Grand and modern
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.
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.