an auditorium. Burle Marx, a friend of the architect, landscaped the surrounding area and designed tile panels that feature an allusion to Trypanosoma cruzi, the protozoan that causes Chagas disease, an illness first described by Oswaldo Cruz Institute researcher Carlos Chagas.  

In 1951, the jury at the First International Architecture Biennial in São Paulo awarded an Honorable Mention to the Carlos Augusto da Silva Pavilion, which now stands among outstanding examples of modern Brazilian architecture. The pavilion was built between 1948 and 1953 to house administrative, technical, and auxiliary staff. Two large dining halls and a canteen, all served by a central kitchen, are located on the upper floor, where they are protected by brise-soleils. The structure stands on uneven terrain and pilotis take up much of the lower floor, which is dedicated to storage, locker rooms, and a mechanical room.

Another milestone of modern architecture at the Oswaldo Cruz Institute is the Avenida Brasil Entrance, designed by Nabor Forster, likewise an architect with the Works Division. Built between 1954 and 1955, after the nearby freeway named Avenida Brasil had been greatly widened, the structure has blind side walls and is topped by a flat concrete slab suspended on cylindrical pillars. Vehicles enter through the open left side, while a smaller, independent stone-clad reception building stands to the right.

Roberto Nadalutti (1922-2005) graduated from the National School of Architecture in 1946 and was on the staff at the Special Public Health Service (SESP) when he designed a laboratory to produce yellow fever and smallpox vaccines under an agreement between SESP and the National Yellow Fever Service. Built at the Oswaldo Cruz Institute between 1954 and 1960, the Yellow Fever Pavilion (also known as the Henrique Aragão Pavilion) was part of this project. The main block was envisioned as a horizontal volume with blind façades at either end, while the front and back façades were conceived with the incidence of sunlight in mind. The striking artistry of its structural design owes much to the portico, supported by distinctive V-shaped columns with oval cutouts at their bases. These modular pillars require fewer points of support and lend strong movement to the static volume.