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Older than the tree: The Brasília Palace Hotel by Oscar Niemeyer was completed in 1956 and has hosted guests such as Che Guevara ever since.
© Carsten Krohn
Older than the tree: The Brasília Palace Hotel by Oscar Niemeyer was completed in 1956 and has hosted guests such as Che Guevara ever since.

Grand and modern

Real gems by Oscar Niemeyer: After having stood empty for decades and gradually becoming dilapidated two hotels by the Brazilian architect have been modernized and are accessible again.
by Carsten Krohn | 5/25/2017

First came the hotel, then the city was built. Before in 1958 Oscar Niemeyer designed the central parliament building and the ministries for the new capital city of Brasília he first built the Presidential Palace, a chapel and a hotel next door, today’s Brasília Palace Hotel. These structured formed the head of a symmetrical urban plan that emulates an aircraft.

Like the entire city, the hotel was radically modern. A 200-meter-long block was placed on stilts on a huge meadow aligned perfectly North-South. The park-like site borders on a lake. Even if today a few other hotels have joined it, the zone between the government district and the reservoir remains largely unbuilt, meaning anyone approaching the hotel still experiences the same, slightly woodland world that once defined this prime location. For all the tranquility, the hotel is central and other Niemeyer buildings can be swiftly reached – many are open to the public.

Here both Queen Elizabeth and Che Guevara overnighted

The hotel has welcomed both Queen Elizabeth and Che Guevara – before falling victim to a fire in the 1970s with only the shell left standing. Modernization is only vaguely in keeping with Niemeyer’s architecture. Alongside the edifice, two new elevator towers have been placed, neither of them part of the original plan, and the west façade is no longer completely glass covered, but now subdivided into loggias for the individual rooms. When Niemeyer, by then almost 100, inspected the modernization, he was annoyed by the way his building was being treated, in particular irritated by the steep ramp that led visitors into the basement level lobby. Originally there was a staircase. What he did accept was the modernization of the single-story pavilion with a large mural by artist Athos Bulcão, which is attached to the main building.

Even if the building today departs from the original as regards the details, the marvelous modernity staged in the monumental expanse of the countryside still comes into its own. The rooms are pleasant and the restaurant exceptional.

Remained unchanged from the outside: the Gran Meliá Nacional, built in 1972, on the beach of Rio de Janeiro.
© Carsten Krohn
Remained unchanged from the outside: the Gran Meliá Nacional, built in 1972, on the beach of Rio de Janeiro.

Roof gardens courtesy of Roberto Burle Marx

In Rio de Janeiro an Oscar Niemeyer hotel has also been modernized and this year reopened as the Gran Meliá Nacional. Here, the young Michael Jackson once resided before the building was abandoned and decayed. And here again the new interior design only borrows from the original design. The glass cylinder of the tower, which rises up out of an organically modeled volume, has remained more or less untouched, however. The large roof gardens were designed by landscape planner Roberto Burle Marx and have been reconstructed. The rooms with a panorama view of the mountains and the ocean are as spectacular as is the huge breakfast buffet. The hotel is 20 minutes by cab from the Copacabana and itself on the waterfront. This is the bay where Oscar Niemeyer himself lived, and his organically shaped home still stands – unchanged, but empty.

High above the Copacabana: The rooms offer a spectacular view over the sea.
© Carsten Krohn
High above the Copacabana: The rooms offer a spectacular view over the sea.
Close to the sky: Roberto Burle Marx's roof garden on the top of the hotel has also been reconstructed.
© Carsten Krohn
Close to the sky: Roberto Burle Marx's roof garden on the top of the hotel has also been reconstructed.
Floral variety: In the gardens around the hotel Roberto Burle Marx used around 46 native plant species.
© Carsten Krohn
Floral variety: In the gardens around the hotel Roberto Burle Marx used around 46 native plant species.
Privileged location: The Brasília Palace Hotel by Oscar Niemeyer is located directly on the Paranoá dam.
© Carsten Krohn
Privileged location: The Brasília Palace Hotel by Oscar Niemeyer is located directly on the Paranoá dam.
To the annoyance of the architect: the new ramp in the lobby.
© Carsten Krohn
To the annoyance of the architect: the new ramp in the lobby.
Great view also inside: The wall painting in the big salon was created by Brazilian artist Athos Bulcão.
© Carsten Krohn
Great view also inside: The wall painting in the big salon was created by Brazilian artist Athos Bulcão.
Dining culture: The adjoining pavilion houses the restaurant Oscar.
© Carsten Krohn
Dining culture: The adjoining pavilion houses the restaurant Oscar.
Approaching Niemeyer: The building was restored after a fire. The staircase towers are new.
© Carsten Krohn
Approaching Niemeyer: The building was restored after a fire. The staircase towers are new.

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